You were excited to buy your fresh jar of honey from the supermarket. You take the time to package it, place it carefully in the car, and take it home like the delicate, prized product that it is.
Finally, you get home and try it out on a fresh bagel. Yumm. Nothing beats that taste. One serving isn’t enough, so you save the rest in the cupboard in hopes of using it again.
A few weeks pass and you return to the kitchen, excited to pour some of your delicious syrup on another breakfast dish.
You open the cupboard, only to find that your once thick and golden honey has now turned white and grainy. Suddenly, it feels like all hope is gone.
Everyone loves honey, but no one loves it when it’s all hardened up. What’s up with that, right? We’ve got good news. While crystallized honey can be a bummer, it’s not the end all be all of your jar of sweet liquid.
It is entirely normal for your honey to crystallize, and it’s also not a permanent process.
Thomas Jefferson was brilliant in his quote, “knowledge is power.” We can already imagine your face asking, “what does that have to do with honey?” Well, once you understand the process of honey crystallization, you have the key to control it, make peace with it, and use it to your advantage.
And there’s no need to dig up all the corners of the internet searching for answers because we’ve got them all in one place, just for you:
This may seem funny, but you should be proud if you’ve got a jar of crystallized honey. Why? Because only natural honey will solidify. There is no better way of telling if you just bought a bottle of colored high fructose corn syrup over the supermarket's real deal.
Shocking but true; many honeys you see stacked on the shelves are more processed than anything and only about a third of the total volume may be actual, raw honey.
So why does it crystallize in the first place? The crystallization or granulation of natural honey is a physical change that takes place within the sugar mixture.
Let us imagine a glass of water. Here, water is what we call a ‘solvent’ because it allows substances to dissolve in it. It is more specifically known as the universal solvent because it allows far more substances to dissolve in it than any other liquid.
A "solute" is what we consider to the substance that dissolves in water. Sugar is a common solute. If you keep adding spoonfuls of sugar to the glass of water, you will notice a change over time.
At first, as you keep stirring, the sugar will dissolve in the water relatively quickly. Still, eventually, with the addition of more and more sugar particles, the process of dissolution will slow down.
Add a bit more sugar and you will observe that at some point, the sugar will appear to no longer dissolve in the water or take too long to do so. This is when we say that the sugar solution is saturated. It has now reached its limit for dissolution.
Honey is much like this example. Naturally, honey contains glucose and fructose - two types of simple sugars. The solution is so highly concentrated with these sugars that it creates the thick consistency we associate with this syrup.
The issue with this is that it causes an imbalance in the mixture, which needs to be rectified. But we aren’t the ones to fix this. The honey will take care of itself.
Interestingly, glucose is not as soluble as its partner fructose. So they make a pact.
As time goes by, the glucose particles dissolved in the honey solution will slowly solidify, easing up the concentration of solute dissolved in the base solvent. The solidified honey particles are what we notice on the liquid's surface and are what we call the honey crystals.
So we know how and why raw honeys solidify, but does that mean that all types of natural honeys will form granules?
The short answer is “yes". However, they won’t all crystallize at the same rate. Some may take only a few weeks; others may take a couple of months, and others up to a year or more.
A lot of factors go into the rate of granulation of honey. One of the most obvious is its composition. When bees make honey, pollen often gets caught up in the mixture, and without any legs, well, there’s not much it can do to save itself.
Pollen is a source of many of the antioxidant properties that we get from honey, but it also promotes the unwanted hardening process.
It works by providing a base for the glucose particles to physically change from liquid to solid. The same goes the beeswax, which may also remain in the honeycomb after the bees do their magic.
Of course, when it comes to this factor, the rate could easily be reduced by filtering the honey to eliminate these natural components. That’s why you will hardly find your processed varieties forming crystals.
Preservatives are also added to these kinds to extend their shelf lives and further slow down hardening.
The concentration of glucose versus fructose also affects how quickly the honey crystallizes. Those with higher concentrations of glucose, like clover honey, will harden much faster than those with lower concentrations, such as acacia. Remember, the difference in sugar quantities is in relation to the two types found in all naturally made bee honeys.
Again, this all depends on some key factors. We’ve already mentioned filtering and processing, but what else can we adjust?
You may have already figured this one out. The surrounding temperature affects how quickly your honey crystallizes. Generally, temperatures below 10°C are best to slow the crystallization rate while still preserving the honey's natural contents and nutritional benefits.
Temperatures between 21°C to 27°C can also deter the process, but it is highly likely that compounds in the solution will become denatured or destroyed. If this happens, the honey mixture will become merely a sugar solution, with little to no health value. And what’s the point of it then?
Ideally, the best place to store your honey is in an environment at room temperature or about.
Humidity plays an invisible yet huge role in the rate of crystallization. The more humid it is, the more likely is your honey to begin to solidify. Although it doesn’t sound like something we can control - because naturally we can’t really change moisture content in air - it is possible to do on a small scale.
The best way to store honey is in a clean, dry, moisture-resistant container. I recommend glass jars over plastic for freshness and also because glass containers are better at air-tight closing. This helps guarantee that no moist air will be entering the jar after use.
If you’re going to store it properly, that also means you have to remember to close it properly after each use. Freshness is also affected by the cleanliness and dryness of your storage container. There’s no point in having crystal-free honey if it’s moldy!
Crystallization is a natural process for raw honeys. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with solidified honey, it’s only trying to create internal balance within its molecules.
So with that said, you might be wondering what you can do with crystallized honey. Well, it’s no different than regular, fully liquefied honey. Some people enjoy it on their toasts and waffles because of the extra crunchiness it adds to the meal. Trust that the grains have no difference in taste than the rest of the liquid, though they might be lighter (or white) than the syrup.
Aside from its crunchy texture, it is also great as a spread because of its slow drip when compared to more fluid-like honey. Maybe you could even try it as hard candy.
You’ll get the same nutritional value as the syrup, just in a different form.
Heating your honey between 60°C to 71°C will easily cause the honey crystals to revert to liquid honey. The heat should be applied until all granules dissolve.
Any fine air bubbles should also be removed during heating because these tend to promote rapid crystallization.
It’s quite a simple process and requires minimal effort in the kitchen. So for those of you who don’t appreciate the grains between your teeth - don’t worry; it doesn’t last forever.
Remember how too high temperatures can denature the compounds in your honey? That’s not the only thing that can happen.
You could use a water bath to get rid of honey grains in glass jars, but it is not very reliable for heating, so most people use plastic bowls. Unfortunately, if you try warming up honey in a plastic container, by the time, it reaches the minimum recommended 60°C, the material is sure to melt. Besides, it can be tricky to measure exactly what heat you’re using over a stove burner.
This phenomenon does not solely apply when heating bee by-products. Generally, plastics aren’t good at holding up under very hot conditions.
Instead of all the high-science methods, try something simple that you can easily control. A crockpot, rice cooker, or even your basic kitchen faucet water heater can all be used to monitor the level of heat being used in your water bath.
At about 48°C, there isn’t much damage that can be done to your plasticware, so make an effort to keep the temperature within that range.
But it’s not just about placing your container in hot water and exiting the room. You need to be careful about how you handle your honey.
If you’re placing your container in a water bath, be sure that the water can’t enter the plastic bowl or bottle. The water level should be just about half the container to ensure that the heat reaches the honey contents.
Also, make sure that the bottle doesn’t flip over and spill the syrup into the bath. There is no way of saving dissolved honey.
You also have to monitor the process because the water bath will eventually lose its heat. Heat energy is passed on from object to object; it isn’t something you can take ownership of.
As the honey is heated and the crystals change back to liquid, the surrounding water will slowly decrease in temperature and soon be ineffective.
Your job is to keep a steady eye on this and change the water every time it gets back cold or to room temperature. Do this until all of the honey is de-crystallized. As a tester, you can try swirling the mixture in the container. If it doesn’t budge, then it probably isn’t fully liquified yet.
It may not be our favorite experience, but hardened honey is undoubtedly here to stay. Still, you do have a choice. You could choose to bear with the raw, nutritious honey with its tendency to solidify.
You could also opt for the processed honey made mainly out of unbeneficial carbohydrates.
Like with anything in life, you can’t always get everything right. Some things you have to accept in the long run. Try to choose natural and organic honey over manufactured whenever you can.
Honey crystals may be a downside, but they’re something you can easily get rid of. And that, dear honey lovers, should make all the difference.