A new report out this month from the European Commission has found that 14 per cent of honey samples tested contained added sugar, with this bitter-sweet practice carried out inside the EU, and by third parties.
The report, conducted by Europe's Joint Research Centre (JRC), comes after the Commission has "regularly been informed of the presence on the market, in a potentially significant proportion, of honey that may not meet the composition criteria laid down [in an EU Directive] that is not the result of the production process required by the legal definition of honey."
The EC, via the JRC decided to assess just how bad things were, with 2,264 samples collected and just over 1,000 sent to the JRC for testing, around half of which came from retailers, at all stages of the supply chain from across all EU Member States.
The JRC found that just under 900 samples were compliant, but 14 per cent of these honey samples checked "did not conform to published benchmark purity criteria indicating," with the report saying that "foreign sugars may have been added."
And around 20 per cent of honeys either declared as blends of EU honeys (19 out of 96), or unblended honeys related to an EU Member State (53 out of 275) or a third country (11 out of 55) were found to be "suspicious of containing added sugar."
The JRC points out that it is not an official lab, and that more tests will need to be undertaken to confirm the results.
The report also suggests that, to help seek out honey in the future with these added sugars, Members States and some third countries to put their domestic samples into a new, central repository, so they can be independently sampled and analysed.
"Such comprehensive data would allow a better control of EU honey quality, and protect producers as well as consumers from being misinformed," the EC report's authors state.
Adulteration by sweeteners is "one of the most important authenticity issues", the report says, and all this requires is the addition of sugar (ie syrups) directly to honey.
Over the years, this has become more sophisticated, evolving from the basic addition of sucrose and water to specially produced syrups which mimic the sugar composition of natural honey.
There is also a second, indirect way of adulterating honey, namely by feeding of sugar during the main nectar flow period for bees. The report notes, however, that this "is extremely difficult to detect."
According to a recent report from the European Commission, Romania has in the last few years boosted its honey production to become the EU's largest producer.
In the latest figures for 2015, Romania produced 35,000 tonnes of honey, with Spain and Hungary, which yielded 32,200 and 30,700 respectively, the second and third largest European producers.