What Is Crystallized Honey?
Crystallized honey is easily recognized by its grainy texture that sometimes fades in color. Honey crystallization, or granulation, is a natural phenomenon in which the honey transforms from a liquid into a solid or semi-solid state. When observed closely, it will look like little crystals.
Why Does Honey Crystallize?
It’s a misconception that honey crystallizes as a result of bad quality, poor storage, unnatural processing, or passing its expiration date. In fact, when honey doesn’t crystallize, it’s usually an indication that it’s been adulterated.
Honey is a greatly concentrated sugar compound with over 70 percent carbohydrates (sugars) and less than 20 percent water. This ratio causes the water in honey to hold a much larger amount of sugar than it can dissolve. The low-moisture state is also what prevents the honey from growing bacteria for such a long period.
All-natural compounds seek balance by default. In honey, balance is obtained through the glucose separating from the water. During this process, glucose takes on the form of crystals.
How Long Does It Take Honey to Crystallize?
Crystallization occurs at different rates for different types of honey — anywhere from a few weeks up to two years. Temperature, as well as the glucose, sucrose, and fructose ratio, affect the duration of the process as well.
The type of honey determines where the crystals form and what they look like. For some, the entire batch will solidify, while others might only form crystals at the bottom or the sides of the jar. Rapid crystallization will result in finer crystals.
Honey stored above 77 degrees Fahrenheit will take longer to crystallize, whereas colder temperatures will hasten the process. This is why you’re more likely to find your honey crystallizing around the fall and winter months, or if the honey has been refrigerated.
Over 300 types of honey are sold in the United States alone, and they all crystallize at different rates. For example, high-fructose honey lasts a few years before crystallizing, but honey made from dandelions and cotton pollen crystallizes more rapidly.
Processed honey develops crystals at a much faster rate than raw or semi-processed honey. This results from the differences in the carbohydrate ratios — glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Glucose has lower solubility, so honey that is high in this compound will crystallize faster. Fructose remains in a liquid form for longer.
How to Decrystallize Honey
Crystallized honey isn’t a bad thing, and doesn’t mean the honey has gone bad. Some beekeepers utilize a process called controlled crystallization — meaning they deliberately induce crystal formation in the honey. This produces creamed honey, spun honey, or churned honey, which can be used as a spread because of its coarse texture.
Many prefer consuming honey in its liquid form. Too often, they make the mistake of disposing of crystallized honey, misjudging it as expired honey. There are some methods you can follow to revert your honey to its original state:
- Hot water
- Warming cabinet
This is the most common way of decrystallizing honey. All you need is a saucepan and hot water.
Boil some water in a kettle or heat it on the stove. Make sure you boil enough for the entire jar of honey to be covered in the saucepan, except for the neck of the jar. Once the water is between 95 and104 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the lid and place the jar in the pan.
Leave it in for a couple of minutes or until it’s fully liquified. Crystallized honey conducts heat poorly, so stir it regularly. The time it takes to “melt” will depend on how much it’s crystallized and how long it’s been crystallized for, as well as the volume of honey. Larger containers will take more time.
If it’s taking too long, drain the water and add newly boiled water. Once it’s ready, remove the jar — wear rubber gloves to avoid a scalding hazard. Wait for it to cool down before putting the lid back on.
It’s important to note that the hot water method only works with glass jars. Boiling water can melt or warp plastic containers, and even risk it contaminating the honey. If your honey is in a plastic container, scoop it into a clean and empty glass jar before placing it in the water.
Microwaving honey is another convenient way to decrystallize it. All you need is a microwave-safe container.
Scoop the honey into the container — this might take some time since crystallized honey is somewhat thick and sticky. Make sure not to place a lid on the container. Put the honey in the center of the microwave and turn it on medium. Microwave it in 30-second intervals, stirring between sessions.
Repeat the sessions until the honey has fully liquified. Be mindful of not letting it get to boiling point; this can scorch it. If it gets too hot, let it cool down before microwaving it again. Use a thermometer to keep track of the temperature — don’t let it exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once done, remove the container with caution, since it’ll be very hot, or leave it in the microwave to cool down. Transfer the honey to its original container when it’s not hot anymore.
If your honey is in a microwavable container, put it in the microwave as it is, with the lid off. Otherwise, don’t put glass or plastic in the microwave. Glass will break, and plastic will melt, which will end up wasting all of the honey and leave a mess.
Bottled honey might make it difficult to get out when it’s crystallized. We recommend cutting the bottle vertically to get it all out, then finding a jar or wide-lid container to put it back into.
If you own a food warming cabinet, you can use that to decrystallize your honey too. A lot of beekeepers have warming cabinets specifically for liquifying honey. Some even build their own.
Set the temperature between 95 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If your honey is in a plastic container, transfer it to a glass jar and enclose it in the cabinet with the lid off. Leave it in for 12–48 hours — yes, it’s a slow process! Some beekeepers set it at a higher temperature to speed up the liquefaction.
Keep an eye on the honey, stirring it every hour or so. Once melted, remove it from the cabinet with caution, let it cool down, and transfer it back into its container.
How to Avoid Crystallization
You can’t prevent honey from becoming crystallized since it’s a natural process, but there are methods to slow down crystallization or reduce the number of crystals:
- Using closed containers
- Temperature control
- Glass jars
Exposing the honey to air will allow moisture particles into it — this will speed up crystallization.
When using the honey, don’t let it flow out of the container. It will accumulate and dry on the rim, making it easy for the lid to be misplaced and let air in. Instead, scoop out the honey with a spoon, and make sure the lid is always on tightly.
It’s best to store honey at room temperature. Keeping it in the back of a top shelf in the pantry should do the trick unless your kitchen isn’t temperature-controlled. In that case, if you don’t want to splurge on a thermostat, you can store it in the freezer.
Honey commonly crystallizes between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Safety regulations require freezers to be set to zero degrees. This makes the freezer a perfect option to extend the longevity of honey in warm climates. Plus, the low water content in honey will prevent it from solidifying in the freezer.
Don’t, however, store the honey in the refrigerator. Its temperature will accelerate the crystallization process. Refrigerators are required to be set to 40 degrees — a perfect temperature for crystals to form.
Glass isn’t as porous as plastic, meaning that temperatures will affect honey more when stored in plastic containers or bottles. Find an old glass jar lying around, sterilize it, and transfer the honey.
Continue purchasing honey in glass jars in the future. Not only will this make the decrystallization process more convenient, but it also leaves a smaller footprint than plastic.
Is Decrystallization Safe?
Decrystallization is safe and doesn’t alter the quality of the honey. The only thing that could make it dangerous is the risk of getting burned during the decrystallization process.
The heat can potentially reduce the nutritional value of the honey, but not significantly if it doesn’t exceed 98.6 degrees.
How to Decrystallize Honey Summary
Honey crystals form as a result of the sugars trying to balance themselves in relation to the low water content. Crystallization is a natural process and can’t be prevented, but it can be reversed without affecting the quality. The type of honey you prefer and the way you store it can determine when it starts to crystallize.
For the average person, decrystallizing honey doesn’t require expert, scientific knowledge — it’s a simple and safe process.