Honey is defined via the work of Jonathan White and associates in Composition of American Honeys, 1962. See a copy here. A summary of the findings is found in
Beekeeping in the United States. Agricultural Handbook 335, Revised October 1980, pp. 82-91 at Bee Source.
Honey, as it is found in the hive, is a truly remarkable material, elaborated by bees from floral nectar, and less often insect residues to produce honeydew. Nectar is a thin, easily spoiled sweet liquid that is changed (“ripened”) by the honey bee to a stable, high-density, high-energy food. The earlier U.S. Food and Drug Act defined honey as “the nectar and saccharine exudation of plants, gathered, modified, and stored in the comb by honey bees (Apis mellifera and A. dorsata); is levorotatory; contains not more than 25% water, not more than 0.25% ash, and not more than 8% sucrose.” The limits established in this definition were largely based on a survey published in 1908. Today, this definition has an advisory status only, but is not totally correct, as it allows too high a content of water and sucrose, is too low in ash, and makes no mention of honeydew.
In reality, therefore, there is no “official definition” of honey. The National Honey Board approved the following definition in June 15, 1996, updated September 27, 2003:
“Honey is the substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants are gathered, modified and stored in the honeycomb by honey bees. The definition of honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance. This includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners.” A fuller document is found at http://honey.com.
Other issues surrounding honey include economic adulteration, tropical honey, HAACP in processing, and the organic designation. Many of these issues are currently examined by the National Honey Board, which has in interesting history in its own right.
Here’s a fun explanation of how bees make honey.
Finally, honey has been used as a natural product in human health for centuries, not only for its nutritional value, but also as “nature’s first aid kit in a jar.” There is no “best” honey as it is infinitely variable. Rather like wine, honey has its own terroir, and many tastings around the world exist to examine the subtleties of this unique sweet material, only available from a unique collaboration of plants and insects.