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Can I fix crystallized honey?

Rather than accepting crystallized honey as a unique product, we waste a lot of effort trying to “fix” it. Some consumers actually dispose of solidified honey, believing it “turned” or became unsafe to eat. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, clumsy attempts to prevent crystallization, or to re-liquefy solid honey, can do more harm than good. That’s because heat is often the answer to hardened honey, but heat is honey’s worst enemy, causing a degradation in flavor, aroma, and nutritional content.

What causes honey to crystallize?

Crystallization is not a chemical change, but simply a physical reordering of the molecules. If you dissolve a bunch of sugar in warm water, suspend a string in the solution, and wait long enough, the sugar will form large hunking crystals along the string. As the water evaporates, the molecules of sugar line up in a way that forms these out-sized crystals that kids call “rock candy.”

The same thing happens when we granulate sugar, but the process is controlled to assure the crystals are the same size and shape. We don’t believe sugar has “gone bad” when it forms crystals, but somehow we think honey has gone bad when it does the same thing.

Ironically, people go out of their way to purchase “creamed” honey as a specialty product. Creamed honey is much like granulated sugar because the crystallization process is controlled to make the crystals small and uniform. Creamed honey, then, is nothing more than crystallized honey with a controlled crystal size.

How long before my honey will crystallize?

It is nearly impossible to predict when a sample of honey will crystallize. The rate of crystallization depends on the storage temperature, the presence of particles in the honey, and the composition of the honey. In turn, the composition of the honey depends on the plants it is made from.

Sugars come in many forms, but nectar from flowers is highest in fructose and glucose, although it may also contain sucrose and maltose. It is the relative amounts of fructose and glucose that control crystallization.

Whereas glucose granulates easily, fructose resists granulation, making fructose popular in food products where you want to maintain a smooth and silky consistency. Hard candy recipes such as those for lollipops often use fructose to obtain a non-grainy texture.

When honey has a high proportion of fructose compared to the amount of glucose, the honey may remain liquid for a very long time, even years. On the other hand, honey with a high amount of glucose and small amounts of fructose may granulate almost immediately.

Which honey is slow to crystallize?

When it comes to fast granulation, nothing beats oilseed rape (canola) for speed. Beekeepers wishing to extract oilseed rape honey must act quickly in order to extract the crop before it solidifies in the comb. Other honeys that granulate quickly are clover, lavender, dandelion, and alfalfa.

As a general rule, honey made from tree nectar is higher in fructose and slower to crystallize than honey made from forbs (non-grassy herbaceous flowering plants). Slow-to-crystallize honeys include tupelo, black locust, acacia, gallberry, maple, sourwood, and avocado. However, most honey is not limited to one type of nectar, so the speed of crystallization is almost impossible to predict.

How can I prevent crystallization?

Several things can be done to slow the rate of crystallization. For example, honey stored in a warm environment granulates more slowly than honey stored in a cold garage or shed. Freezing, however, can slow crystallization as long as the honey is wrapped tightly and kept from losing moisture.

Crystals need a particle or platform on which to start their growth. Impurities in the honey, such as pollen grains, can provide the perfect place for a crystal to start, which is one reason honey is often micro-filtered. The more particles that are removed, the longer the honey will stay liquid. However, the number of particulates is not nearly as important as the fructose content. A high-fructose honey can remain liquid for many years in spite of a high pollen count, so micro-filtration is more important in honey that has a reputation for quick crystallization.

Many people are opposed to micro-filtration because, after removing the pollen, the identity and source of the honey are hidden. Scientists use pollen for identification, so once the pollen is gone the geographical source is impossible to establish.

The downside of heating honey

The time-honored method of re-liquefying honey is to heat it. Almost any honey can be re-liquefied in this manner, but heat and honey don’t mix. Even small amounts of heat can destroy the delicate flavor and aroma components and increase the levels of hydroxymethylfurfural in the honey. Then too, the complex nutritional and medicinal components of honey can be neutralized with heat as well.

Honey liquefied by heat does not stay liquefied for long. As soon as the honey cools down and rests on a shelf for a few days, it will start to crystallize again. If it is then re-heated, it loses even more of its character. By limiting the number of times it is heated, you can minimize the damage.

Honey is often heated and re-liquefied by the beekeeper or distributor before it is sold; after all, the consumer wants liquid honey. In general, consumers prefer liquid honey regardless of whether it has been heated or not, so the seller ends up providing what the consumer wants, even if it’s not the best product.

But recently, a honey consumer said she purchased honey at her farmers’ market and it began crystallizing immediately. She wanted to know if that was a sure sign the honey was heated just before she purchased it. It’s a good question, but I don’t think you can say for sure. Maybe it was heated, but maybe it was just at the point that it was ready to crystallize. Honey is such a variable product, that it’s impossible to guess.

Accepting crystallized honey for what it is

For the consumer of honey, I think the problem is best solved by accepting crystallized honey for what it is. There are many ways you can use it without subjecting it to extra rounds of heating and re-crystallizing.

I have both kinds in my cupboard. If I’m going to heat the honey in a recipe, I just use crystallized honey. It dissolves during the heating process, but it is heated only once, not multiple times that would degrade it even further. The same applies to honey for tea: it will dissolve when you use it, so why heat it more than once?

Crystallized honey is perfect on hot biscuits or toast because it quickly liquefies yet doesn’t drip off your bread in the meantime. It can also be used on hot cereal, pancakes, and waffles. As beekeepers we are in a perfect position to dispel some of the unfortunate rumors that surround crystallized honey by explaining to purchasers what causes the crystallization and how to use it as is.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Honeycomb with crystallized honey
This honey has begun to crystallize while still in the comb. Pixabay photo.
Many types of honey
Many types of honey, some is crystallized and some is not. Honey usually becomes lighter in color when it crystallizes. Pixabay photo.

Comments

Katie
Reply

Thanks for showing a picture of what crystallized honey looks like in the comb. I recently encountered this and being only a second year beekeeper, I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of spoilage/fermentation or normal, etc. As always, such an informative blog!

Diana
Reply

I immediately linked this article to several honey-lovers. Excellent!

Cindi
Reply

I’ve missed reading your posts! This one caught my eye because I’ve posted on it myself, trying to educate people that there is nothing “wrong” with crystallized honey. I knew you would have gone into greater depth on the subject. And you did, of course! <3 As always, it's so easy to understand when you explain things. Love your style! Thanks for still being here even though I don't pop in as often. I still send newbees to your site, which I consider one of the top best resources!

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Cindi. It’s good to hear from again.

Nancy
Reply

Rusty,

A couple of colleagues in our club not only sell scads of “creamed honey,” but combine it with organic peanut butter for a highly successful product which they label “Honey-Peanut Butter Fluff.”

Easy to do at home, and a big hit with kids.
Nan

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

Sounds good. I love peanut butter and honey together.

Ken
Reply

Rusty,

It’s my understanding that in Europe, especially GB, crystallized honey is preferred for eating with biscuits and such. I don’t know this for a fact but have been told this more than once.

Honey customers are really fickle people. Very few will purchase crystallized or partially crystallized honey. For that reason I will heat is very slowly at a low temp. I have put honey out in the sun, warmed it on a heating pad covered up with a quilt, and put it on a glass top stove on the lowest setting (especially a warming eye). Except for the sun the other two take a lot more time to warm up the honey to remove the crystallization.

Emily
Reply

“It’s my understanding that in Europe, especially GB, crystallized honey is preferred for eating with biscuits and such.”

I haven’t found this myself Ken, I live in GB and in my experience most people here either want runny or creamed honey. I’ve never seen anyone put honey on biscuits but we do put it on toast a lot.

Rusty
Reply

Emily,

We always put it on English muffins. My question: do you have English muffins in England or is that an American thing? Always wondered.

Emily
Reply

We do have English muffins 🙂 The packaging won’t necessarily say ‘English muffins’, it will often just say ‘muffins’, as people can see they’re not the cakey American kind. Some supermarkets sell them in plain, cheese & spiced fruit flavours. Had never thought to put honey on them, sounds nice! I gave a friend of mine some comb honey and she put it on crumpets.

jim
Reply

Unlike much of what I have read, you have brought clarity to the subject in this post. Thank you for your generosity in sharing this knowledge.

Pat
Reply

I’m fond of using crystallized honey in tea. It stays on the spoon much better than “runny honey”, so you can get it from the jar to the cup without dribbles. Maybe we need to start putting labels on the jars showing uses where crystallized honey is better, rather than the almost-warning “Honey may crystallize, this is a natural process, blah blah…”

Rusty
Reply

Pat,

You could market it as a specialty product: non-runny tea honey. Charge extra.

Göran
Reply

I think you are correct Ken about European honey. Here in Sweden at least crystallized honey is the norm. The honey I get is hard to keep liquid so why bother.

HoustonHives
Reply

Rusty, thank you for explaining the importance of fructose and glucose and the pollen that affects crystallization. Our first harvest last spring remained liquid the entire year. Subsequent harvests crystallized at varying rates. We’re not sure where the girls were collecting as their usual field of wildflowers (the source of previous years’ liquid harvests) was over-cut and didn’t bloom.

Still, many customers at the farmers’ market buy our crystallized because they believe it ensures nutritional benefits are intact. I also have an informational sheet to explain it and talk about the dangers of heating it. And I’m down to my last few consumer jars…

We still have several quarts of it that my husband uses to make honey (caramel) popcorn, which has been a big hit at the market, too!

David Williams
Reply

Great article Rusty !
I like crystallized honey and would like to share it with others. I have had honey crystallize in a creamy smooth texture, but most often it is coarse and grainy. What causes the different textures and can it be controlled, or manipulated some how? PS I grew a small patch of Buckwheat last summer and harvested a few frames of buckwheat honey. It was delicious.
Thank you for your work and research and sharing it with us.
David Williams.

Selina
Reply

I’m just wondering if there’s a specific point where honey is considered “heated”. We have a sous vide machine on loan and have liquify a few jars of honey at around 40C. Our current honey harvest is starting to crystallize because we (unfortunately) we left it in a cool room for a bit too long. So we are thinking of liquifying it and then storing it in the freezer.

Another thing I’ve been wondering about is a taste in store bought honey that has been pasteurized. There seems to be a distinctive smell that I don’t find in raw honey. Am I imagining things?

Rusty
Reply

Selina,

I’ve never read a definition, but to me, anything higher than the internal hive temperature is heated. So 40 C (104 F) is about the max a healthy hive will reach, although the bees prefer a little lower temperature, around 35 C (mid 90s F) for brood rearing. I’ve read that even slight elevations above hive temperatures are enough to at least partially destroy the antibacterial properties of honey, as well as some of the taste and aroma components.

I don’t think you are imagining. Heated honey will take up the flavors of anything it touches including plastic utensils and so forth. It is very acidic, so it can dissolve many things and absorb them. Personally, I just use crystallized honey in that condition. It can still be used in cooking. It can be spread on toast or piece of bread. It is just as delicious as liquid honey and doesn’t drip! I’ve chosen accept crystallized honey rather than do battle with it, which has made my life easier. Just a thought.

Mike J
Reply

Great article! I’m fine with crystallized honey in general, but it sure is hard to get out of a squeeze bottle. 😉

Rusty
Reply

Mike,

That’s the truth.

James Phillips
Reply

A great article many thanks. I am a beekeeper in England and we have a lot of oil seed rape in the fields round where I live. Inevitably the early (OSR) honey will crystallise for the reasons discusses. We tend to add soft set honey (10%) to the OSR honey. This seeds the honey with small crystals and all the honey sets into a soft set honey rather than the rock hard honey OSR will make if left to its own devices. I sell creamed honey and runny – I’ll sell around three runny jars for every set jar. It is possible to stop honey setting by microfiltration as it removes larger crystals as well as the pollen. It is illegal to do this in the UK and sell the honey. I plan to experiment to see how it works just out of interest (I shan’t be selling any and breaking the rules).

Rusty
Reply

James,

I never tried it, but I’ve heard that microfiltration will slow down the crystallization process, but not stop it completely.

Mary Keogh
Reply

Can the bees use the crystallized honey in the comb or would they prefer to have it removed?

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

They can use it straight from the comb.

Andi / Beeman
Reply

Hi, I have just removed two supers from a my hives as I have been away. Both supers are filled with crystallised honey. What can I do with them?

Rusty
Reply

If you like to eat comb honey, you can just eat it. Spread on warm toast or muffins, it will melt nicely. Or, you can save the comb for winter feed for your bees.

Jory Kahn
Reply

The problem with crystallized honey in plastic bottles purchased at the store is how to get the solidified honey out?! You have to cut the bottle in two, a messy process, unless someone has a better idea?

Rusty
Reply

Jory,

We do a lot of bottle cutting here too. Not honey, but other things that don’t come out of the container. I think it’s best to avoid weird-shaped bottles, including bears.

Martie
Reply

Rusty, Like the comment made on December 23. 2017,
I too have problem with a 3 lb. plastic bottle of honey that I bought, is as hard as a rock. I can’t even cut it out–, with a great deal of effort I can scrape a little off with a spoon. I would love to use this honey but how do I get it out of the bottle?

Rusty
Reply

Martie,

I don’t know how to get it out. Plastic bottles are porous to some extent and seem to make the problem worse.

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