Honey is a staple in many kitchens and it’s a useful sweetener for foods and drinks alike. The great news about honey is that it’s very simple to store so long as you keep it from crystallizing (we’ll define what that means in a bit). And even if your honey does begin to, there are quick and easy ways to restore it.
Honey is one of the easiest things in your pantry to store. Simply keep it in a location away from direct sunlight and in a tightly sealed container. It’s recommended that you use glass jars. Avoid storing honey in non-food plastic containers and metal because it can oxidize.
For long term storage of honey: Keep it in a dark place. Light doesn’t ruin your honey, but the darkness will help it retain its flavor and consistency better, almost as if it were still in a beehive. But this is the major key: don’t put your honey in environments where it will harden.
Which leads us to…
No! If you don’t want it to harden that is. It is not necessary to refrigerate honey. In fact, it’s much easier to handle if you don’t because the cooler temperature will cause the honey to solidify. This makes it difficult to use when you need it and you will have to warm it up to get it back to a liquid state. Honey may also be frozen, although there’s really no need.
Which now leads us to…
When the temperature of the honey dips below 50°F, the crystallization process will accelerate. Don’t store honey in a chilly basement or unheated mudroom. To slow crystallization naturally, store your honey at room temperature, but NOT any warmer (you’ll learn here soon why the warmer is not always the better). Additionally, store honey in glass jars instead of plastic, which is more porous and moisture-encouraging (you’ll soon learn more about why moisture is bad, not to mention an accelerator for crystallization). An airtight lid helps to keep out this moisture too.
Is it okay to eat crystallized honey?
Yes, crystallized honey is safe to eat! Do not be alarmed if your honey becomes cloudy during storage or very thick and grainy. This is the crystallization in effect. It is not harmful nor is it any indication of deterioration. Even more, some people prefer their honey crystallized because is much easier to spread on toast without dripping (you marmalade, jelly, and jam lovers and artisans out there, take that golden nugget). In fact, creamed honey does not contain cream and it is not whipped like butter. It is crystallized. Creamed honey (also called spun honey) is made by controlling the crystallization process so that the crystals that form are of a much smaller size, which produces a smooth, velvety texture.
To find out why your honey crystallizes so quickly, determine the kind of honey you have. Is your honey unfiltered? High in glucose? Raw or unheated?
Unfiltered honey may crystallize faster than filtered honey because crystals will begin to form on pollen or beeswax or any other small particles within the unfiltered honey solution, which will encourage other crystals to form. Honey with a higher level of glucose than fructose will crystallize much faster. The flower nectar used to make the honey will influence the balance of glucose to fructose in the honey that the bees produce. Clover honey, lavender honey, and dandelion honey are all much higher in glucose, so they will crystallize faster. Acacia, sage, and tupelo honey are all higher in fructose than glucose, so they will crystallize much slower than others.
Raw honey with high pollen content will crystallize faster than most commercially produced honey. Cold temperatures also cause crystals.
Sometimes crystallized honey is desirable as was discussed above. Crystallized honey is one of the many forms intentionally produced by many beekeepers. However, what if you don’t desire it and want to fix crystallized honey?
If your honey crystallizes, you can easily re-liquefy it. Simply place the jar in a pan of hot water and stir while gently heating it. Do not overheat it though. Excessive heat may alter the flavor and color if the sugars begin to caramelize.
If you’re working with much, much larger bulk quantities of honey for your products and need intuitive warming in bulk that will retain your honey’s enzymes and viscosity like it’s straight from the hive, consider honey warming blankets.
Also, avoid the microwave as this can get too hot too quickly. If stovetop warming is out of the question, use a bowl of hot water instead. It may take a little longer to liquefy and you may need to replace the water if it cools too much, but it will work eventually.
So, avoid high heat and moisture. The most detrimental things you can do to honey are exposing it to heat and allowing moisture inside the container.
That’s why a normal room temperature is ideal. Like olive oil, honey should be stored at 50-70 Degrees Fahrenheit. If your house tends to get warm, find the coolest spot in the pantry for your honey. Also, be sure to keep it away from the stove, any heat-producing appliances, and sunlight.
To avoid introducing moisture to your honey, make sure the glass container (glass is always better) has a tight seal and use a dry spoon whenever you dip into a jar. Even a small amount of water can promote fermentation, which is how mead is made.
If you take heed to all of the above tips that have been explored here, you are well on your way. Honey has an amazingly long shelf life. Thanks to the high concentration of sugars, honey is one of the most stable natural foods you will find. Raw and unheated honey have even higher concentrations of such sugars, so it can have an almost indefinite shelf life if it’s stored properly.
But in reality, the shelf life of honey depends just as much on how it’s manufactured (whether it is pasteurized or raw, the packaging, etc.). You will notice that honey producers put a “best by” date of about two years on the label. According to the National Honey Board, this is done for practical purposes because honey varies greatly. However, they do note that honey can be stable for decades and even centuries, again, if it’s stored right.
There are some natural chemical changes that can occur, which will make it get dark or crystallize. It may also even lose some of its flavor and aroma over time, but it will not “go bad” in the typical food spoilage sense.
Which finally leads us to a top burning conversation always…
Honey does not go bad. In fact, it’s recognized as the only food that doesn’t spoil. Why? Let’s examine three things: acidity, lack of water, and the presence of hydrogen peroxide.
Honey is naturally extremely acidic. It has a pH that falls between 3 and 4.5 that will kill off almost any bacteria or spoil-ready organism that wants to grow there.
Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water, anywhere from 60-80 percent. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. Additionally, the bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide.
For this reason, honey has been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy. Because it’s so thick, rejects any kind of growth, and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection for wounds that makes it a good salve (MEDHONEY bandages, anyone?). The earliest recorded use of honey for medicinal purposes comes from Sumerian clay tablets, which state that honey was used in 30 percent of prescriptions. The ancient Egyptians used medicinal honey to make skin and eye ointments to treat skin and eye diseases.
Finally, when honey isn’t sealed in a jar, it sucks in moisture. While it’s drawing water out of the wound, which is how it might get infected, it’s letting off this very minute amount of hydrogen peroxide that promotes healing.
If you buy your honey from the supermarket, that little plastic bottle of golden nectar has been heated, strained, and processed so that it contains zero particulates, meaning that there’s nothing in the liquid for molecules to crystallize on, and your supermarket honey will look the same for almost forever. If you buy your honey from a small-scale vendor, however, certain particulates might remain – from pollen to enzymes. With these particulates, the honey might crystallize. But don’t worry. If it’s sealed, it’s not spoiled and won’t be for quite some time.
So again, take control of that honey crystallization, or don’t if you like your honey that way.
Happy honey eating and creating!