Have you received honey that has turned to a semi-solid granulated state? Does that mean the honey has gone bad? The short answer, no. In fact, the honey is not likely to expire within your lifetime! What you are noticing is the honey beginning to crystallize. This does not at all mean that crystallization has diminished the quality of the honey. It merely changes the color and texture. Some people prefer honey in this consistency as it becomes more spreadable on food, others prefer it in the more common consistency of syrup.
Crystallization is the honeys natural method of preservation. Modern archaeologists have found pots of honey perfectly preserved for thousands of years inside ancient Egyptian tombs. Due to honeys naturally very low moisture content and very high acidity, the environment is inhospitable for bacteria and microorganisms to survive long enough for honey to spoil. Another reason for honeys perpetual shelf life? Bee magic, of course! The nectar collected by the bees has a very high water content, however, the bees remove that water by flapping their wings during the honey making process, drying it out. Bees also have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase, which mixes with the honey when regurgitated, producing a by-product of gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This natural form of hydrogen peroxide is another inhibitor of any growing bacteria.
Crystallization occuring naturally in the hive. Source: pixabay.com
So why does the honey crystallize in the first place? Why doesn’t supermarket honey crystallize?
Because honey is so high in sugars and so low in water content, like everything in nature, the solution seeks to find balance. When the sugars separate from the water, the sugars crystallize and create a more balanced environment. Here at Mickelberry Gardens, all the honey we offer is raw, meaning it has been minimally filtered and processed in order to keep intact all the beneficial pollen and enzymes. We heat our honey warm enough to turn it to a smooth liquid state, but never hotter than the inside of the beehive on a hot summer day, so the complex enzymes and molecules are not destroyed. We typically do not heat more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We filter with a screen large enough to remove foreign bodies (i.e. bees), but allow all pollens to remain. The particulates of pollen and enzymes that remain in the honey offer a surface on which molecules can crystallize. Most supermarket honey has been filtered to remove these particulates for a more cosmetically appealing product, so the crystals have nothing to attach to. The rate at which honey crystallizes varies depending on the variety of honey, the amount of sugars present, and whether the honey is exposed to cooler temperatures causing it to crystallize more quickly. Which might explain some confusion when one jar of honey has crystallized and another has not.
How do you decrystallize the honey?
If you prefer not to have your honey crystallized, and would like to return it to a more liquid state, you simply warm it up! NEVER use a microwave to heat your honey, as it will get too hot and destroy the beneficial enzymes in the honey. One easy way to decrystallize your honey would be by bringing a pot of water to a boil, removing the pot from the heat, and placing your jar of honey in the hot water as it cools. Once the water reaches room temperature, check that the honey has decrystallized. If not, repeat the process until the honey reaches the desired consistency. Click the link at the bottom of the page for other ways to decrystallize your honey.
Keep in mind, even though honey has a virtually non-existent expiry date, that does not mean it can sit out unsealed. Honey will absorb water in a humid environment, thus making it more habitable for bacteria and susceptible to spoil sooner than the typical 3,000+ years. So keep the lid on when not in use and save some delicious Mickelberry Gardens Honey for your (very) distant friends and relatives!
Decrystallizing your honey: https://www.lincolnlandbeekeepers.com/uploads/1/0/6/4/10649295/how_to_decrystalize_honey.pdf