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Why Does Honey Crystallize?

If you have ever reached for your jar of delicious honey and found a gritty solid mass – you have experience crystallized honey. Why does honey crystallize? This is a natural process and no cause for alarm. Don’t throw it out. It is still edible and can be transformed back to a liquid state if you prefer.

Raw Honey and Crystallization

Jar of honey undergoing crystallization image.

Your first experience with honey that is becoming solid can be a puzzling experience. So, let’s try to understand what has caused that clump of gritty, stickiness lodged in the bottom of the jar. 

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The technical word is “crystallization”. But some folks use the terms or “turned to sugar”, this is because of the sugar-like gritty crystals that are visibly present. They both mean the same thing.

Raw honey is a favorite of many people. It has not been heated or micro-filtered and still contains all the natural components straight from the hive.

In addition, Small bits of beeswax, grains of pollen and other particles are present. These particle can serve as a starting point for the crystallization process.

Crystallized honey in the bottom of a glass jar image.

The Chemistry of Honey Crystallization

For each jar, the bees have used many different nectar sources. This forms an exquisite blend of many different sugars, enzymes, minerals, salts, and proteins. The main sugars are fructose, glucose and sucrose.

In fact, 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.

The sugar/water ratio becomes unstable in a cooler environment. 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 crystallization in a container that is just beginning to solidify – it looks cloudy.

This process continues with the crystals forming and growing until the composition (balance) becomes stable. Eventually the whole jar becomes solid.

Bowl with honey that has solidified into crystals image.

Key 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.

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When 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” – becoming less liquid and more solid to attain the balance.

There are several important factors that determine if your honey crystallizes and how quickly it may happen. Some of them can be controlled by us and some can not.

Gritty honey crystallizing in a glass jar image.

Factors that Affect Crystallization Rate:

  • nectar source – sugar ratios
  • filtering process
  • storage temperature

Bees visit millions of blooming plants to collect nectar. The chemical composition of that nectar varies from plant to plant. The nectar source affects the color shade of honey, flavor, aroma and crystallization rate.

The amount of the three primary sugars (fructose, glucose and sucrose) varies from one kind of nectar to another.

Micro-filtered Honey Remains Clear Longer

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.

Storage Affects Crystallization Rate

We can’t control where bees fly to find food. But, we may also be part of the reason why honey crystallizes. It is not only the sugar ratios and filtering that affect the rate of crystallization.

The method of storage plays a role too. Temperature and moisture control are key. The best thing you can do to protect is to keep it in a dark room temperature (warmish) location.  

You can not always stop this process. But, you can sometimes slow it down with proper storage in a warm place. Learning where to keep your jars of honey may help delay the change.

Raw honey that has crystallized or turned to sugar fast to form creamed honey image.

Embrace the Difference with Whipped Honey

Not every type of honey crystallizes in the same way. 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 crystallization occurs in controlled conditions, it results in a thick and smooth texture. For those that prefer the different texture, you buy crystallized honey. It is sold under the names – whipped, spun or creamed. But, there is no cream in the product.

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.

Unless you have a jar of honey from a nectar source that resists crystallization – you can expect it to happen eventually. Once you learn more about the composition of this awesome product, the magic of the beehive becomes even more impressive.

Small jar of granulated honey to be eaten on a biscuit image.

How to Fix Crystallize Honey

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 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 with gentle heat- if it is in a glass container. You will find tips in my article – decrystallizing honey without damaging it. I do not recommend putting it in the microwave as I feel it damages some of the nutritional components.

FAQs about Honey Crystallization

How long does it take honey to crystallize?

It usually takes several months for a jar to crystallize. However, some types of honey will thicken much quicker.

Clover honey is known to 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.

Is crystallized honey bad or spoiled?

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. 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.