Does Honey Go Bad: Signs of Spoiled Honey
Honey is a golden treat that we can enjoy thanks to the efforts of bees. Gathering plant nectar from millions of blossoms, bees convert the water nectar into a stable form of food. One of the most remarkable characteristics about honey is the ability to last for a very long time without spoiling. Learn why honey has such a long shelf life and how to know if it is safe to consume. Does honey go bad – ever?
Why Honey Does not Expire or Spoil
I’m sure you have heard the stories about honey being found-that is thousands of years old and still not spoiled. They are true – though I have heard little about how good that old stuff tastes. The flavor has to be undesirable even if it is safe to eat.
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Many consumers have stories about jars they have kept for 10 years or more that are still edible and delicious. This is a common occurrence though some of these containers are thrown away out of fear or caution.
What is the Composition of Honey?
Honey is a super saturated sugar that is created by bees from collected flower nectar or insect secretions.
It is a raw food composed of sugars (glucose, fructose, maltose and sucrose. The fact that it has a high sugar content is one reason it can last a long time without spoiling. But there are other factors at work as well.
Reasons Honey Resists Spoilage
- high sugar content – low water
- acidic properties
- enzymes from bees
Ripe honey has a low water content. Beekeepers use a refractometer to make sure their crop is ready to harvest.
This low water content environment makes it impossible for bacteria to grow. All of the moisture is sucked out of the bacteria and causing them to die.
In spite of its smooth sweet taste, honey is actually rather acidic. Most types have a pH of about 3.26 – 4.48, few organisms can grow in it. Bacteria such as salmonella or E colic are not about to prosper in this acidic environment.
During the conversion process, bees add invertase to raw nectar. This causes the glucose oxidase enzymes to produce both hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid.
These compounds work together to prevent the growth of fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms that cause food to spoil.
Factors that Affect the Shelf Life
Fresh ripe honey that is properly harvested and stored from the hive is ready to last for a very long time. But, there are things that we do to it that can affect the shelf life.
Mostly, these related to the quality of the honey. By this I mean, flavor and color that relates to how it looks and tastes.
When you are making plans to store your honey, keep these factors in mind:
- exposure to moisture
- storage temperature
- light exposure
Protecting your it from moisture is one of the most important things way to prevent honey from going bad.
Honey is hygroscopic. This means that it absorbs water from anything in it or around. It can even absorb water from the air. Small amounts for a short term in a cute honey pot – ok. But, that is not the best way store honey long term.
Temperature also plays a role in keeping honey at its best quality. Very high temperatures may damage some of its antimicrobial properties.
However, lower temperatures can increase the rate of crystallization. Crystallization is a natural process that does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong.
But, it may not be the way you want to enjoy it. No, fear – you can decrystallize honey back to it’s natural state with a little patience.
Keeping honey in bright light can cause it to darken faster. This does not mean it is unsafe to consume but is more of a cosmetic issue. Still, a dark container or dark cupboard is best.
Things that Make Honey Spoil
Despite its remarkable abilities, honey can go bad under certain circumstances. When things are added to it or it is stored improperly this interferes with its special abilities.
- contaminates or added substances
- crystallization over a long time
Worldwide, selling honey is big business and not every business owner is honest. It is not uncommon to find product (especially that from other countries) that has been adulterated with substances such as corn syrup, molasses etc.
This is done to stretch the amount of product for sale farther. By adding sweet imitations that are cheaper to produce, the seller has more product.
Any added material can upset the sugar/water balance and enzyme content and result in spoilage. Sometimes, we do this ourselves unintentionally.
We must be careful when making infused products like fire cider, or honey, ginger, lemon tea -to ensure that we are not adding too much moisture. It is wise to watch for signs of spoiling.
Fermentation Over a Long Period
Crystallization is a natural process that happens to most varieties of honey. When your honey crystallizes or “turns to sugar” do not be alarmed.
You can easily fix it and convert it back into liquid form. Even though some people enjoy it in this form – it is called creamed honey when purposely crystallized.
However, there is one situation when crystallization can result in honey that goes bad. Bees ripen honey by reducing the amount of moisture to a stable level – this is often considered to be around 18%.
In a jar undergoing crystallization, as sugar crystals form, excess water is released. If the honey had a border-line high water content to begin with, this excess moisture could result in fermentation.
Signs that Honey Has Gone Bad
How can you tell that your jar of honey has gone bad? The process involves mostly your sense of sight, smell and taste.
A spoiled jar may become cloudy and grainy – but this may just be crystallization so don’t be too quick to throw it out. Does it smell sour? Taste a tiny bit to see if the flavor seems off.
Any sign of mold means it has gone bad and should be discarded immediately. Please do not feed it to wild bees – it can carry spores from American Foulbrood that may harm wild colonies.
Fermentation is one of the most common signs of honey that has spoiled. When this happens you get a foamy bubbly appearance and a yeasty odor. That’s great if you want to make mead but not a desirable trait for a jar of table honey.
Consuming spoiled honey can result in food poisoning and be a serious threat to your health. But, when properly bottled and stored, honey rarely spoils or goes bad.
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find something with a longer shelf life. But, but keep in mind that the flavor and color of stored honey can change over time – even if it is still safe to consume. If you have a serious doubt – throw it out.
Raw honey with a low moisture content can last indefinately when stored properly.
Yes, freezing honey is a great method of storage – you can even do so with comb.
I would not eat fermented honey or any that smells, yeasty or sour.
If it looks good, smells like honey and does not taste sour or yeasty – honey that has been stored for a long time is likely okay to eat.
Even though it has a very long shelf life, honey (being a food product) must have an expiration date on the jar. It is a food industry rule.