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Why Does Honey Crystallize?

Crystallized Honey Overflowing From Top Of A Mason Jar After A Wooden Honey Dipper Has Forced It's Way Into The Top Of A Jar

Crystallized honey isn't really something to be worried about.

It's not a sign that your honey has gone bad or that it's spoiled. In fact, honey has proven itself to have a limitless shelf life. Archeologists have found honey that's over 3000 years old underneath the pyramids that you could still eat today.

So what's really happening to your honey?

In this article we'll dig into the reasons why your honey crystalizes, what you can do with crystallized honey and how to delay it from happening.

Below is a table of contents that you can use to jump directly to the answers your seeking.



Why Does Honey Crystallize?

All honey starts out as nectar with a high moisture content. The bees collect the nectar from flowers, add in their own intestinal enzymes and store it in cells. The bees then dry out the nectar by fanning the moisture content from the nectar out of the hive.

Once this enzyme filled nectar has dried or "ripened" to a moisture level below 20%, your bees will consider it honey and cap it with wax. Capping the honey will stop the evaporation process altogether.


The reason the crystals start to form is because the honey at this extremely low moisture level can't really hold it's own for long. The sugar content is so high compared to the liquid it's dissolved in that it will actually start to separate. The honey's true equilibrium and balance point is only met when the jar has become completely crystallized. During the crystallization process, the bottom of the jar will form crystals while the top of the jar has become a runnier honey. This is only temporary though, soon enough the prolific crystals will have been mimicked through out the whole jar.

Honey is made of quite a few things, but the main sources of these crystals is your fructose to glucose ratio. The more glucose you have in this ratio, the quicker your honey will crystallize. Every flower has a different ratio, so it's unpredictable what ratio your honey will end up with. Flowers can range from having 25% to 40% glucose.

If you have a lot of high glucose flowers around your bees like Alfalfa, Canola and Clover, your honey will crystallize quicker than if your bees were going after higher fructose flowers like White Maple, Avocado, Tupelo, Black Locust and Blackberry.

Your bees can fly up to 6 miles away from their hive in order to find food. If you didn't plant every flower within that radius, you won't know your glucose content and you'll end up with a what we like to call "Wildflower Honey."



What Can You Do With Crystallized Honey?

When it comes to crystallized honey, you have a few different options on what you can do with it.

  • Delay it. If you're a beekeeper and you're bottling your own honey we strongly suggest taking a few extra steps to delay the crystallization process as long as possible. The steps in the process can include filtering, pasteurizing and storing your honey properly. We've listed some of the guidelines below to help you: (Click Here to Skip Ahead)
  • Melt it. Most people choose to melt crystallized honey back down into its original liquid form. To do this, we have the steps listed below: (Click Here to Skip Ahead)
  • Eat it. Yes, you can definitely eat granulated honey. Crystals are a good sign of pure/raw/organic honey and can be eaten in the same way as you would a liquid honey. Spread it on toast, throw it in a smoothie or just eat it by the spoonful. It has all the same nutrients as regular honey, and because it has condensed down, it may even taste sweeter and have more nutrients than before. Some people even prefer it in this rough crystallized form and have loving labeled it as "Honey Sugar"
  • Embrace it. By embracing the crystallization process you can control the crystals and make creamed honey, also known as whipped honey. Learn more about creamed honey below: (Click Here to Skip Ahead)
  • Feed it. If you don't want to bother messing with crystallized honey, then just feel free to feed it back to your bees. They'll even clean the jar out for you! To learn more about this: (Click Here to Skip Ahead)
  • Sell it. There are plenty of people out there that have no fear when it comes to buying crystallized honey. They know that they can easily melt it back down to liquid honey. Any time you go to a grocery store that sells raw honey, it usually has already become crystallized


How Do You Delay The Crystallization Process?

The fact that your honey turned to crystal is by no means your fault. All honey, if it is real, is naturally dispositioned towards turning to crystal. It just happens. But! There are a few things that we can do to try to slow down the process.

We recommend filtering your honey extremely well. We also recommend following the storage guidelines below.

One other option that you can do is to pasteurize your honey. The pasteurization process may help delay the crystals, but it will no longer be able to be labeled as raw honey. The high heat used in this process to expel yeast and air bubbles can also eliminate some of the subtle flavors and health benefits. To learn about the health benefits of local raw honey see the section called: Benefits Of Buying Local! (Click Here)



Filter

Avoiding crystals in your honey starts at the harvest process.

Whether you're using the centrifugal force of an extractor or just using the backside of a fork, it's important that your next step involves a filter of some sort.

Many beekeepers use two layers of cheesecloth to filter their honey, but any fine mesh screen would work as well.

Immediately after extraction you should filter out the small wax particles, bee parts, debris, dust and even some of the pollen from your honey. The more that you can filter out, the longer that you can delay the granulation process.

The honey you have is constantly scouring itself for foreign objects to latch onto and build new crystals off of. Crystals need some type of foundation to build on so it's best to avoid this altogether by filtering out as much as you can.

When it comes to the commercial brands, they take filtration to the next level. While your everyday beekeeper may use gravity to help with the filtration process, the commercial guys add high pressure tactics to push the honey through ultra-fine filters. Doing so removes even the tiniest of microbes, micro-nutrients and pollen, which delays their crystallization at the cost of a healthier honey.



Pasteurize

Another tactic that the commercial guys use is that they pasteurize their honey. While most products like milk, juice or canned foods are pasteurized to eliminate bacteria, honey doesn't do it for these reasons.

Honey can be consumed whether it's pasteurized or not. It's low humidity and high acidity create an environment that is almost impossible for bacteria to survive in naturally.

The reason that honey is pasteurized is not to eliminate bacteria, but to eliminate yeast and air bubbles. Expelling these two objects, will give the crystals two less things to latch on to and build off of.

As a warning though, pasteurizing your honey will also eliminate some of the subtle flavors, healthy pollen, enzymes, antioxidants and polyphenols.

To pasteurize your honey you can take the following steps:

  1. Use a double boiler. Place your honey in the top pot, and bring the water below to a medium heat
  2. Using a candy thermometer, make sure that your honey is slowly heated up to 160°F (71°C) for just a moment or to 150°F (65.5°C) for 15 minutes
  3. When your honey reaches 160°F (71°C) or your time limit has been met, take the pot of honey off the heater
  4. If using glass storage jars, immediately pour the hot honey into them, then screw on the lids. If you allow the honey to rest or cool down, the yeast in the air can find it's way into your honey
  5. If you are using plastic bottles to store your honey, you may want to allow the honey to cool down a little bit so you don't melt the plastic
  6. Finally, once your honey is back down to 70°F (21°C) then follow the storage guidelines below


Storage

The last thing that we can do is to properly store the honey.

When it comes to honey storage, there are 4 main guidelines:


  • Use a tightly sealed container. The best thing you can do for your honey is to store it in a tightly sealed jar. Not only does this prevent moisture, airborne yeast and odors from being soaked into your honey, but it also prevents the natural moisture in your honey from evaporating out
  • Store honey in a dark area. Keeping it at room temperature and in a dark cabinet helps preserve honey's color and flavor. Exposing honey to sunlight can crystallize it by bolstering the naturally occurring yeast in it. The yeast is a living organism that can quickly grow in sunlight
  • Store honey at room temperature. Temperature has a big impact on crystallization. There is a Goldilocks temperature around 65°F - 70°F (18°C - 21°C) that you're seeking. Honey stored below 65 degrees will crystallize much faster than honey stored at or above it. While honey stored above 70 degrees can compromise the quality, flavor and color of the honey over time
  • Don't store honey with beeswax. Although putting honeycomb in the jar alongside the honey adds a nice design effect, it will undoubtedly crystallize faster. The honey is scouring the jar for foreign objects such as pollen, dust, wax, or even air bubbles to build the crystals on to. By including beeswax in your honey you're giving the crystals a foundation to build on


How To Fix Crystallized Honey?

Turning your honey sugar back into honey is easy to do. You'll simply reheat it.

Some people microwave it, but this may alter the nutrients of your honey so we don't recommend this method.

Instead, we recommend the following:

  1. Heat a pot of water to somewhere between 90°F - 95°F (32°C - 35°C). These temperatures can naturally occur in the hive so there shouldn't be any risk of losing the flavor or health properties that are removed at higher temperatures
  2. Stand your plastic or glass jar of honey in the pot. Make sure the water level is not high enough to go over the top of the jar
  3. Let the jar stand in hot water till all the crystallized honey has melted

  4. Gently stir the honey ever few minutes to help break up the crystals. Be sure not to splash any hot water into the jar of honey
  5. If melting a large jar, you may need to reheat the water a few times till all the honey is melted
  6. Remove jars from heat when honey is once again smooth and runny
  7. Make sure jars are tightly sealed and store in a cool, dry place. For more on properly storing honey, see the section on Storage (Click Here)


What Is Creamed Honey?

As much as we may try to prevent it from happening, every jar of honey will inevitably turn to crystal anyways. For this reason some people embrace the fact that their honey doesn't want to stay in its liquid form.

By embracing this idea, they choose to take control of the crystallization process by turning their honey into a creamed honey or "whipped honey". Instead of having large crystals that harden the honey into an immovable glob, they turn it into creamed honey that has much smaller crystals that will keep its smooth honey flow. These tiny crystals are more predictable, easily spreadable and will squeeze out of a bottle with no problem.



How To Make Creamed Honey

There are a few ways to make creamed honey, but all of them use the same basic principle. In short, you'll take a jar that is filled 90% of the way with honey that has no crystals and add pre-crystallized "seed" honey for the last 10% to the jar. After waiting a week, the entire jar of honey will have mimicked the texture of the seed honey.

You can create your own seed honey by taking already crystallized honey and pulverizing it in a food processor till it is very fine. You can also buy seed honey from a specialty food market.

Below are two different ways to make creamed honey. One is the Fuller Farm Method via the YouTube video below while the written procedure below lists the Dyce Method.

The Dyce Method is famous in many groups for it's consistent results, but unfortunately the process includes pasteurizing the honey. By pasteurizing the honey, you lose a lot of the health benefits and flavor subtleties that the Fuller Farm's Method allows you to keep. With the Fuller Farm's Method the honey should never go above 90°F - 95°F (32°C - 35°C). These temperatures can naturally occur in the hive so there shouldn't be any risk of losing the flavor or health properties that are removed at higher temperatures.


    The Dyce Method

  1. Heat your honey using a double boiler till the candy thermometer says 120°F (49°C). At 120 degrees, your honey will do three things: quickly melt the unwanted crystals that have already formed; flow a lot easier through the filter; and still keep the beeswax solid. The beeswax will stay solid until the temperature gets to 144°F - 147°F (62°C - 64°C)
  2. While your honey is warm and runny, filter it through a fine mesh or two layers of cheesecloth. This should separate the beeswax, bee parts and other debris from the honey
  3. Now that most the beeswax and other impurities are gone, heat the honey to 150°F (65.5°C) for 15 minutes to pasteurize it. Pasteurizing the honey should eliminate the yeast, air bubbles and any remaining crystals that could form an undesired consistency. Don't forget to stir gently and continuously to break up crystals. While stirring try to avoid introducing air bubbles
  4. Once the time limit has been met, then filter the honey again
  5. Chill your honey to 65°F - 75°F (18°C - 24°C) as quickly as possible. For best results, chill your honey placing the pot of hot honey into an ice bath that you've prepared in your kitchen sink. Cooling your honey rapidly from 150°F (65.5°C) to 75°F (24°C) is an essential step for the Dyce Method because otherwise you'll end up with an inferior product. Stir gently and avoid introducing air bubbles while the honey is cooling. Be sure that the ice or water does not come in contact with the honey
  6. Once your honey has chilled to 65°F - 75°F (18°C - 24°C) it is now safe to add in your seed honey without fear of your crystals melting or deforming. The desired ratio that you're seeking is 10% seed honey to 90% chilled honey (by weight). Stir gently and avoid introducing air bubbles
  7. Once your honey has been thoroughly mixed, pour the honey mixture into a jar. Store the jar in a cool room. If you can, store it at the ideal temperature of 57°F (14°C) to induce crystallization
  8. After about a week the rest of the honey in the jar will have mimicked the desired crystal consistency that the seed you chose had
  9. Store your creamed honey jars in a cool room below 70°F (21°C), preferably at 57°F (14°C)


How To Feed Your Bees Crystallized Honey

Crystalized honey is a great food source for your bees from March to October. It's easy for them to digest and they'll add their own water to liquify it.

Only use crystalized honey from your own apiary! Please don't use store bought honey as this can have side effects and diseases that your bees might get.

When placing a jar of crystalized honey in your hive, you'll want to first take off the telescoping top cover. Put the jar on top of the inner cover. Lay the jar on it's side so that the bees can crawl into it to clean it out.


Then place a medium box without frames on top of the inner cover and put the telescoping top cover directly on the medium box.

With this method, the food source will be inside of their own hive rather than a community feeding method. The reason for this is twofold: it prevents wasps and robbers from coming by as well as prevents the spread of diseases like Nosema and Varroa Mites between hives.

The bees will have free reign within the empty medium box, so you might want to check on it often because they will likely start to make burr comb in the box.

Alternatively, you can take a dollop of crystalized honey and place it on a newspaper that's laying directly on the frames.



Why Doesn't Store Bought Honey Crystalize?

In short, the honey you buy from the grocery store will still crystalize. Just extremely slowly.


Some of you may have heard rumors like how grocery stores add corn syrup or other substances to their honey to keep it from crystallizing. These are just myths, in fact adding corn syrup would probably make your honey crystalize faster. As we learned earlier in this article (Click Here), it's the glucose in honey that makes it crystallize quickly and corn syrup is commonly known as glucose syrup.

The real reason that the grocery store honey takes longer to crystalize is because it's been filtered with high pressure and pasteurized with high temperatures.

Store bought honey is pasteurized at 160°F (71°C) and filtered with an incredibly fine screen under high pressure to make it as clear as possible. By doing this, the grocery stores have altered the honey enough that it stays as a liquid much longer. In fact, they've altered it enough, that it's hard to call it honey at all anymore.



Benefits Of Buying Local!

Instead. We recommend that you buy local! By doing so you'll get a better product with better nutrients and support a local beekeeper.

The ultra-pasteurized, ultra-filtered "honey" you buy at the grocery store has gotten rid of almost everything that made it honey - leaving pretty much just the glucose and fructose. It eliminates the pollen, enzymes, antioxidants, polyphenols, nutrients and even the subtle flavors from the flowers.

Taking out all of these nutrients and health benefits that come from eating local raw honey
will leave you with a sub standard product that mildly tastes like honey. Removing these benefits also makes the honey untraceable and easy to blend with any number of other honeys from any number of other countries to fill the bottle. By supporting a local beekeeper, your supporting the local economy and local environment.


In Conclusion

Your honey wants to become crystals. It's equilibrium and balance point is when it's fully solidified. Despite your honey's desire to crystallize, there are steps that you can take to delay the onset of crystallization.

Even when your honey does inevitably crystallize, it doesn't have to be the end of the road. You can always bring it back to life by either melting it, turning it to cream, feeding it to your bees, selling it, or just eating it as is.

Crystallized honey is just another stage in the honey's life cycle and as we've learned in this article it isn't really something to be worried about.

I hope this helps you keep your honey delicious and nutritious!

Keep On Beekeeping On!

-Lane