Honey Crystallization

 

By Ol’ Drone

Honey is a super saturated solution containing the simple sugars fructose and glucose. This means that it has far more solids than water and it is inherently unstable in liquid form. The sugar solids account for 82%, leaving the water content at 18%.

Over a period of time all honey will granulate. But, the beekeeper can help to delay granulation by several methods. There is a wide variation in speed of granulation of honey depending on the floral source. Canola honey may granulate one day after collection and must be extracted immediately. Clover honey is less likely to granulate as fast. The most important attention needs to be given to ambient temperature while extracting and storing if good quality honey is to be produced.

Raw honey is defined as honey that has been processed with as little heat as possible. For example, substituting a non-heated fork to uncap the ripened honey, instead of the practice of using a heated knife, will maintain the best flavor and volatile components of raw honey. It is normal to warm the extracted honey to allow wax and other particles to rise to the surface for skimming before packaging or filtering honey. Heating to below 120° F is considered still in the raw honey range. Raw honey tends to granulate on its own in a short period of time. Standard practice for store bought honey is to heat the honey much higher for two purposes.

Heating to about 170° F will change the nature of the sugars and will delay granulation for several months. Of course this process removes some of the natural, delicious flavor expected in raw honey. The other reason for heating honey to 170° F is to destroy any yeast spores that may cause fermentation in the honey. Overheating will darken the honey and will seriously damage the flavor.

When honey granulates, it is the glucose fraction that crystallizes rather than the fructose that stays in liquid form. The glucose solids are glucose oxalate, and during formation they will release water to the honey as they form. Any increase in water content above 18% will allow yeast to grow resulting in fermentation or spoilage of honey. During storage of honey, keep it in a closed container at room temperature. Do not keep honey in the refrigerator. For long-term storage, honey may be kept at any temperature below 120° F. Honey keeps liquid- and granulation-free in a freezer or even on the front porch for sale at 32° F.

Of course honey that has started to granulate can be easily re-liquefied by heating in a warm pan with water at 100-120° F. Leave it there for a few hours, as the time is more important than a high temperature. In summer honey in jars can be re-liquefied by laying them (tightly closed) on the dashboard of your car in bright sun. Be careful that they don’t leak!

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