Springtime Honey Lemon Cookies (Grain/Gluten-Free)
Can you tell I am so ready for spring? These simple springtime-inspired honey lemon cookies helped ease the craving for warm weather, buds opening in the gardens and on trees, and baby animals frolicking (I’m nostalgic for the chicks and foals every year on my parents’ ranch back in Texas during my childhood). I also used this cookie recipe as an excuse to dig into honey contamination, adulteration, and smuggling . . . which I was mostly ignorant of until researching tips for purchasing quality honey to include in this article.
Try this small experiment: Google “illegal Chinese honey”, filter for search results in the past year, and you’ll get pages detailing U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seizures of hundreds of tons of illegal Chinese honey as a result of foiled smuggling attempts just in the most recent twelve months.
A tariff has been imposed on Chinese honey entering the United States since 2008 when the U.S. Commerce Department determined that Chinese-origin honey was being sold in the United States at less than fair market value. Immediately after the tariff was first put into place there was a steep decline of honey originating from China, but before long, honey began flooding in from countries that hadn’t traditionally been big producers. The honey is “laundered” by being sent to an intermediate country and relabeled as a product of that country to disguise its true origin.
A percentage of honey on the shelves of major supermarkets is likely smuggled into the country under false labeling, and subjected to an ultra-filtration process to remove any organic markers such as pollen that that would betray its geographic origins. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations department:
“Food fraud is a growing epidemic across all types of products. From seafood to vintage wines to honey, food products with any economic value are being intentionally adulterated, smuggled, or simply misrepresented by knowing participants to maximize profits.”
Honey smuggling into the United States is more difficult to police because the ultra-filtration process used to disguise Chinese honey is also the method commonly used by domestic producers to prevent crystallization (a common result of pollen) and to achieve the clear, liquid, clarified product that U.S. consumers overwhelmingly prefer. Ultra-filtration is therefore not a reliable way to tell whether the honey has been laundered.
There is no FDA-mandated definition of honey. According to its draft guidelines for the industry, honey is “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs” and the FDA combines this “common usage” with existing legislation—specifically 402(b)(1) through 402(b)(4) of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act)—to stipulate that:
“A food is adulterated if a valuable constituent has been omitted in whole or in part from a food, or if any substance has been substituted wholly or in part, or if damage or inferiority has been concealed in any manner, or if a substance has been added to a food so as to increase its bulk or weight, reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear to be better or of greater value than it is.”
Whew! While this seems a bit loose and roundabout, the FDA does have enforceable authority to protect consumers against honey adulterated with such things as sugar and corn syrup under the FD&C Act since these additives are not included in the “common usage” definition of honey. That being said, testing honey for adulteration is an expensive, multi-step process conducted on only a small percentage of honey consumed yearly in the United States . . . so information is limited on what percentage of honey on grocery store shelves is truly pure.
Honey may be polluted by pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, antibiotics, and radioactive materials (source). There are no standardized maximum residue levels (MRLs) of these contaminants in bee products, including honey. While it is common to see “produced without the use of antibiotics” on meat packaging, for example, there is no such assurance where honey is concerned. Labeling of honey should be supported by an analysis that confirms its provenance and safety, but that isn’t the reality. Bees are wide-ranging foragers, so contamination of honey is a trickle-down effect of contaminants and pollutants in the general environment.
Bottom line and a quick rule of thumb: to avoid smuggling, adulterating, or contamination, seek out honey produced with 1) transparent business practices and traceability from 2) bees verifiably inhabiting remote or protected habitats with a higher likelihood of environmental purity.
To celebrate responsibly-sourced honey, I created this special cassava flour Springtime Honey Lemon Cookies recipe. I decorated them with lemon zest and a very simple lemon-honey frosting. If you skip the frosting, they’re a little crumbly, a little sweet (next time I may include a teaspoon of lemon zest into the cookie dough itself because I love the combination of lemon and honey almost too much). Lemon Lovers Anonymous, here I come.
Also, may I show off my honey spoon? Look at that fat bee climbing into the flower! I got this at a specialty shop here in San Francisco and it’s perfect for this recipe.Print
Springtime Honey Lemon Cookies (Grain/Gluten-Free)
- Prep Time: 20 min
- Cook Time: 10 min
- Total Time: 30 min
- Yield: 12 servings 1x
- 2/3 cup coconut oil
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups cassava flour
- 1 cup almond meal
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 cup shortening
- 1/4 cup honey
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Mix the coconut oil, honey, and egg yolks until foamy. Mix in flours and salt.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a cookie sheet and set it aside.
- Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper to a 1/4″ thickness. Make shapes using a cookie cutter, then transfer them to the greased cookie sheet.
- Bake 7-10 minutes until browned and firm. Set aside to cool.
- To make the frosting, whip the shortening, honey, and lemon juice together until totally mixed and smooth. When the cookies have cooled, top with the frosting using a small knife or the back of a spoon. Finish with lemon zest.
Just as long as it’s safe.
Fresh Planet FlavorAndrea
It’ll get less safe as our environment because more contaminated and polluted if testing technology and legislation doesn’t advance.
These are adorable! My girls would love these – Thank you for the great recipe so I don’t have to think about Easter treats!
Fresh Planet FlavorRenee
Thank you! Yes, trying to get in front of the holidays this year. 🙂
These are sooo cute! And I love the photos you took 🙂
Heather | My Moxietude
I had no idea about the honey issue and China. Thanks for the info. I definitely try to buy local, but I will certainly put more effort into it now. And the cookies look amazing and such a nice departure from the overly sugared, multi-color cookies your see for Easter. Thank you!!
Fresh Planet FlavorHeather | My Moxietude
I wouldn’t say it’s a question of exactly buying local so much as it is researching the environment that the bees inhabit. If you live in Iowa, for example, you may not want to buy local honey because it is contaminated with glyphosate, the main ingredient in weed-killer Roundup (since much of the corn in Iowa is genetically modified to withstand Roundup and it is therefore sprayed freely).
I had no idea. I buy local honey. It’s more expensive, but I prefer to support locals. Thanks for the info.
An absolutely fascinating article, I certainly will take more care and question the source of my honey. I do usually purchase local honey as I believe it is good for hay fever suffers to consume honey from the same area – it seems to help my daughter.
Fresh Planet FlavorDonna
I haven’t been able to find any studies that substantiate the link between local honey consumption and alleviation of allergy symptoms… If you can find anything, send it my way!
The cookies look amazing, they came out great! And some really good info on sourcing honey. You really do have to be careful!
Real Food with Dana
This is so essential to know about honey!! Also, totally in lemon lovers anonymous with you, and will definitely be making these soon!!
Wow, I had no idea about all that with honey! Good to know and to look out for. And these cookies look so simple and delicious! My kids were asking me to make cookies yesterday so I might have to give these a go!
Cassava flour ftw!
This has to be the cutest recipe I’ve seen in a long time! It totally hits those spring notes.
Fresh Planet FlavorIrena Macri
Thanks, exactly what I was going for!
Joanie @ ZagLeft
I had no idea about the honey issue in China. This was so interesting to learn about. I love using honey in recipes and will be looking closer at the honey I purchase. Definitely looking forward to trying your lovely cookies soon.
Emily Recipes to Nourish
These photos are stunning! I want some those cookies too! I love honey and lemon together and those cookies are too cute! My kids would love these.
I love lemon and honey together and these cookies are so cute for Easter! Thanks for all the important honey buying info. I try to be careful, but this is helpful. My hubby eats as much honey as Pooh Bear, so I should show him this article.
Yes, not something to scare folks just something to keep in mind.
Holy smokes! That’s some scary info. Thank you for the education… oh and the totes adorable cookies <3
These cookies are so cute and perfect for spring! I LOVE lemon so I know I will love these! I did not know about honey smuggling- that is crazy! Makes me feel good that I buy my honey locally 🙂
They really do smuggle anything that has high enough perceived value and is easy to counterfeit! A friend of mine is going into beekeeping, and I’m looking forward to getting my honey straight from her.
Such gorgeous cookies, I love the combo of honey and lemon, and thanks for all the great information!
These cookies are so cute and they look sinfully delicious. Thanks for sharing !
OMG! These are too cute! I love lemon anything!
This is truly a tasty and refreshing treat. Happy Spring!
I must make these delightful cookies very soon. Thanks for sharing!
My daughter would love making these with me… Great info on honey, I buy mine from the local farm shop where I asked about the whole process so that it was kind to the bees, etc. Everyone needs to know this.
I had no idea about the state of affairs in China – it’s so odd (and rather worrying) how these things can go relatively unnoticed. Thank you so much for sharing this information for the rest of us to become more educated. I’m relieved to say however that I only buy local honey. But anyways – uhh these cookies look and sound A-MAZING!
These cookies are so pretty, and there’s so much great info here! Had no idea honey was so complicated.
The recipe ingredient list calls for eggs but the method says yolks… can you clarify which it is please? I want to make sure I get it right!
Lovely recipe flavours though and very informative article, thanks for sharing. I live in New Zealand and everyone assumes all the honey here is excellent, but I shall be looking into it now I know what to ask about.
Fresh Planet FlavorKay
Good catch, Kay! I have corrected the instructions to say merely “eggs”.
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