The Honey Regulations (Scotland) 2015

by Margaret Thomas NDB
First published in The Scottish Beekeeper Vol 93, No 7 – July 2016

As a current member of the EU these regulations apply to all member states and are designed to give a level playing field for all members.  The aim is to provide the public with a safe food product.  I hope the following rather dry subject will be interesting enough to read and store for future reference.  The nature of this topic means that a lot of the text is copied word for word from the regulations, but there seemed no other way of maintaining accuracy.  Basically there is little change from the 2003 regulations.

The Statutory Instrument is The Honey (Scotland) Regulations 2003 amended in 2005, and replaced in June 2015 No 208.  Other regulations govern the containers, registration of premises, hygiene and labelling.

‘Honey’ is termed as a natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from excretions of living parts of plants, which the bees collect transforming by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycomb to ripen and mature.  This classifies honey as produced only by Apis mellifera, so any other product resembling honey cannot legally be called honey.

Honey has reserved descriptions depending on the origin, mode of production or presentation: They are as follows and with the exception of Baker’s honey and other small changes they are unchanged from the 2003 Regulations:

  1. Blossom honey/nectar honey: (the latter a term rarely used).
  2. Honeydew honey: honey obtained mainly from plant sucking insect (Hemiptera) on the living parts of plants or secretions of living parts of plants.  Honeydew honey is usually darker in colour and has a malty flavour, unlike overheated honey which is also darker but has a caramel like flavour.
  3. Comb honey:  honey stored by bees in the cells of freshly built broodless comb on thin sheets of foundation made solely of beeswax and sold in sealed whole combs or sections of such combs (this includes sections square and round and pieces of comb presented in plastic boxes).  How often do we see stained pieces of brood comb sold as comb honey!
  4. Chunk or comb honey in honey: honeys which contain one or more pieces of comb honey.
  5. Drained honey:  honey obtained by draining de-capped broodless comb.
  6. Extracted honey:  honey obtained by centrifuging de-capped broodless combs.
  7. Pressed honey:  honey obtained by pressing broodless combs with or without the application of moderate heat not exceeding 45°C.
  8. Filtered honey:  honey obtained by removing foreign inorganic or organic matters in such a way as to result in the significant removal of pollen.
  9. Baker’s honey: honey that is suitable for industrial use or as an ingredient  in another foodstuff which is then processed.

The legislation continues with:

Product names and descriptions:

A product which is not honey cannot be labelled as honey.  So this is designed to assure us that any ‘fake’ honey is against the law.

The following sets out what is permissible on the label:

Honey, blossom honey/nectar honey, honeydew honey, drained honey, extracted honey, pressed honey.  However ‘comb honey’, ‘chunk honey’ and ‘cut comb in honey ‘ cannot be abbreviated to just plain ‘honey’.  Naming of pressed honey can be named as pressed honey or simply honey.

Additional labelling requirements:

The country of origin where the honey has been harvested should be indicated on the label.  Where the honey originates from more than one country (rarely applicable to amateur beekeepers) the following phrases apply: Blend of EU honeys; blend of non-EU honeys; or blend of EU‑ and non‑EU honeys.  The change from the 2003 Regulations is the change from EC (European Community) to EU (European Union).

Further legal information regulating quality:

  • Colour:  any from nearly colourless to dark brown.
  • Consistency from fluid, viscous, partly or entirely crystallised.
  • Flavour and aroma can vary, but are derived from plant origin.
  • The addition of food ingredients is not permitted (following a case, and after much deliberation, it was agreed at EC level to exclude pollen from being categorised as an ingredient).
  • The honey must be free from substances foreign to it composition.

The following additional composition requirements remain largely unchanged from the 2003 regulations:

Sucrose content in general not more than 5g/100g, exceptions is lavender and borage in the UK.

Moisture content not greater than 20%, the exception being ling heather honey and baker’s honey which 23% (Baker’s honey from ling heather may be 25%).  The water content of most UK honeys is 18%.  Note that honey containing more than 19% water has a high probability of fermentation.

Water insolubles in general not more the 0.1g/100g, and for pressed 0.5g/100g.

Electrical conductivity not more than 0.8mS/cm, exceptions are bell and ling heather in the UK.

Free acid in general not more than 50 milli-equivalents/1000g.

HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural) occurs naturally by the degradation of sugars in the presence on an acid.  This substance is not injurious to any consumer.  HMF increases naturally as honey ages, but heating accelerates the process.  The legal limit for UK honey is 40mg/kg.  Remember marmalades and jams have a high HMF and we all still live!

Diastase is one of the enzymes (starch digesting) present in honey.  The level for diastase activity should be not less than 8 measured by the Schade scale.  Enzymes are produced by the plant and also the hypopharyngeal gland of the bee.  Enzymes are very sensitive to heat.

Most of these above are not measurable by most beekeepers, excepting the moisture content.  In particular HMF and diastase activity are two international measures of quality.

To measure the water content a drop of honey is placed on the appropriate place of a honey refractometer and the percentage read from the scale.

Fermentation is the process whereby naturally occurring sugar tolerant yeasts multiply.  The formation of crystals releases water into the surrounding liquid honey.  Set honey is therefore more likely to ferment in particular if the initial water content was high.

Sugar-tolerant yeasts are present in flowers, hives, the soil around the hives and in premises where honey is processed.  Great care with cleaning equipment and premises will reduce the presence of yeasts.

Explanatory notes from the Regulations 2015:

General composition criteria:

Honey consists of different sugars, predominantly fructose, glucose and other substances such as organic acids, enzymes, minerals and solids derived from honey collection.

It must be as far as possible free from organic or inorganic matters foreign to its composition.

Must not have any foreign tastes or odours,  begun to ferment, artificially changed acidity, heated in such a way that the natural enzymes have been either destroyed or significantly inactivated.

This does not apply to baker’s honey, which may be overheated or have fermented.

No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign inorganic or organic matter.  This does not apply to filtered honey.

There is a long list of other details which are not measurable by most amateur beekeepers.

Further reading:

2015 No 208 FOOD The Honey (Scotland) Regulations 2015