Humans, wild bears, badgers, and other animals love to have honey. Honey has been around as the world’s staple sweetener since ancient times in Greece and Sicily. These countries were known as the historical producers of honey. In another case, archeologists discovered thousands of years old honey ancient Egyptian tombs, and it still tasted good.
How is honey made? Let’s ask the bees!
The fruit of labor exerted by the industrious honey bees bear a thick golden liquid called honey. All of this sweet goodness they produced comes from the nectar of the flowering plant.
When a bee harvests nectar, its long tube-shaped tongue extends out to the flower and sucks out nectar to store it in their extra stomach called the “crop.” Then, that’s where the magic begins. The nectar mixes with the bees’ gastric enzymes to increase the storage duration of the nectar. When it comes home to its beehive, they pass the nectar to other bees to have it regurgitate it in their mouths repeatedly to become a partially digested nectar. After that, they deposit it into a honeycomb.
Then, the bees use their wings in full speed to fan the nectar-filled honeycomb to evaporate the extra water out of their produced honey. After the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bees seal the comb with their own digestive secretion to harden it into beeswax.
And that’s how your real honey can last for a long time. For the bees, this serves as their food reserve during winter until it is a season for them to harvest nectar. The honey’s quality depends on the type of flower the bees harvested the nectar from. It affects the color, taste, texture, and aroma.
Honey naturally sweetens any recipe you make, especially that its liquid and gooey state can easily blend with other ingredients. For most, it is used the way we use sugar and it makes an excellent substitute to it and other ingredients like vanilla extract, while adding sweetness in a more balanced way. That’s why it is a favourite for us here at WellFed too and I’ve worked with it in recipes ranging from banana breads and cakes to energy balls and bars.
How to store honey?
You should store your honey in its original container and place it in a dark place as much as possible.
We encourage that you keep your honey at room temperature so that it won’t crystallize earlier than expected. If you keep it in cold conditions, it hastens crystallization. So, if you don’t want a hardened and crystallized honey, keep it away from the fridge.
If possible, store your honey in a glass container, because it is less porous than plastic.
How long does honey last?
You may have seen on the honey bottle label that it has a “sell by” date or “use by” date. However, if you store your honey bottle properly, it can even go beyond the date indicated on the labels.
So if we say that it can last beyond its “best by” date, your honey that is stored in the best condition can last to infinity and beyond! No, we’re not exaggerating. Seriously speaking, it can even last for thousands of years whether you have already opened the seal of the bottle or not yet. Well-stored honey doesn’t spoil or expire at all.
Why does it not spoil?
Here are the reasons why honey doesn’t spoil:
1. It has higher sugar content than moisture.
The sugar concentration in honey is high, and this makes an excellent antibacterial feature of it. It is 80 percent sugar and 18 percent moisture, which is enough to prevent bacteria and fungi from breeding in honey.
2. It has antimicrobial properties.
Honey has a microbial enzyme called glucose oxidase. These come from the secretions of the bees that preserves the shelf life of honey. These enzymes convert the sugar in ripe honey to hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid. It is hydrogen peroxide here that serves as the antimicrobial property of honey.
3. It is naturally acidic.
Honey has a pH of 3.26 – 4.48 because it has gluconic acid. This creates an acidic environment that makes it unable for bacteria to thrive.
Does it go bad?
We have mentioned earlier that honey can last indefinitely. Even if it has crystallized over time or it has already changed its color, there’s no need for you to throw it out because you can still use it! Even if it has turned yellow and cloudy rather than golden and clear, or if it has gone thicker, grainy, or hard, it is still consumable, honey! You can even eat it.
Honey can only go bad if contamination occurs either through man-made or by natural means. Bacteria, molds, and yeast are microbes that are naturally present in honey. These can come from dust, dirt, air, or in the insides of the bees. However, it is hard for these microbes to grow and multiply because of the antimicrobial potentials of honey.
On the other hand, contamination can happen more possibly if it is carried by humans, animals, insects, or water. Once this is contaminated with moisture, then that’s the time it can affect the pH and sweet concentration of honey, and it will become susceptible to fermentation, leading to spoilage. You can tell if the honey has fermented if it will taste sour!
This is why it is essential to practice good hygiene and proper food safety techniques so that you can prevent foodborne illness. Hence, make sure you don’t get any water in the container.
How to revive the original state of hardened or crystallized honey?
The reason why honey crystallizes is that it contains glucose that naturally crystallizes at some point in time.
Honey is originally clear, golden, and gooey. If it hardens during the storage period, there is a quick fix to it. Here’s what to do:
- Prepare a bowl of hot tap water. Make sure the water is not too hot to melt the container
- Place your bottle or container of hardened honey into the bowl filled with hot water and wait until it softens.
Alternatively, you can transfer the contents in a microwave-safe container and microwave it for 15-20 seconds.
With these suggested methods, you’ll get your golden honey in no time. The crystallized honey’s melting point is between 104 degrees F and 122 degrees F ( 40° C and 50° C ).
As a little warning, reviving honey multiple times affects its taste and color. It is best that you just liquify what you need and not everything.
Is it safe to eat crystallized honey?
No worries! Yes, it’s safe to eat crystallized honey! Crystallization in honey happens because of its glucose content, which is always natural for it to crystallize. Honey contains a mix of simple sugars ( glucose and fructose ) and water. When water separates, it forms crystals under cold conditions. This is why we recommend keeping it in just your pantry.
However, you should be a little happy to see crystallized honey because that indicates that the honey you have is on-hand raw and unpasteurized. Or it is unadulterated and has no added sweeteners. In other words, that is legit pure honey!
Pasteurized honey is heated to a specific temperature to slow down the crystallization process. However, it takes all the honey’s nutrients. If you’re health-conscious and would want to get the most benefits from honey, choose raw honey.
How to tell if the honey is pure?
Here are some several testing methods you can do to test the purity of honey:
- Flame Test
Before doing this test, you must take precautions and do it at your own risk.
Take note that pure honey is inflammable. Get a matchstick and dip it in the honey. Light the matchstick against the matchbox. Your honey is pure if it lights. If not, it could have already been adulterated, or it has already been contaminated with water or moisture.
- Thumb Test
This is like a spill or spread test. Place a little amount of honey on your thumb. If it doesn’t drip, that indicates pure honey. If you have runny honey on your thumb, then it’s not pure. That may mean that the manufacturer has put some added sugars in it.
- The Water Test
Prepare a glass full of water and drop a teaspoon of honey in it. If the honey dissolves, it’s not pure. If it settles right at the bottom of the glass as lumps, then that’s pure honey.