Honey pH

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You may be surprised to learn that sweet honey is considered acidic – honey has a low pH. On the pH scale, anything below 7 is acidic. With measurements between 3 and 6.1, the average pH of honey is 3.9. Rather than being a negative thing, the low pH of honey enables it to do some miraculous things.

Honey on dipper and with pH testing strips.

Honey bees make honey from plant nectar. The actual pH of honey depends on the floral sources used by the bees to make it. This is why we see a range of measurements in regards to honey pH – even though all measurements are below the neutral rank of 7.

What is the pH of Honey?

If you have always thought of acidic substances as being tart – like orange juice or lemon juice, you may be surprised to see honey listed as acidic. It certainly does not taste strong or bitter.

However, it is not taste that matters but the low pH reading. To understand the reason, we must understand just a bit about what pH means.

What is pH?

The abbreviation pH stands for “potential hydrogen” – and concerns the number of hydrogen ions in a substance. The pH level is a range of measurements on a scale that defines something as being acidic or base.

The scale ranges from 0 to 14 – with pure water being in the middle at 7.0. Distilled water is a neutral substance that is neither more acid or base. Anything above 7 is considered basic and anything below is acid.

The more acid something is the lower the pH. This is not necessarily a bad thing but any substance that is very high (very acidic) or very low (very base) can cause reactions with other substances and be dangerous. 

pH scale that shows readings for common items.

Acids Found in Pure Honey

There are several types of acids found in honey. At least 18 amino acids and many organic acids are present. It also contains aliphatic acids and aromatic acids – the last are responsible for taste.

But, the primary organic acid is gluconic acid which has flavor enhancing properties. Gluconic acid is produced in honey by the action of the enzyme glucose oxidase in breaking down glucose.

Bees gather the sweet secretions of plants (honeydew honey) to convert into food suitable for long term storage.

The water composition of fresh nectar is about 80%. This would result in fermentation if stored in the comb in this fresh state.

For the process of converting nectar into ripe honey, enzymes from the bees are needed. Worker bees secrete the enzyme invertase from their salivary glands.

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This enzyme aids in converting the complex sugar sucrose into glucose and fructose. At the same time, the moisture content of honey is reduced to around 20% or less.

This is necessary to create a food product that will keep for longer periods of time without spoiling. The high sugar content and low moisture inhibit the growth of microbes. Now, honey bees can survive Winter with a perfect stored food.

Once the process is completed, beekeepers can harvest excess honey from the hives. This ensures a stable final product with a long shelf life. Honey never goes bad when properly stored.

Jars of honey stored in air-tight jars on shelf.

Honey Becomes Alkaline In the Body

If the idea of consuming honey that is acidic in nature concerns you, worry no longer. In spite of the low pH of honey, it becomes alkaline (more base) after consumption. 

Your stomach is loaded with hydrochloric acid that has a pH level of less than 3. And, your digestive system breaks down the components into more basic materials. Therefore, honey is alkaline forming in spite of its acidic nature.

How Honey is Measured as Acidic

If you want to test the pH values of honey, it is easily done with a litmus test. The paper strips turn colors from blue to red to give a reading. You can also measure acidity in honey using titration against sodium hydroxide with meter and probe.

Honey pH Chart- Different Types

The botanical origin of nectar used to make honey does have an affect on the pH level. Honey contains many different substances: sugars, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, acids, magnesium, potassium, calcium, minimal amounts of protein and more.

  • Acacia 3.9
  • Chestnut 5.4
  • Dandelion 4.4
  • Eucalyptus 4.4
  • Heather 4.3
  • Honeydew 4.4
  • Lavender 3.4
  • Manuka 4.3
  • Orange Blossom 3.6
  • Rosemary 3.9
  • Sunflower 3.7
  • Thyme 3.5
Honey chart with pH levels for varieties.

Honey samples reveal that each variety of honey is slightly different. Bees do not use pollen to make honey but some does end up in the harvest.

In fact, researchers have used melissopalynology (the study of pollen) to determine the botanical origin. This wide variety of nectar sources, causes differing pH values.

Special Properties of Honey

All honey is acidic. The low pH and resulting acidic levels make it very beneficial for many uses. Germs do not grow and prosper in this acidic, low water content environment. This makes it the perfect tool for wound care, burns and more.

Honey has been used as traditional medicine for thousands of years. It is still beneficial today. You can even try it out and make your own honey burn salve with aloe.

3.9 is the average pH of honey and a litmus stick.

Final Thoughts

While it is common to think of acidic foods as being tart on the tongue or a bit harsh on the stomach – this is definitely not the case for honey from bees. Yet another reason you should always keeps a jar on honey on hand. The low pH makes it perfect for many applications.

References:

Bouhlali, Bammou, Sellam, Midaoui, Bourkhis, Ennassir, Alem & Filali-Zegzouti: Physicochemical properties of eleven monofloral honey samples produced in Morocco (Nov 2019)

USDA – Composition of American Honeys – Technical Bulletin No. 1261 (1962)

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