Why Does Honey Crystallize?
Why does honey crystallize or turn to sugar – is it safe to eat ? If you are a lover of natural foods such as honey, I am sure you have gone to the cabinet and found that something weird was wrong with your jar of honey. That jar of natural sweetness is now a clump of gritty stickiness lodged in the bottom of the jar. Oh no, has my honey gone bad?
Do I have to throw it away? The answer is NO and NO. Good quality pure honey is not cheap and honey can be used for more than just food. Still the sight of crystallized honey is rather unsettling, lets investigate the reason for this action.
Why does honey crystallize into a gritty mess ? Actually, it is not spoiled or ruined and is perfectly OK to eat. Please don’t throw it out. It certainly does not look like we expect but the goodness is still there. In fact, some people enjoy crystallized honey in their coffee or tea. Your honey is not doing anything really strange or unusual.
This is a natural process of raw honey. In order to understand a bit more about this strange state of your previously delicious honey, we need a better understanding the components of honey.
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How Honey Variety Affects Crystallization
Each type of honey has unique aromas and flavor depending on the source of nectar collected by the honeybees. And that nectar source plays a huge role in the answer to why does honey crystallize. Honey made in different areas of the country will taste and look different. I have found this to be true even here on the farm. One box of honey may be light amber and the next one could be dark burgundy.
Depending on climate, honeybees may collect nectar from Black Locust, Tulip Poplars, Maples, Tupelo, Basswood, Sourwood and Clover and too many more to name. Each nectar source contributes an aroma and taste factor to the finished product. (Honey that is intentionally caused to crystallize is called creamed honey or Spun Honey. Often flavorings are added to create special flavors.)
The Composition of Honey Affects Crystallization Rate
Honeybees make honey and luckily for us – they make a lot. Honey is an exquisite blend of many different sugars, enzymes, minerals, salts, proteins and other undefined substances. We have not really identified all the components in honey. And honey can be used for more than food. However, honey is sugar. The two main sugars in honey are glucose and fructose. Honey is a supersaturated solution. This is a fancy term to say that a larger amount of sugar can be dissolved in the water (liquid nectar part) of the substance when in the warm environment of the hive. This chemical composition of honey explains why honey crystallizes under the right conditions.
Why does Honey Crystallize Slowly ?
A honeybee colony usually maintains a temp of 95 degrees F inside the hive. At this temperature, the sugar and water balance is comfortable this is called a homeostatic condition. When the honey is removed from the warm hive environment to a cooler temperature, the sugar/water balance will again become “comfortable” but different. The process involves some of the glucose (the least stable sugar) coming out of solution and forming crystals. This process moves faster at cooler temperatures. As the process continues, your honey will become more and more “clumpy” until it is a virtual solid.
Why Some Honey Does Not Change.
Almost all honey varieties will crystallize over time. The common phrase is my honey turns to sugar. Why does honey crystallize sometimes and other times it does not? Because there are many different kinds of nectar in honey.
Honey that is bottled by large commercial companies is micro-filtered to remove tiny bits of wax, pollen, etc. This allows that jar of honey 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 honey. It is a trade-off that has to be made for a pretty product with a long shelf life. Nectar source matters as well. Honey that contains more glucose than fructose (such as clover) will crystallize faster than honey that contains more fructose than glucose (sourwood or tupelo). Tupelo Honey is a high fructose honey that is said to never or rarely crystallize.
What Crystallization Does NOT Mean.
Honey does NOT crystallize because something has been added to it. This is a common myth that the beekeeper has added cane syrup or something to the honey and caused the honey to turn to sugar. It is important to understand that this is a natural process of raw natural honey. Pure raw honey will usually crystallize much earlier than honey found in the large stores. Remember however, that by the same token: crystallization does not prove that your honey is pure either.
How To Keep Honey From Crystallizing-at least slow it down
Most of us what to preserve our honey from crystallizing. You can not always stop it but you can slow things down. Honey should never, ever be kept in the refrigerator. I know this goes against our basic belief that keeping things cool is a preservation technique. This is not the case with honey. The best thing you can do to protect the integrity of your honey is to keep it in a dark warm place. Remember hive temps are near 95 degrees – room temperature in your home will work well. In fact, I leave my glass jar of honey sitting on my stove.
Honey is hygroscopic. This means it will absorb moisture from the air. Here in the humid south, I always keep my honey in an airtight container and suggest that you do the same. Amazon has a cute silicone jar lid that I want to try ! Click here to see it
My Honey Has Turned to Sugar – How To Restore Crystallized Honey
What to do when your honey turns to sugar. Don’t throw away that good honey. If the honey has been stored in an airtight container and no moisture/water has gotten inside, you can certainly save your investment. Pour or scoop (as the case may be) that honey into a glass container. Prepare a small pot of water on the stove to almost boiling temperature with the glass jar sitting in the water. Don’t overheat and don’t get water into your jar of honey. Now set the pot containing the water and honey off the stove burner and let the honey slowly re-liquefy. You may have to repeat the process more than once but you will be able to save your jar of honey. I do not recommend putting honey in the microwave as I feel it will damage some of the nutritional components.
Things to Remember When Honey Turns To Sugar (Crystallizes)
*crystallized honey has not gone bad and is still safe to eat
*most pure raw honey varieties will crystallize in time
*crystallization is not an indicator that you have received tainted honey
*store honey in a warmer location – never in the refrigerator
These points should help you move towards your goal to prevent your honey from turning to sugar. But if it does -don’t panic.