What’s in the honey pot: Comprehensive database to support honey quality assurance


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Australian beekeepers know their honey is top shelf, and now a project funded by AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination Program is giving beekeepers and the industry the scientific evidence and confidence to support their premium-product claims locally and globally.

The chemical composition of honey project, led by chemist Jamie Ayton from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), is establishing world-standard testing protocols to determine exactly what Australian honey is made of and to create an Australian honey quality assurance standard.

The project seeks to provide evidence to protect the Australian honey industry from adulteration, improve the traceability of Australian honey and based on their unique product help Aussie beekeepers receive a premium price.


Standards to protect the industry and support Australian honey’s premium brand

 With no formal quality standards, or recognised testing protocols in place, the domestic industry is compromised as it cannot currently state that all Australian-produced honey is unadulterated.

Negative media associated with Australian honey and reports of adulteration of Australian honey highlighted the need for these standards and an Australian honey chemistry database.

“The information we are collecting, in association with data from other analytical techniques, will help determine the composition of Australian honey. If in the future, allegations are made about the provenance of the product beekeepers and industry will be able to use the results to confirm the composition and provenance, hence offering market protection,” said Jamie.

Jamie believes the project has the potential to achieve far more than market protection alone.

“An Australian honey chemistry database is also an important component in developing premium products and strategies for future industry development. In time we would like to see Australian honey, tested using these protocols, branded with an internationally recognised and revered quality assurance (QA) mark,” said Jamie.

Defining our difference

Commercial beekeeper and member of AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination Advisory Panel, Steve Fuller, has been providing honey samples for the project in an effort to help define Australian honey’s uniqueness and to protect its global reputation.

Commercial beekeeper and member of AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination Advisory Panel Steve Fuller

“Nowhere else in the world produces honey like Australian honey. We have more than 700 native floral resources – from eucalypts to rainforest species – for our bees to gather nectar to produce honey.

“With such diverse flora, it’s unrealistic to think that the same standards can be used to test Australian honey as our international counterparts when, at its core, the ‘ingredients’ are so different. But, at the moment we don’t have any baseline data to 100% prove the origin and quality of Australian honey,” said Steve.


That’s where Jamie and his team at NSW DPI come in, using existing international honey standards, they have developed Australian laboratory-based tests to establish the baseline data on the composition of Australian honey and have successfully verified the accuracy of these tests. They are now applying these new protocols, to testing Australian honey samples – provided by east-coast based Australian beekeepers like Steve – to develop a comprehensive database of Australian honey profiles.

On the basis of Australia’s diverse and unique floral sources, Jamie expects Australian honey to be different from honeys produced in other countries. Based on these differences, a critical component of the project for Jamie is to define what the Australian product is.

“The international standards for honey are developed in the northern hemisphere under European conditions. Some of these parameters may not apply in Australia,” said Jamie.

“Through our testing protocols, we can define the differences, create awareness and build consumer confidence in our unique product offering.”

“Increasingly consumers are seeking assurance about where their food comes from, what is in their food and the potential health benefits of food.”

It is envisaged that based on this research the Australian honey bee industry will establish a commercial honey testing laboratory to provide commercial beekeepers with defensible and robust data on the chemical composition of their product to demonstrate the quality of their product and to support marketing efforts locally and globally.

Progress to date

So far, using standardised methods from the International Honey Commission (IHC), the research team has established analytical methods required for honey quality analysis, including parameters such as: fructose, glucose and sucrose content, pH, moisture, electrical conductivity (EC), free acid, water insoluble solids, diastase number (enzyme activity) and hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF).

“We have used quality control samples from well-established laboratory proficiency programs to ensure the accuracy of the results,” said Jamie

“This means we are assured of the accuracy of the analytical methods we have developed in our laboratory compared against international methods.”

What’s the buzz about?

Beekeepers from Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania are being encouraged to be involved by supplying honey samples to develop a comprehensive picture of Australian honey.

“At no cost to beekeepers, we will supply sample jars, pay for postage, test their honey samples, produce a chemical analysis and provide individual results to participants,” explained Jamie.

“Some of the key attributes we test for, such as enzyme activity, electrical conductivity and moisture content, are impacted by temperature during extraction and processing, as well as storage conditions. Having hard data on these honey components can help Australian beekeepers to manage their processes for optimal product quality.”

Jamie also noted that beekeepers can compare their own results against industry average data, and in time he hopes to be able to develop the capacity to compare honeys on a regional basis.

“We are not a commercial testing service at the moment, but if the industry sees the benefit of the database and the opportunity of what is essentially a QA program, then our hope would be to set up a commercial testing service for the honey industry,” said Jamie.

The chemical composition of honey project is a two-year project concluding in late 2022. While a complete database for the Australian honey industry requires a longer commitment (most likely up to five years to ensure seasonal variation is captured).   The chemical composition of honey project will provide initial information, which can be used to establish an Australian honey standard that accurately reflects the composition of Australian honey.

Beekeepers interested in providing a sample can contact Jamie Ayton, NSW DPI via email jamie.ayton@dpi.nsw.gov.au.

For updates on the Honey Bee & Pollination Program and this project visit agrifutures.com.au/honey-bee-pollination

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