|Food Facts: Has My Honey Gone Bad?
Your jar of honey is a solid rock of crystal or it’s become a grainy mess of crystallization. Has it gone bad? Time to discard it? Is the quality poor? Did someone mix in table sugar? What exactly is happening to your honey?
When you look at a jar of honey that’s become crystallized you might have been conditioned to think that it’s gone bad, is of poor quality or that it’s been adulterated with another product and is less than pure but you’d be wrong. Consumers have been conditioned to having everything looking uniform and perfect or if it’s not believing that something is “wrong” or that it’s “gone bad”. But honey doesn’t go bad. Edible honey has been pulled out of tombs in Egypt that are 3,000 years old! Honey has been used as a preservative and has properties which inhibit its deterioration. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a large number of in vitro and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antimicrobial (antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti mycobacterial) properties of honey, which may be attributed to the acidity (low pH), osmotic effect, high sugar concentration, presence of bacteriostatic and bactericidal factors (hydrogen peroxide, antioxidants, lysozyme, polyphenols, phenolic acids, flavonoids, methylglyoxal, and bee peptides), and increase in cytokine release, and to immune modulating and anti-inflammatory properties of honey; the antimicrobial action involves several mechanisms.
The crystallization of honey is a natural and therefore uncontrolled process. Honey is naturally an unstable super-saturated sugar solution that contains more than 70% sugars and less than 20% water. Over time, almost all pure raw honey crystallizes. The ratio of glucose to fructose in a floral nectar source determines how fast the honey will crystallize. Honey varietals with a low fructose to glucose ratio, such as Dandelion and Clover honey crystallize swiftly in days and weeks, while honey varietals with a high fructose to glucose ratio (eg, Tupelo, Acacia, Eucalyptus, and Honeydew) crystallize slowly and can stay liquid for years.
During crystallization, glucose sugar (which is naturally pure white), separates from the water and becomes crystals, while fructose remains as a liquid. For this reason, crystallized honey thickens, becomes more viscous and sets a lighter color than when liquid. Some honey will crystallize uniformly while others crystallize partially at the bottom of the jar and form a layer of liquid on top. Additionally, the size of the crystals formed varies from honey to honey; some crystallize rapidly to form fine crystals while others, slowly to form large ones. (This is the reason why some honey will crystallize to form a coarse sugary texture, and some will crystallize to form a smooth creamy consistency.) The formation of crystals has absolutely no bearing on the quality of honey.
Unfiltered raw honey contains particles such wax bits, pollen grains and propolis which act to serve as nuclei for accelerating the growth of glucose crystals. Most supermarkets do not carry such honey as it tends to crystallize even more quickly. Processed honey remains in liquid form on the supermarket shelves for a much longer time as sugar crystals have been dissolved by heating (pasteurization) and any suspended particles and air bubbles that encourage crystallization are removed by filtration. This leaves a honey that is good as a sweetener but one that has lost its antimicrobial properties due to the heating it has been subjected to.
Creaming is another way for honey suppliers to save honey from turning grainy and undesirable in appearance. The honey is rapidly granulated at a low temperature, resulting in smooth and spreadable ultra-fine white crystals that can neither be seen with the naked eye nor detected on the palate. The creamy, smooth-textured, pale-looking honey that you commonly find in the supermarket is actually the result of a specially controlled crystallization process.
To return a bottle of crystallized raw honey to its liquid state, simply place it over a warm water bath of about 104ºF for about 15 minutes or as soon as the granules have dissolved. Don’t make the water too hot (never boiling!) and keep the honey in only long enough to bring it back to its liquid state. Subjecting honey to too much heat would destroy its live enzymes. Store honey at room temperature in airtight containers. Refrigerating honey would accelerate the process of crystallization and harden the honey and is not recommended.
by: Emily LeVan