Farm Joy


Can honey spoil?

Yes, honey can spoil, but generally only if the water content is too high.  Some honey, especially if extracted too soon (before the bees have finished concentrating it) can have a water content higher than 18%.  This honey is more likely to spoil or 'sour'.  When this happens, there is usually a film or layer of less viscous honey on top of the crystallized honey below.  If the water content is too high, fermentation (and not the 'good' kind!), can occur. 

What is creamed honey?

Creamed honey is honey that has been forced to crystallize with a uniform small crystal size.  When honey naturally crystallizes, the crystals that form in that jar of honey tend to be uniform, and the crystal size is dictated by mysterious crystal chemistry (see below).  From honey to honey, crystal size can vary, with some larger crystals being coarse or crunchy.  Creamed honey is natural honey that is seeded with honey that has crystallized with a very small crystal size, giving a smooth feel and consistency.

Why does honey crystallize?

All pure, raw honey will eventually crystallize.  Natural chemistry at its best.  The speed with which it crystallizes and the size of the crystals is dependent on many variables, including the water content of the honey, the ratio of sugars in the nectars gathered, the degree of filtration (and therefore the presence of particulates like pollen and wax in the honey that can serve as seeds for crystallization), and the temperature at which the honey is stored. 

What is the best way to de-crystallize honey?

Honey that has crystallized is still delicious, and can be enjoyed, as is.  However, there may be times where softening the honey, or de-crystallizing it completely, is preferred.  Pure, raw honey contains enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed by too much heat, and heating honey can also deplete its aroma and flavour.  The best way to soften honey is in a warm water bath, over time (temperature under 110F), taking care not to get water into the honey.  Microwaving honey is not recommended, as it generates inconsistent heat within the honey and can scorch it. 

What is "frosting" in honey jars?

So-called "frosting" is a second type of crystallization seen in some jars of honey.  It usually starts on the shoulders of the jars with a lacy, bright white pattern against the glass.  This only occurs in good, natural honey, and occurs more often in fast crystallizing honeys.  There is debate about how it comes about, and how to prevent it.  The evidence is clear that it is only a visual change, and not a defect or evidence of spoiling.  At Apimondia 2019 in Montreal (a huge, international beekeeping conference), we attended a session put on by the winner of the "World's best honey" of 2018.  He indicated that the two most likely causes are tiny air bubbles that get trapped between honey and the side or shoulder of the jar during bottling that serve as a nidus for a smaller size of crystallization (i.e a change in the microenvironment around those microscopic bubbles), but also that frosting can be affected by the speed with which crystallization happens, and the temperature over which it happens, with large temperature fluctuations being more likely to result in frosting. 
this large jar shows both