Honey has a set of physical and chemical properties that inform its shape, texture, taste and aroma. At its base, honey is a mixture of mostly sugar and water. However, there are elements, like acids and minerals, in the solution that add a variety of characteristics to its make-up. One of those chemical characteristics is the pH of honey.
Outside of the body, before ingestion and digestion, honey is acidic. Once metabolized, honey is considered alkaline. Perplexing, but not uncommon, how can honey be both acidic and alkaline?
Intro to PH
We measure pH on a scale of 0-14. The numerical value determines acidity, alkalinity or neutrality. The intensity of the value is illustrated by how far the reading is from the neutral midpoint of 7.
The pH values are:
- Acidic: 0.0–6.9
- Neutral: 7.0
- Alkaline (or basic): 7.1–14.0
Only liquids that have a major element of water in the solution have a pH. For example, there’s no pH in vegetable oil or gasoline. Since honey has a water content generally around and right below 20%, it certainly has a pH value.
What Is the PH of Honey?
Environmental elements like geography and flowering species create a variety of honey types. We can visually see this in the coloration of different honey types, but the chemical variations need to be tested.
The pH of honey typically falls into a range of about 3.4 to 6.1, with the average falling at 3.9.
This reading is measured in a few ways:
- Litmus paper for a generalized reading
- A meter and probe
- Titration against sodium hydroxide
Despite its variations, all honey is acidic before ingestion. The acids present in honey are organic, amino, as well as aliphatic and aromatic acids that add flavor, structure and aroma to the substance. The acidity reflects the flavor profile of the honey, recalling the light citrusy notes of most varieties.
The acidity of true honey may increase as the product ages and/or ferments. The fermentation process is a chemical reaction between yeast and sugar that creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. When alcohol is exposed to oxygen, it breaks down into acids and water. This creates more acidic honey as a result.
How Can Honey Be Both Acidic and Alkaline?
The kidneys keep homeostasis between the food you eat and your blood system. If you were to ingest honey, with its acidic pH, without the benefit of kidneys, the acidic compounds would disrupt the balance of your blood. However, because kidneys filter these compounds, instead of acidic or alkaline waste entering your blood, it leaves via your urine.
After your body digests and metabolizes honey, the by-products of these systems are more basic than acidic. As a result, honey is considered alkaline-forming, even though it’s acidic before ingestion.
How to Measure the PH of Honey
In contrast to using litmus paper, or a meter and probe, scientists determine the food’s pH effect on the body via two methods:
- Ash analysis
- Potential renal acid load
To determine acidity by analyzing the ash of the food, food is incinerated, and the resulting ash is mixed with water. The ash of the minerals left behind is the metabolic waste of that food in your body. Nutrients like potassium, calcium and magnesium are alkaline-forming.
Potential Renal Acid Load
The potential renal acid load (PRAL) test measures how much acid your kidneys will have to filter out from a specific food. This is calculated mathematically from an equation that inputs nutrient data from actual food composition tables.
A positive PRAL score indicates an acidic-forming food. A negative score means the food creates alkaline waste in the body.
How the pH of Honey Affects You
There’s no problem with the acidity of honey for your body system. Your stomach is loaded with hydrochloric acid, giving it a variable pH of 1–3, which is highly acidic. It has no problem dealing with the acidity of the honey.
As illustrated above, your kidneys act as an effective barrier against the absorption of acidic or basic properties into your bloodstream. Therefore, the only liquid affected by the alkalinity or acidity of your food is your urine, which carries the waste chemicals outside your body.
Honey Is Acidic and An Alkaline-Forming Food
When determining the pH of honey, it’s important to realize that there are two different ways of looking at pH. One is the effect that the food’s pH has on the body systems, measured by ash analysis and potential renal acid load. The other is the flavor profile of the food before digestion, measured by litmus paper, titration, or a meter and probe.
With honey, this lens of how you look at pH is important. When you harvest and ingest honey, it’s acidic. It’s only after you digest and metabolize the food that it forms basic reactions within your body.