Have you ever gone to the pantry to find that your jar of honey has become a solid! Don’t panic-it is not spoiled – it has crystallized. Why does honey crystallize or “turn to sugar”? This is a natural process of that often occurs and is no cause for alarm. Don’t throw out crystallized honey – it is still good and can be fixed or used in the solid form.
Raw Honey is More Likely to Crystallize
Let’s try to understand what has caused that clump of gritty, stickiness lodged in the bottom of the jar. Whether you use the term crystallization or “turned to sugar”, no matter – they both mean the same thing.
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Each jar is made from millions of nectar sources that are gathered by bees. An exquisite blend of many different sugars, enzymes, minerals, salts, and proteins.
A raw product has not been heated or micro-filtered. This means it still contains all the natural components straight from the hive.
Small bits of beeswax, grains of pollen and other particles can serve as a starting point the crystallization process. That jar with a semi-solid consistency can be rather upsetting if it is your first time seeing it.
The Chemistry of Honey Crystallization
Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution. This is a fancy term to say that a larger amount of sugar can be dissolved in the water component of it – when in the warm environment of the hive.
This sugar/water ratio becomes unstable in the cooler environment of our homes. Ripe honey averages a concentration of 80% sugar to 20% water.
At cooler temperatures, the unstable glucose separates from the water, and crystals form. You can see the stages of honey crystallization in a container that is just beginning to solidify – it looks cloudy.
This process continues until the composition becomes stable and the product is solid.
Honey Crystallization Factors
A bee colony usually maintains a temp of near 95° F inside the hive. At this temperature, the sugar and water balance is comfortable this is called a homeostatic condition.
When honey is removed from the warm hive environment to a cooler temperature (our room temp), the sugar/water balance changes again.
The product works to become “comfortable” again. In many cases, this means becoming less liquid and more solid to attain the balance.
Key Factors that Affect Crystallization Rate:
- nectar source – sugar ratios
- filtering process
- storage temperature
How Long Does it Take Honey to Crystallize?
There are several factors that affect the rate of the crystallization process. Nectar source is one. It affects the color shade of honey, flavor, aroma and crystallization rate.
It usually takes several months for a jar to crystallize. However, some types of honey will thicken much quicker.
Clover honey may crystallize in a short time. While Sourwood or Tupelo honey may never become solid as they contain more fructose.
Overall, it is very common for a jar of honey to slowly become stable and form crystals over a period of several months to a year.
Storage Affects Crystallization Rate
It is not only the sugar ratios that affect the rate of crystallization. The method of harvesting and bottling plays a role too.
Most jars from large commercial companies are micro-filtered to remove tiny bits of wax, pollen, etc. This allows them to sit beautifully in a warehouse for months without changing form.
Of course, this ultra-processing always removes some of the flavor and natural goodness of the end product. It is a trade-off that has to be made for a pretty product with a long shelf life.
You can not always stop this process. But, you can sometimes slow the process down. Learning how to where to keep your jars of honey may help delay the change.
Temperature and moisture control is key. The best thing you can do to protect the integrity of your honey is to keep it in a dark room temperature location.
Is Crystallized Honey Bad?
Crystallized honey is not a sign that it is bad. It does NOT crystallize because something has been added to it.
This is a common myth- that someone has added cane syrup or something to it and caused the honey to turn to sugar -not true.
Pure raw honey will usually crystallize much earlier than that found in the large stores. Remember however, that by the same token: crystallization does not prove that it is pure either.
Can You Eat Crystallized Honey?
Yes, you can eat it. Solid or semi-solid consistency is not problem. Crystallized honey is delicious on toast, biscuits, a bagel or as a topping for oatmeal.
If your jar has a grainy, sour smell, it has fermented and that is a different story. This happens if the it has too much moisture.
Honey is hygroscopic meaning that it can absorb moisture from the air. That’s why it should always be stored in a sealed container.
Is Crystallized Honey Good For You?
Crystallized honey is as nutritious as liquid-but not more so. Some people enjoy using it in their coffee or tea.
Some varieties develop small fine crystals that are more palatable for most consumers. The size of the crystals determines whether or not it tastes gritty on the tongue. I have even met a few people who prefer the gritty texture.
When honey is crystallized in controlled conditions, it becomes thick and smooth textured. This is called “creamed honey” – though there is no cream in there.
You can learn how to make your own creamed honey at home. Put it in a pretty jar, add a little powdered cinnamon and you have a special gift idea.
How to Fix Crystallize Honey
What to do when your honey turns to sugar? A lot of people throw away perfectly good jars of this wonderful gift from the bees. It’s so sad and that is not what I want you to do.
If the it has been stored in an airtight container and no moisture/water has gotten inside, you can certainly save your investment.
It is very easy to return it to a liquid form if it is in a glass container. You will find tips in my article – decrystallize honey without damaging it. I do not recommend putting it in the microwave as I feel it will damage some of the nutritional components.
Unless you have a jar of honey from a nectar source that resists crystallization – you can expect it to happen. Once you learn more about the composition of this awesome product, the magic of the beehive becomes even more impressive.