Alibi V.19 No.12 • March 25-31, 2010 

Ask Ari

I've been seeing a lot of organic honey in stores and on restaurant menus. Can you tell me how it's made?

—Show Me the Honey

Most honey that's labeled organic, including all domestic honey, is not certified organic. That's because the USDA doesn't even have a definition of what honey is, much less rules or inspectors for certifying it as organic.

While a lot of honey on the market is cut with other sweeteners and additives, to date only the state of Florida has a codified definition of honey, which dictates that it must be completely pure and unadulterated. But even Florida beekeepers can't stop their bees from patrolling a two- to three-mile radius, which could include stops in fields that have been treated with chemicals.

Honey from faraway lands where chemicals are sparsely used may in some cases truly qualify as organic. Indeed, there are several non-U.S. honey certifiers, each with their own standards and enforcement. So the question becomes: Who's certifying the certifiers?

I want to know the best way to deal with crystallized honey. If I microwave it, do I kill the good stuff in the honey? Or is it better to do it in hot water?

—Hard Honey

I'm not sure what you mean by the "good stuff" in honey. Honey is a potent antibiotic, making it unlikely that anything is living in your stash. It's been used as a wound dressing for thousands of years, and now you can even find highly filtered "medical grade" honey. So if anything is truly living in your honey, you should call your local microbiologist. You just might have discovered bacteria with your name on it.

Honey will generally crystallize when stored below 70 degrees; warming your crystallized honey will reverse the process. Using a microwave is fine, as long as you use a microwave-safe dish. Be careful of plastic honey bottles with labels: While the container may be microwave-safe, some labels contain metal, which will spark.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net