Honey is quite the treat, isn’t it? I’ve tried to eat healthy several times, but the bad stuff just tastes so good. The one exception is the tasty treat from mother nature’s processing plant.
It goes on pastries and sweetens your beverage. The only hiccup I can think of when it comes to honey is its tendency to solidify. So, how do you keep it from crystallizing?
Many people who don’t understand honey get very suspicious when presented with a solid mass labeled honey.
Most people will think that the solid matter is debris from some terrible additives that unscrupulous packers add to give them a greater profit. But, as you probably know by now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
All honey, even the most raved about honey brands, crystallize. Therefore, in order to understand how to prevent it, we need to understand why it happens in the first place.
Why Does Honey Crystallize?
The short answer is science. Honey is comprised mostly of sugar. You have trace elements of other things, such as pollen, wax and bee parts, but over 75% of it is glucose and fructose.
It is a supersaturated solution, meaning it holds a lot of sugar in a small amount of water. The highest quality honey contains less than 18% moisture which is quite low for a solution that contains dissolved sugar.
When you think about it, putting three teaspoons of sugar like this in a cup of tea will probably lead to some sugar crystals settling at the bottom of the cup. With time, the same thing happens to honey.
When honey forms crystals, the moisture content of the honey increases because the formation of the crystals releases the water molecules.
Since this is a supersaturated solution, the moisture content is still very low so you will easily wind up with a full jar of completely solid honey, rather than have a few crystals at the bottom of the jar.
Not All Honey Crystallizes at the Same Rate
Now, the other problem is, if all honey crystallizes, then how come I can buy one brand which remains liquid for months and another that solidifies even before I’ve had my first taste?
Well, mother-nature likes to keep things interesting. As mentioned above, the sugar in honey is mainly glucose and fructose.
As a scientific formula, they are the same, but they have different qualities, especially when it comes to crystallization. Nectar in plants contains complex sugars, namely sucrose.
The bees have a special enzyme that breaks this down to glucose and fructose (that’s why it’s easier for our bodies to digest, half the work has already been done for us).
Honey That Contains More Glucose Than Fructose Will Crystallize Very Fast
Now, honey that contains more glucose than fructose will crystallize very fast. If it contains more fructose, you’ll enjoy your liquid gold for months, even years.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to limit where your bees go to forage so you can’t really dictate where your bees get their daily bread from.
So far, it would seem that nectar from most tree sources is rich in fructose and therefore, honey from trees such as avocado and tupelo remains liquid.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have weeds and shrubs and annuals such as canola, which can crystallize before it’s out of the comb.
So the bad news is unless you own all the land within a three-mile radius of your bees, you probably can’t control what your honey is made of. So what are your options?
How to Delay the Crystallization of Honey
There are two primary methods that you can use to keep honey from crystallizing; pasteurizing/heating and microfiltration. We further explore both below.
This is a commercial solution. Most honey is heated to make packing easier. Honey can be very viscous which slows down the packaging process significantly.
Most commercial traders heat the honey to ensure that the entire batch is the same temperature, making it less viscous. Honey is also pasteurized to avoid possible contamination.
As a result, you may find some commercial brands take longer to crystallize then the honey you harvested in your back yard.
Crystals need to form around something. It’s similar to the concept of a foundation for a house. If they don’t find a base, they are unlikely to form.
These ‘seeds’ as they are called comprise of bits of pollen, wax, dust, air bubbles and other honey crystals.
Creamed honey like this, whose name is deceptive, is simply liquid honey whose crystallization process has been controlled by mixing it with crystallized honey.
Microfiltration involves the removal of all foreign bodies including tiny specs of dust that might form a base for crystal development.
Some of these particles are invisible to the naked eye hence the need for a micro-filter.
How to Deal With and Soften Crystallized Honey
The one thing we can be certain of is that at some point, you will be faced with a jar of crystallized honey, especially during the cold season.
Crystallized honey varies in texture because some form large crystals while others are constituted by numerous little crystals.
Larger crystals are more difficult to deal with because the mass formed is usually very hard. Alternatively, smaller crystals are easier to work with and are actually great for spreading on toast.
Heating the Honey Vs. Using it As Is
When faced with a jar of solid honey, you have two options. Put the jar in some warm water and wait for the crystals to resume their liquid state. The second option is to use honey as it is.
The Dangers of Heating Honey
Heating honey causes it to lose some of the enzymes that attract us to the honey in the first place. It also affects other features such as its smell and looks over time.
If you can scoop the honey with a spoon anyway, why not do so without liquifying the whole jar every time you need a teaspoon of it.
Embrace the Crystallization Process
Creamed honey is a great way to embrace the crystallization process. It’s just as pure as the liquid but has been crystallized in a controlled environment, giving it a creamy texture.
Don’t let honey crystals keep you away from a healthy reward for your sweet tooth. It’s good for you regardless of the state it’s in.