Have you ever reached for the jar of honey in the back of your pantry cupboard and found that the lovely clear runny honey you bought a couple of months back is now almost solid? Don’t panic and, whatever you do, don’t throw out the honey. Your honey has not spoiled or gone off. It is simply crystallising.
What is crystallisation?
Honey crystallisation, also known as granulation or candying, is a natural process. It does not affect the quality of the honey; it only changes its texture and colour. The crystallisation process itself is proof of the raw nature of the honey. Raw honey, if properly stored, will be good to eat indefinitely.
While they are in the hive, bees evaporate water out of the nectar as they transform it into a liquid (honey) that is super-saturated with glucose and fructose. The bees store the honey in a honeycomb cell and seal it with wax preventing any moisture absorption. After the honey is harvested, it is exposed to air and begins to re-absorb moisture, triggering the natural sugar molecules to begin to return to their crystalline (or solid) state.
Raw honey is a concentrated natural sugar solution which will eventually crystallise. But when it comes to crystallisation, not all kinds of raw honey are equal. Different types of raw honey crystallise at various rates, depending on their individual composition.
Many kinds of honey sold in large supermarkets never crystallise. This is because they have been filtered, blended, pasteurised (to dissolve the natural sugar crystals) or in some cases adulterated – in part to meet consumer perceptions that honey should be clear and runny. This processing, however, damages the goodness of the original honey, making the processed honey an inferior product to raw honey.
How quickly honey crystallises depends on several factors:
- The nectar source of the honey;
- The proportion of glucose and fructose in the honey;
- How the honey is stored (in plastic or glass jars) and at what temperature;
- Elements of wax, propolis and pollen that remain in raw honey.
Honey derived from the nectar of eucalyptus tree flora (like Gustare’s range of raw Eucalyptus honey) are typically higher in fructose and slower to crystallise. If you consume Gustare honey within a few months of purchase, you may not see any crystallisation. Other types of honey with a high fructose to glucose ratio, such as Acacia and Tupelo are also slow to crystallise. Honey types with a low fructose to glucose ratio, such as clover and dandelion honey, crystallise more quickly.
The dominant sugars in honey are fructose and glucose. The exact content of fructose and glucose in honey varies according to honey type. The fructose content in honey ranges from 30-44% and the glucose content from 25-40%. The balance of these two sugars causes the crystallisation of honey, and the relative proportion of each determines whether it crystallises rapidly or slowly. Glucose, because of its lower solubility, crystallises first, so a honey with a higher proportion of glucose in its composition will crystallise more quickly. Fructose remains fluid for longer because it is more soluble in water. The overall composition of honey, which contains other sugars, minerals, acids and proteins also influences the speed of crystallisation.
Plastic is more porous than glass, allowing more air to pass through and speeding up crystallisation. Honey stored in a capped, glass jar as all honey in Gustare’s range is, will stay in a runny state for a longer period.
If honey is stored at a cold temperature, crystallisation will be much slower, but the runniness of the honey will be reduced. Storing honey above 18-20 degrees centigrade also delays crystallisation, but very high temperatures (over 30 degrees) can degrade the goodness in honey. A storage temperature of between 18 and 27 degrees centigrade is thought to be optimum for honey. Avoiding too much light, heat and moisture retains honey in its best state.
Unfiltered raw honey often contains small amounts of propolis, wax and pollen that give crystals a foundation to build on and can speed up crystallisation.
What can you do about crystallised honey?
- Use the crystallised honey as you would the runny honey. It is easier to spread than runny honey and tastes the same or even better on your toast, in your porridge, in your tea and coffee, and in your savoury recipes.
- If you do prefer your honey runny, you can place the portion of honey you want to use into an empty glass jar and place this jar into a water bath (small saucepan or glass or china bowl) of hot water (temperature of fewer than 35 degrees centigrade) and warm slowly. Do not use boiling water or microwave the honey as this will damage the healthy properties of the honey.
Finally, remember that crystallisation is a natural phenomenon. You can eat and enjoy the delicious taste of pure, raw honey long after it starts to crystallise.