Can you freeze honey?
Yes. In fact, that is the best way to keep honey for long term storage. Honey kept at room temperature degrades slowly over time. The color darkens, there are fewer active enzymes and a chemical called hydroxymethylfurfural is created. The degradation is a slow process that quickens with heat. Keeping it frozen near -4°F halts the degradation process and helps it keep its nutritional and antimicrobial properties. The honey will also not crystallize while frozen. Of course, freezing is only for excess honey that you do not plan to consume for some time.
Use caution when freezing in glass. The glass can break, although this is not as likely to happen with honey as with something which has a high water content like soup. Honey is mostly made up of solids which are dissolved in a small amount of water. The percentage of water in honey varies, but is typically between 15.5% and 18.6%.
1. When freezing in glass containers, consider using freezer-safe or tempered glass. Regular glass might contain air pockets which can expand and contract. Also, a jar without shoulders is best; for example the classic honey jar shape does not have shoulders. If using a mason jars, straight jars with wide mouth openings are better.
2. Do not fill the jar all the way to the top. Leave about an inch of space. This provides room for expansion.
3. Lower the temperature gradually. Do this by first placing the jar in the refrigerator for a few hours. Then move it to the freezer.
5. Loosen the lid just slightly for the first 24 hours. As the honey expands, air pressure will build up. You want the air to escape rather than to put pressure on the sides of the jar. Once frozen, tighten the lid.
6. When thawing, reverse the process. First put in the refrigerator. Then loosen the lid slightly. Tighten the lid after it is thawed. Remove from the refrigerator.
How can I de-crystallize honey?
Often you’ll find a label on a jar of honey warning you that all natural honey eventually crystallizes and that you can de-crystallize it by placing it in warm water. I will tell you that there just isn’t enough room on the label to tell you how to do it the right way. I’ve heard people say that they microwave it. Others say to place it in really hot water; just not boiling. No. Just no!
Raw honey is very delicate. It contains active enzymes. As the temperature increases above 104 degrees Fahrenheit you will begin to destroy some of the enzymes. Above 140F you will start to change the flavor. Near boiling or in a microwave it will start to caramelize. As honey ages, it slowly darkens and a chemical called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is slowly created. Heating honey greatly speeds up these processes. In essence, when you heat honey, it no longer contains the properties it had when it was raw.
Before I discuss ways to de-crystallize honey consider that, as is, it is still raw, and that is its best form, crystallized or not! You can still use it in tea. Though, I would wait until the tea has cooled down to a comfortable temperature before adding the honey. You can also spread it on toast or whatever you like.
There isn’t a perfect way to de-crystalize honey while keeping its raw properties, but there are ways that keep the damage to a minimum. Try to keep the temperature under 104F; 100F is good. Depending on how crystalized the honey is, this might take several days. The methods I am aware of are not very efficient when you only have 1 jar. For example, you could place the jar in a dehydrator. The honey is in the jar with the lid on. So you are not actually dehydrating it, but the dehydrator is very good at maintaining a constant warm temperature that is not too hot. Another method is with a Sous vide in a pot of water. You would periodically have to add water. You might think of ways to do this with a incandescent light bulb or a heating pad and a temperature controller. Just try not to burn your house down!
I am not saying that you cannot just place it in a pot of water on a stove on a low temperature ( A double boiler would be preferable if you do this. ) That will work much quicker, as you will be achieving a much warmer temperature. I’m just saying that if you do that, the honey will be altered, and will probably not be as good as it was in its raw state.
Now, for those with larger amounts of honey:
With larger amounts of honey, some level of efficiency is gained. For example, sealed buckets of crystallized honey can be placed in a large storage container, and the container is then filled with water. The water is warmed by an aquarium heater and an aquarium pump circulates the water. A lid is placed over the storage container, and insulation sits on top of that. A temperature controller turns off the aquarium heater when the water reaches the desired temperature and maintains the temperature.
There are also bucket heaters specifically for this purpose. It’s basically just a heater that wraps around the bucket. I have found these to be too hot, getting up to nearly 120F. However, if spacing is maintained around the bucket, so that the heater does not actually touch the bucket, and a temperature sensor is placed in the space between the bucket and the heater, a temperature controller can maintain a temperature of 100F nicely.
Warming cabinets are specifically designed for de-crystallizing honey and an old refrigerator can be converted into a warming cabinet.
I’ve heard honey never spoils. Is that true?
No, it is not true. If honey has too high of a water content or too much yeast, and kept at too warm of a temperature then it can ferment. It’s a combination of these three things. If the water content is below 18.6%, then it is less likely to ferment. Though, if it has a high yeast content, then a water content of 18.6% is still too high. Some nectars naturally contain high levels of yeast and of course yeast is everywhere, even on your skin. If you know that your honey is too thin (has too much water), then refrigeration will slow down the fermentation process. If it starts to smell like beer or bread, throw it out.
Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it has a tendency to absorb moisture from the air. Here in North Carolina where the humidity is high, it can be difficult to keep the moisture content low. The beekeeper has to take great care when selecting a day to pull the honey from the hive and must keep the humidity low when extracting the honey. In places like the Arizona, this isn’t a problem.
Another thing to consider. Although honey that is properly stored and has a low water content should not spoil, the original properties that the honey had when it was pulled from the hive do degrade with time. Yes, they pulled honey out of a tomb in Egypt that was still edible. Would you want to eat it? I think not. Time is not honey’s friend.
My honey crystallized. Is it spoiled?
It depends on what you mean by spoiled. Crystallized honey has just changed forms. It’s a perfectly natural change, kind of like water changing to ice. When water turns to ice, is it spoiled? Crystallized honey might not be in the form that you want it to be in, but crystallized honey is not spoiled. Some people actually prefer crystallized honey, since it becomes easier to spread on something like toast or a biscuit. Others do not like the texture. For them, it can still be used in tea or in baking. Alternatively, you can de-crystallize it.
When your honey crystallizes, consider that it is more likely to be real and it is more likely to be raw. Honey that you might buy in a grocery has typically been heated to a high temperature and pushed through a micro-filter. One of the purposes for doing that is to keep it from crystallizing on the shelf. But they just removed all of the good stuff!
I need to be careful here. I do not mean to imply that if honey does not crystallize that it is not real. Some types of honey are naturally slow to crystallize while others practically crystallize right before your eyes. See FAQ what causes honey to crystallize?
What causes honey to crystallize?
Honey is primarily made up of glucose, fructose, and water along with vitamins, minerals, proteins, organic and amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, waxes, pollen grains and complex carbohydrates. The water is supersaturated with sugar; meaning the water is so full of sugars that it would be difficult to dissolve any more sugar in the water. In this state, the sugars naturally want to separate from the water and return to their granular state.
Crystallization is caused by a combination of things. First it’s the type of nectar from which the honey is produced and what type of sugars that nectar contains. The second factor is how finely the honey is filtered. Third is the storage temperature and how hot it was heated during processing, and I guess fourth is whether it is 100% pure honey or a mixture of some honey with some other syrup.
Honey made from the nectar from dandelion, cotton, gallberry, orange, or lemon, to name a few, crystallizes quickly while honey made from acacia, sage, tupelo or sourwood does not readily crystallize. The nectar source ultimately determines what types of sugars are in the honey. Honey that has a higher glucose content will have tendency to crystallize quickly. If it has more fructose than glucose then it will have a tendency to crystallize more slowly. Glucose is less soluble than fructose.
Another factor is how finely the honey is filtered. Crystallization will occur more rapidly if it already contains some sugar crystals, pollen, or even something such as dust or even air bubbles. This is why most large honey producers that sell to supermarkets heat their honey and push it through a micro-filter. The heat not only helps the honey flow through the micro-filter, but also will dissolve any crystals that have already started to form. That prevents the honey from crystallizing and keeps the honey looking pretty on the shelf for a long time. Unfortunately, this also removes the pollen.
The final factor to consider is the storage temperature. The optimum temperature to cause crystallization is 57F. So you want to store your honey as far from 57F as possible. The warmer you can keep it, the slower it will crystallize. However, heat is not honey’s friend as time and high temperature causes it to darken, causes more rapid formation of hydroxymethyfufural (HMF), and can alter the flavor.
Going in the opposite direction, you might consider putting it in the refrigerator. The internet is full of warnings that say that honey will crystallize faster in the refrigerator. I haven’t tried that yet, but if your refrigerator is at 40F or below, then it is at least 17 degrees below 57F, whereas if you keep you home at 70F you are only 13 degrees away the optimum crystallizing temperature. So it seems it should crystallize faster at 70F than in the refrigerator. Someday I intend to try two identical bottles of honey; one at room temperature and the other in the refrigerator just to see which crystalizes first.
The best way to store your honey to keep it from degrading is to freeze it, near 0F. Yes, this does stop the enzyme activity, but it will start up again when the honey thaws, unlike heating which can permanently destroy enzymes. Of course, you would only freeze jars that you will not be using for a while.