Honey is a popular honey topping that can be used in yoghurt and tea to sweeten it. 

But an expert has revealed most honey sold in the UK is fake and designed to trick the customer into believing their eating a natural healthy product when in reality it is  a blend of extremely unhealthy and unnatural sugar syrups illegally made in Chinese factories and imported to the UK. 

Speaking exclusively to FEMAIL, London-based honey sommelier Sarah Wyndham- Lewis revealed that so called ‘honey-laundering’ is so widespread in  Europe that ten million hives are at risk of dying out. This is a particularly serious issue in the UK, where 86 per cent of the approximately 50,000 tonnes of honey Brits consume are imported.

Sarah, who runs sustainable beekeeping practice Bermondsey Street Bees with her beekeeper husband, added that honey is a luxury good and real honey can cost up to £8 a jar – and that it should be treated as a luxury good because it takes 12 bees their whole lifetime to make just one teaspoon of honey.

However, honey-laundering is now so widespread that budget supermarkets are selling it for as little as 80p – far lower than the cost of production (about £3.50 per kilo).

Sarah is a honey supplier to top five-star restaurants, Michelin-starred chefs, Michelin-starred bartenders and Michelin hotels. She says that most people don’t know what a supermarket is doing to their health.

FEMAIL spoke to her, saying that the entire industry was designed to keep consumers away from it.

“Honey fraud” is one of most widespread food frauds in human history.  It’s up there with wine and olive oil as the three most frequently fraudulently produced  and sold products of earth.’.  

Honey-laundering is now so widespread that budget supermarkets are selling it for as little as 80p - far lower than the cost of production

Honey-laundering has become so common that supermarkets selling honey are offering it at 80p, which is far less than its production cost.

“Basically, many different levels of fraudulent activity. 

It’s nothing like the horsemeat scandal. It’s possible to look at the meat with a magnifying glass and conclude that it’s not beef.

‘With honey. You can make syrup in a lot of factories, mainly located in China. These are made from honey. 

The problem is global, in 2013 the US Justice Department charged two major honey importers in ‘Operation Honeygate’  – which became the biggest incident of food fraud in US history.   

Honey Solutions and Groeb Farms, the importers, avoided $180million in shipping duties. They shipped honey through Asia and Europe before selling it to the US. This conceals its true origin. 

Nearly a decade later, nothing has changed. And the UK could be facing its worst case of food theft since the Horsemeat scandal.

The UK alone buys 47 per cent of Europe’s honey imports from China meaning fake honey, which often contains a small amount of real honey blended with high-fructose corn syrups is rife on supermarket shelves.

The Honey Authenticity Project Lab analyzed 11 UK supermarket brand brands and found none of them met EU labelling guidelines.  

An analysis from the Honey Authenticity Project lab of 11 UK supermarket brands found that none complied with EU labelling standards and couldn't be called 'real honey' (stock image)

A Honey Authenticity Project laboratory analysis of eleven UK supermarket brands revealed that none met EU labelling requirements and could not be called’real honey. Stock image

Tests conducted on own-brand honeys from Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda in 2020 suggest they have been bulked out with cheap syrups made from rice and corn – without the retailers’ knowledge.

The UK would be the biggest country to have a food scam since 2013’s horsemeat scandal if the new generation of “nuclear magnet resonance” tests proves correct.

How to tell if honey you receive is real 


Sarah says that looking at honey labels is the best way to verify its authenticity.

Avoid any label that suggests a blend, especially if they indicate non-EU honeys.

“Checking honey labels is not the best way to test honey.

‘But at consumer level it’s the best  clue you’re going to get that that honey has been processed in the factory rather than made by bees. 

“Real honey comes from bees, while supermarket honey is produced by food scientists at a factory.”

However, there are many other methods to verify that you are not being harmed by honey-scammers.


Honey isn’t sticky. Test this by using your fingers to rub it.

The sweeteners and syrups in fake honey can make it stick. 


Honey will thicken quickly when heated.

 Fake honey will make foam


Is that the squeezy, runny honey of children? You’re not going to believe it.

Real honey has a thick texture that can be difficult to maneuver around in jars.

Fake honey can quickly spill out of the jar and move around.

You can test this by looking at how long it  it takes to travel from one side of a honey jar to the other.


Spread honey onto a piece of bread. Real honey will harden in around 60 seconds, while fake honey won’t harden because it has more moisture.  


Honey must have a floral or mild scent that can be altered as it is heated or cooled.

It’s most likely fake if there is no smell.  


 Real honey isn’t always sweet – and is the honey is sickly and sugary, it’s probably fake.

Sarah explained that sweetness isn’t the only thing you can get out of honey. Honey can sometimes be smelly and musty. It can taste woody, fruity, or all of the above.  

‘As a honey sommelier  we have a whole vocabulary just like wine sommeliers and then you have terms that we use a sweetness is the least interesting thing about money in many respects’.

However, honey retailers and importers insist that the honey tests which analyze sugars in honey to pick those from bees rather than factories are flawed and can’t be trusted. 

The UK imports 50,000 tons of honey each year – about a third of it from China – but British and EU beekeepers question how China can produce it for as little at £1.10 a kilo when it typically costs at least £3.50 in Europe.

Etienne Bruneau of Copa-Cogeca (which represents European farmers) stated that the reason for this price variation is large-scale added sugar syrup.

The exact amount of ‘fake honey’ in the world is up for debate,  mostly because fraudster are advanced and coming up with clever ways to pass tests. 

Sarah said that no test has ever been able to detect all elements of honey fraud.

“The fraudsters are always ahead of the tests, even though they get more complex.

The fraud known as honey is being carried out. It’s because there is a lot invested in it. And, it’s also the province of organized crime. 

“Selling drugs is much less risky, if you stop and think about it.” 

“Groups in China take so-called honeys out of all kinds of places. 

“They might appear honey-like at the beginning, but their requirements are likely to change over time, and so they combine them.

“The product is not described by its flavors, but it is defined by the three factors: the colour, viscosity and the price.

Honey can be found on the labels.

Sarah recommends that you avoid anything that has the word “blend” on it, as there’s no reason to combine honey.

Avoid anything that states “blend of non EU honeys” as it could be loaded with sugar syrups. 

According to some estimates, these Chinese factories now produce more honey per hectare than any other bees.

Global production has grown by nearly 50% over the last two decades. 

During the same period, the number of farmed beehives has increased, too — but by less than 30 per cent to about 90 million, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Beekeepers warn that cheap imports threaten to put them out of business, meaning fewer bees to pollinate crops, wildflowers and trees — risking ecological disaster.

However, we are still eating record quantities of honey in Britain.

Sales grew 20 per cent last year and were worth £150 million, according to data company Kantar. Problem is, fraudsters have been attracted to booming sales.

Manuka honey is a highly-priced product that comes from Australia and New Zealand. It has been used for years by stars like Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and others. Only 2,500 tons are produced annually — but 10,000 tons are sold.

The theft of honeys from cheaper beekeepers is confirmed by police intelligence. And beekeepers from Europe to South America allege the adulteration originates largely in China — the world’s biggest honey-producing nation. The country sends 36,000 tonnes a year to Britain, which is its largest global customer.

‘Supermarket honey, which is essentially made as  somebody has specified “I want this colour. It should be this way. This is how it should work in terms its viscosity.

Aldi and Lidl can go as low as a penny at 86 pence per container of honey. This is far less than the cost of production and doesn’t pass our test.  

Anything that says blend should be avoided, particularly if it indicated there are non-EU honeys (pictured)

Any label that suggests a blend should be avoided. This is especially true if they indicate non-EU honeys.

“We ran the same tests on supermarket honey as we did with our honey to make sure it passed the same stringent testing. Every time we run the test, it shows up that it had sugars that were not related to the honey bees.

The honey-laundering of honey is also bad for bees, who are an integral part of maintaining larger agriculture.

How can you tell which supermarket honeys have been tampered with?  What are the best ways to find honey from real sources?

Honey Authenticity Project published a 2020 study that found 13 honey brands were tested by FoodQS (an accredited German laboratory). 

Nine products were tested, including Co-op Clear Honey 454g and Tesco Clear Honey 340g. It was found to contain psicose. Psicose is a sugar that doesn’t normally exist in honey.

Ten out of 13 samples, including Asda Set Pure Honey as well Sainsbury’s Clear Honey were tested for enzymes. This indicates that the honey may have been ‘adulterated inverted syrup’.

Bernd Kampf is the managing director at FoodQS. He stated that he found more than one sign for adulteration in each sample. Some have positive results that indicate adulteration.

Sarah said a good way to find real honeyi s to look  online to the British Beekeepers Association to look up your local hives.

These people are open on days. They have sales. There is lots of chance to get in touch with honey producers from the area.

 ‘In many Asian countries, honey is often harvested too early,’ wrote Professors Norberto Garcia and Stephan Schwarzinger in Food Fraud, a new academic textbook.

“This honey is usually not ripe and does not have the honey’s typical flavour and odour. It also has a high water content.

Garcia is a bee physiologist from Universidad Nacional Del Sur, Argentina. Schwarzinger, a Bayreuth University food chemist, said: ‘Water content must be decreased before export in so called honey factories which also filter to remove veterinary drug residues and pesticide residues.

The honey is then typically sent to factories for blending with different honeys — and potentially other substances, too, such as cheap rice syrup.

Some scientists question if such a substance can be called honey at all — under the legal definition, it has to be stored ‘in honeycombs to ripen and mature’. Online advertisements for adulterants are even being made by China’s factories. Alibaba advertises fructose syrup as honey. It claims it is able to pass the tests necessary for identifying adulterated honey.

These practices have been reported to Chinese authorities who claim they are trying to find them.      

Sarah states, “Honey should be an absolute picture postcard of that time and place that forage, and that’s exactly what they’re bringing home.”  

You can then take honey one-to-one and not mix it. That’s a great picture.

“What concerns me as a honey-sommelier? The quality of the honey. The same wine sommeliers concern themselves with flavour and aroma.

Sarah does not believe that fake honey should ever be banned. However, she believes labelling needs to be updated so it is clear that it’s not an organic product.      

“It is not my decision if someone wants to purchase very high-processed products. 

“But, the true thing isn’t the one that has all of the amazing properties and flavours that nutrients you can’t find in fake honey.

“The truth is that there are no commodities. You can make this rendered offer.

“You can have caviar or fish eggs, as an example.  You can get those both in  the supermarket – and some people call fish eggs,  caviar but it isn’t because caviar comes from sturgeons. 

It’s an example of a similar thing. They cannot be done in a hurry. They aren’t made to be used in commodification.     

We shouldn’t ban honey. It’s undemocratic, and it’s not helpful. We should instead be trying to better define honey. 

“So now we have a great model in maple syrup. Two products could be next to one another. One is very inexpensive and clearly marked “maple flavoured maple syrup”.  It could also be next to a provenance item, which will probably cost five times as much.

‘If honey has its authenticity assured by a given body, the problem at  point of sale goes away.’