Have you ever opened a jar of honey and instead of finding golden, flowing, liquid honey, you see a solid mass that looks like slightly wet sugar? If so, you know what crystallized honey looks like. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that their spouse/parent/child/roommate threw away a jar of perfectly good honey because they thought it had spoiled. The honey hasn’t “gone bad”, it’s just changed in state, from liquid to solid. Luckily, you can easily turn it back to the sweet, golden honey you know and love.
Why does honey crystallize?
Sugars: Glucose and Fructose
The primary reason honey crystallizes is related to the amount of fructose and glucose found in each batch. Each jar of honey contains different amounts of these two sugars, depending on the flowers the bees visit throughout the season. When the bees bring nectar into the hive, it has a high water content, and they work hard to fan it to evaporate the water. When the amount of water in the stored nectar gets down to 18%, it is considered to be honey, and is ready to be capped with wax and stored. In the hive, honey looks like the golden liquid you purchase from a beekeeper. It is essentially a thick syrup of sugar and water.
The glucose sugars do not naturally stay mixed with water for long periods, and at some point they will separate from the water and form crystals. This is why the crystallized honey looks a little bit like granulated table sugar. The water has been taken out, and the sugar crystals remain. This is also why crystallized honey sometimes looks like it has “separated” and you see a pool of water on top of the hard sugar crystals.
Fructose is more stable than glucose, and won’t separate from the water as quickly. Honey that is higher in fructose will eventually crystallize, but it could take years instead of months.
The colder it is, the more quickly honey will crystallize. The inside of the beehive is ideally kept at a temperature of 94 or 95 degrees year-round. Because of outside temperatures, that’s hard to achieve every day, but the bees try. If it’s freezing in the winter, the bees will cluster together to keep the temperature up. If it’s hot in the summer, they will fan the inside of the hive to lower the temperature. When the honey stored in the hive is held at a steady temperature by the bees, it tends to not change state and crystallize.
I do my best to imitate the bees and store honey at a warm, constant temperature, but that’s hard to do, especially during our northeast winters. It’s inevitable that some of your honey will crystallize. Since you can’t stop it, I’ll help you manage your honey supply.
How to Decrystallize a Glass Jar of Honey
Last year the goldenrod near my hive resulted in honey that was high in glucose, and my entire honey harvest eventually crystallized. I’m now experienced at the art of decrystallizing honey, and I’ll share my techniques with you.
Keep this in mind when you are “thawing out” a jar of honey: the healthy components of the honey can be destroyed by heat. Let your motto be “Low and Slow,” and take time to thaw the honey slowly over low heat.
Low and Slow
- Use a pot that is large enough to hold the jar of honey. It doesn’t have to be taller than the jar.
- Add enough water to the pot so that when the jar is in the pot, the water comes close to the top without overflowing. The water doesn’t have to come up to the top of the jar. A few inches on the sides of the jar is enough.
- Heat the water to 110 degrees. Remove the pot from the stove.
- Remove or loosen the lid from the honey jar and place the jar in the pot of warm water.
- Wait until the crystals are gone. This can take hours. If the water has cooled down and the honey isn’t completely thawed, wait some more. Don’t heat the water back up until you have let it sit for a good 12 hours. Magic happens when you are patient.
Here are things that will thaw out the honey quickly but will also destroy the healthy components:
- Microwaving the jar of honey
- Placing the honey jar in boiling water
Don’t do it! Use the method outlined above.
Crystallized Honey in a Plastic Bottle
So your cute plastic teddy bear bottle is crystallized – what should you do? You can’t put it in warm water on the stove because it may leach toxins into your honey. If you have a plastic bottle full of hard honey, I have a solution.
- Find a clean glass jar or measuring cup large enough to hold your plastic bottle when you place it in upside down. A Pyrex 2-cup is probably a good size, or a 16-ounce wide mouth glass canning jar.
- Place the glass jar in a pot or saucepan and add enough water so that the water level (with the glass in the pot) is about 2 inches high.
- Remove the glass and heat the water.
- When the water is warm, remove the pot from the stove and put the glass container back in. Place your honey jar without the lid upside down in the glass. The warmth of the water will cause the honey in the plastic bottle to thaw out, and it will run down into the glass container.
This will take a while! You may have to reheat the water to keep the process going.
There will be some honey that won’t come out of the plastic bottle. Don’t throw it out – add some mustard and vinegar to it and make a salad dressing. Don’t waste!
You might be wondering why I don’t advocate leaving the lid on the honey bottle. It would certainly be less messy if you just turned the bottle upside down with the lid on, and kept all the thawed honey in the same plastic bottle, right? I am concerned about the toxins that come out of the plastic when it is heated, and that’s why I let my honey run straight out of the plastic bottle, into the glass container. The less time it sits warmed against the plastic, the better it is for you.