Tourist Tip #329 / Beware the Fake Honey Trap

This Rosh Hashanah, when you dip apple in honey, make sure it's not just sugar syrup. Here's how you do it.

It is a sticky but delicious tradition to dip apple in honey, and eat it, on Rosh Hashanah. However, chintz on the cash and you might find yourself lovingly looking on the family dipping their fruit into sugar syrup instead of the fruit of the bee.

Year-round and certainly in this season, counterfeit honey abounds. Lower that eyebrow: While faking honey may not pay as well as faking NIS 200 notes, evidently it pays well enough. Hereinbelow Tourism Tip provides a scientific way to prove you've been diddled, but before breaking out the beakers, there are some ways to spot suspicious products.

Just a glance may not do it. Fake honey can look disturbingly genuine and be persuasively packaged. In 2008 the police nabbed a shipment of the stuff that was labeled not only as being "pure honey" but as being free of food color and preservatives – "chutzpah," as they put it.

But there are some telltale signs and first and foremost is price. A lot of Israeli stores will offer discounts on honey ahead of Rosh Hashanah, but if the price is too sweet, be suspicious. A 500-gram jar of honey starts at nearly NIS 17 at the heavy-discount outlets.

Second is color, though here you're counting on the sheer incompetence of the counterfeiter – in not putting in enough food coloring. Honey should be rich golden brown; fake honey can be oddly pale. There is even a fake honey with real honeycomb inside – dotted with real dead bees in the matrix - making the rounds this year.

Third is texture. You can check this before buying and opening the jar – just tip it. Real honey is sticky, thick stuff. If the stuff inside the jar seems watery in texture, it probably is watery in texture and may not be real honey.

The bottom line is – you can't be sure, so go with your gut. If you pick up the jar, tilt it and start to wonder, put it back.

Here's a tip: Faking granulated honey is a huge pain and isn't done.

But say you like liquid honey. And say you chose a jar and took it home and now wonder if it's the real deal.

A simple test involves sticking a spoonful into a glass of room-temperature water and stirring a little. If the stuff effortlessly dissolves into the water, it's sugar syrup. If it sits there in a lump, it's more likely to be honey.

Another simple test involves dipping a candle wick into the suspect sweet and lighting it with a match. If it lights and burns easily, it's honey. If it's hard or impossible to light the wick, you have water in the mix which is indicative that the product is fake.

The ultimate scientific method for home-testing whether honey is real or not involves testing for a component that is in honey, and isn't in the fake goo – the enzyme honey amylase. What the enzyme does is degrade starch. This is how you test for it: Mix two spoons of honey with two spoons of water. Add half a spoon of 1-percent food starch solution. Simmer the mixture gently on the stove on the lowest possible heat for an hour – don't let it get anywhere near boiling - 30 to 40 degrees Celsius is the ticket! Now add a few drops of iodine solution and stir. If the product is fake, it has no amylase and the starch is still there. The iodine will form a startlingly dark blue compound. If your mixture doesn't turn dark blue, the enzyme degraded the starch, you're good and so is your honey. If it did, well. Now you know.

Ilya Melnikov