Does Honey Go Bad?
One of the very few food sources on our plant that doesn’t go bad is honey!! That’s right, it simply doesn’t spoil! In fact, properly saturated honey should remain safe to consume FOREVER! One study of stored honey from Ancient Egypt, said to be over 300 years old, found it is still completely edible. I’m not sure I’d like to dip my honey dipper into that and spread it on my toast, but it certainly does go to prove the point!
Why doesn’t honey go bad?
The answer to why honey is safe to store for long periods is for many of the same reasons that we can store canned goods for so long without the need to refrigerate. Take a look at honeycomb and you’ll notice that each capped cell shares similarities with a Mason jar that you might use in your pantry to store dry or pickled goods.
Our industrious bees collect nectar from flowers, bring it back to the hive and it is then stored in the wax cells of the honeycomb. Using their wings, bees fan the nectar to evaporate the water.
When the saturation of the honey is perfect, the bees cap each cell for safe storage. It truly is an incredible process and one that yields a sweet reward for beekeepers worldwide!
This finished honey has a water content of 17%. Interestingly when making maple syrup, it must be boiled to reduce to a 17% concentration before it is bottled or canned so that it can also be stored safely for extended periods of time. This perfect saturation point means there isn’t enough water in the honey to allow the growth of bacteria and mold. Any bacteria that might be present actually suffocates or dehydrates in those conditions.
‘Sugar’, as we know it, is a common preservation agent. In the US, the only food that is able to be labelled as ‘sugar’ is sucrose, which is a combination of fructose and glucose. Honey is high in both fructose and glucose, so like sugar, honey is in itself a preservation agent with all that sugar working to keep the honey safe. Bacteria is unable to survive in super high amounts of sugar, hence the reason is cannot develop in honey.
Another reason honey is so resistant to spoiling is the fact that it is an acidic food and bacteria does not thrive in acidic conditions. To go back to example of canned goods, if you have ever canned your own tomatoes you would be aware that a water bath in a jar boiling pan is all that is needed when preserving tomatoes in jars. But if you were canning green beans, a much less acidic vegetable, they require a pressure canner to can safely.
Honey can be stored in jars without the need for heating or going through the canning process. The natural antibacterial properties of honey keep it safe and edible.
When honey is stored in jars it will often crystalize and lighten in colour. It may appear textured and opaque. Remember, this doesn’t mean that honey has gone bad. In fact, it is the opposite, as any crystals in honey are almost solid, such is the concentration of sugar. The sugar contained in honey is only that very tiny amount of water away from actually being a sugar crystal.
If that small proportion of water was to evaporate, the glucose content of the honey will crystallize, setting off a chain reaction that will spread quickly through the entire jar. Incredibly, this crystallization means that the bees evaporated the water content of the nectar perfectly to 17% before you harvested. It is when honey frames contain uncapped honey cells that the honey harvest will have more water in the finished honey, opening up the possibility of bacterial growth and spoilage.
Beekeepers who harvest their own raw honey would prefer to store their honey with the pollen and propolis as this is the very best way to consume honey for the health benefits and for the most flavour. Many consumers of honey prefer their honey to be clear and as such some beekeepers will strain their honey harvest prior to storage.
What to do with Crystallized Honey
So, your stored honey seems to have become hard and cloudy. There is no need to do anything if your honey does crystalize. It actually spreads beautifully on a warm piece of toast. The heat will melt the crystals and make the honey clear again. That being said, if you do like your honey golden and clear, just boil some water in your jar boiling pan then turn off the heat so as not to overheat your honey and soak your honey jar until the honey becomes clear.
Store your honey in glass sealed jars with tightly fitting lids. As a result of extended periods of storage, honey can become darker, depending on the storage temperature. It is best to store your honey at room temperature. Stir and drip that golden goodness using a gorgeous Honey Dipper.
So in answer to the question, does honey go bad, you now know it is a resounding “NO”. Enjoy some today!!