I’ve recently had a number of people ask me, “Why does honey crystalize?” and, “What can I do about it?” When reaching for the honeypot, most find the crystallized state of honey annoying and think perhaps it is not fresh. In many European countries, the crystallized state is often found on the grocery store shelves. But here in the United States, we are conditioned to view honey in its pure liquid state as the norm. Well, I’m here to debunk the myth of why honey crystallizes and to give you a few tips on caring for your honey products.
The oldest documented honey was found in the country of Georgia in 2003. It was found during an archeological dig in a variety of ceramic vessels and dated to be about 5000 years old. It was still edible. Even more well known was the honey found in King Tut’s tomb estimated to be about 3000 years old. And you guessed it, it was still edible. Honey is the only known food that has an indefinite shelf life. With the exception of a Twinkie or two (and I would not call that food) raw, unprocessed honey will be around long after you and I, and our children’s children are gone.
Raw, unheated honey at some point and time will crystallize. Processed honey sold commercially will remain in its liquid form due to the heat and filtering process done to remove foreign particles such as beeswax, pollen and propolis.
The rate in which raw honey crystallizes depends on several factors.
- The concentration of fructose versus glucose. Honey is made of a high concentration of sugars. It is roughly 70% sugar and less than 20% water. This ration makes honey unstable in its liquid form. Within the percentage of sugar 30-44% is fructose(fruit sugar) and 25-40% glucose(grape sugar). Glucose crystallizes at a much higher rate than fructose due to its lower soubility in water. The higher the glucose concentration, the quicker the honey will crystallize.
- Some nectar sources are much higher in glucose than others. They include:alfafa, cotton, dandelion, mesquite, mustard and rapeseed. Most of these bloom in the early spring. Consequently, honey produced from nectar of these plants will be lighter in taste and color and will crysallize much quicker.
- On the other hand, plants high in fructose include: black locust, sage and tupelo. The honey will be darker in color and concentration and will crystallize slowly. Tupelo honey is highly prized amongst commercial honey producers worldwide as it slows granulation of sugars when mixed into their processing procedures. The white tupelo flower grows primarily in the Florida panhandle and hives are trucked in yearly to feed off the nectar of this relative of the gum tree.
- Storage. Honey crystallizes between the temperature of 50-59 F. When stored below 52 degrees, crystallization will slow but it will become viscous. When stored above 59-77, the process is slowed as well.
- Remember, the internal hive temperature remains a constant 95 degrees. So to dissolve sugar crystals, honey can be slowly heated beween the temperatures of 95-104 F. if crystallization occurs.
- Processing. Heating and filtering deter the crystalliztion process. When you buy commercial honey, you eliminate the problem but remember that pollen, propolis and other vitamins and minerals are removed during the heating process. If you are ingesting honey for it healthful properties(and you should be) you will have to deal with crystallization. So be happy when your local honey crystallizes, that’s a good thing.
I bet many of you are thinking right about now, so what do I do with this blob of crystallized honey. Its too hard to mix in my coffee or tea and tastes funny on my tongue. The following is the best method for returning your raw honey to its pure liquid form.
- Heat pot of water to a temp of 104-110 F. That is barely boiling, if you are eyeball it like I tend to do. Turn off and remove from heat source.
- Remove the lid and immerse the jar to the level of the honey in the water. If you have a plastic jar, do the same but make sure water has not been brought to the boiling point which can cause the bottle to warp.
- Let stand in water for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Do not microwave, as the uneven concentration of heat within the jar can damage the healthful properties you paid dearly for in your local honey. Not too mention, wasting all the work of those wonderful bees!
- You may have to repeat this process form time to time and or follow the storage guidelines. But it is well-worth the little extra labor for all the beneficial ingredients raw honey can add to your health regimen.
Have you had your honey today?