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Jul 9, 2008 08:33 AM

Honey is not supposed to spoil

I have read and heard many times that honey does not spoil, and that honey from hundreds of years ago may still be edible.

However, I find this a little hard to believe when I can't seem to be able to finish the bottom half of my warehouse-sized honey container on a regular basis. For some reason, the first half squeezes and pours out smoothly, but the bottom tends to congeal into a harder mass that does not make its way to the bottom (actually top) of the squeeze bottle no matter how long I stand it upside down on the counter.

Is this spoiling or separation? Is there a way to avoid this? Just curious.

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  1. Honey crystallizes after a while. It's just a change of texture, not of quality. To make it liquid again, place it in the microwave for a few seconds, or put your bottle in warm to hot water until the honey liquefies.

    1. My grandfather raised honeybees for decades before his death a few years ago. He said that the honey would separate when a beekeeper didn't have enough flowers for his bees, so he'd put out refined sugar for the bees to eat. This was something "Pa" refused to do, because he said it was a waste of his time to make bad honey. His honey never separated, either because he didn't feed the bees sugar, or tht it didn't last long enough to separate.

      7 Replies
      1. re: beth1

        Cute! I love beekeeper lore. How lucky you were to have a beekeeping grandpa!

        He's right that flowers make the "best" honey - the bees like that best. They will always ignore sugar if there are flowers available. Up here in Minnesota, though, we don't always have that option - March and April are really tough for bees (even May, too, sometimes).

        But I don't think it's the sugar that makes honey crystalize - I'll bet it's because the honey didn't last very long.

        It's also possible that he heated the honey when he processed it. Heating retards the formation of those crystals. Commercial/supermarket producers boil their honey to prevent crystalization, but that degrades the delicate taste, which is why honey from a beekeeper always tastes better. Raw (unheated) honey crystalizes very quickly - within days of packing - but it's worth taking extra time to warm it before using. I love raw honey!

        By the way, did you know that creamed honey (also called whipped honey) is just crystalized honey? It uses special teeny-tiny crystals as a starter - from a dollop of already-creamed honey - to "teach" the honey how to crystalize. (The honey must be boiled first to destroy the naturally-occuring big crystals.) In fact, you can make your own creamed honey, if you start with a spoonful of commercial creamed honey. Someday, I'm going to make a batch for Christmas presents...


        1. re: AnneInMpls

          My dad was a beekeeper. He always told me that putting out sugar for the bees makes honey crystallize. He called it cheating.

          1. re: Potomac Bob

            It would be fun to test this out on two hives - one would get sugar feedings, the other wouldn't. Oh, how I wish I could keep bees in my backyard! (It's illegal in Minneapolis, but not in St. Paul - 1 mile from my house.) Someday....

            It sounds like the nectar source makes a big difference, too. The single-source Ames Farm honey that I buy (August melon, if I recall) seems to crystalize within a month or two - but oh, is it ever delicious!

            And now that I think of it, their buckwheat honey is completely liquid, even 18 months after I bought it. (Too bad that I don't like buckwheat honey - I'm such a wimp!)


            1. re: Potomac Bob

              WIth all due respect to posters stories related to beekeepers in their family. Feeding sugar water in fall after the honey crop is harvested has nothing to do with how honey crystalizes or not.

              Honey crystallizes with time and at temps around 55F, storing above or below 55 F will delay crystallization.

              Some honey nectar sources have a unique crystal structure which inhibits crystallization. Acacia and Tupelo come to mind as never crystallizing

              If you live near the Equator honey may never crystallize as the temps never get down to 55F for any prolonged periods.

              In most places in the USA nectar is abundant and FREE, makes no sense for a beekeeper to feed sugar when nectar is free eh? The feeding of sugar water is used in times of nectar dearth to avoid starvation. I find that there is a lot of misinformation concerning sugar water feeding,bees and honey.

              There is one way honey can spoil and that is from fermentation. Honey removed or extracted form the comb with a moisture content of 18.2% or higher can activate the natural wild yeasts found in honey and fermentation can be initiated. You might notice the container is under pressure when open, the other tell tale sign is bubbles suspended in the honey as the fermentation occurs. Most often fermented honey will be partially crystallized on the bottom and liquid on top. Fermented honey is safe to eat just tastes sour. Fermented honey is not a good choice for mead as it contains wild yeasts and is already in an altered state. Usually mead involves heating the honey to remove wild yeasts before adding a known yeast. I pour fermented honey down the drain and dispose of it.

              I keep bees and make my living producing honey :) Thanks Anne for the kind words!

              For more info on honey see this link


              1. re: Brian Ames

                Hope this isn't considered off-topic, but about a year ago, there was a lot of publicity about hives "collapsing". Is this still a problem, or has it receded or gone away?

                1. re: KevinB

                  From what I have been reading, it is still a major concern. It's just not a major interest story.

                  1. re: KevinB

                    While there is always some truths to every news story, the doom and gloom aspect of the bee losses I feel are overblown.

                    Most of the losses are being experienced by what I have coined "feedlot" beekeepers. Around 1200 large operators control roughly 60% of the hives in the USA. Pollination of almonds has become more profitable then producing honey. Keep in mind more then half of the honey consumer in this country is produced in China or South America and is imported at prices below the cost of production here. (We have no Country of Origin Labeling required for honey so most of it is passed off as a domestic product)

                    1.2 million of the aprox 2.2 million hives in the USA are required to pollinate this the largest cash crop in CA. Hives are moved in from out of state in late fall into early Feb when bloom starts. Many hives are fed HFCS and soy flour in advance to stimulate the hives into laying more brood as they do in spring (simulates nectar and pollen) .

                    Ask your self what is wrong with this picture when in nature bees would be laying low for the winter and we would not normally have an Asian tree, the almond blooming in the middle of winter.?

                    The unusually large concentration of hives simulates the conditions feedlot animals face, that in which natural viruses, and in the case of bees parasites are easily transferred in the holding yards and orchards. In nature a bee hive was naturally spaced 1/2 mile apart. Subsequently massive losses occur and will continue to occur as this Industrial Scale monocrop grows larger each year as more trees are planted. Last winter the largest beekeeper in the USA lost a reported 28,000 hives in a massive holding yard of 40,000 hives. Is this a mystery? I think not.

                    Additional problems result from the feedlotting of bees in CA each year. The diseases and parasite they share in CA are then transferred to the stationary hives back in the states these migratory beeekeepers originated from. The unnatural rearing of brood year around also creates a more productive setting for the parasite varroa mite which ALL honeybees now have almost in every corner of the globe thereby creating a situation many large beekeepers combat by putting harsh chemicals into their hives..

                    Anyhow there is much more to this story then I have time to explain. Bottom local stationary sustainable beekeepers! and don't believe half of what you read on the Internet and news media. The honeybee has become the iconic symbol for many doom and gloom agendas and story lines in general. This is not to say there are not serious man caused environmental concerns affecting bees, its just one needs to keep this story in perspective.

          2. Nearly 10 years ago I traded a used once two room tent to a beekeeper for 5 gallons (think the size of a spackle bucket) of honey. My original intent was to make mead but it just didn't happen. Today I'm almost halfway through that bucket and if any crystallization has happened I haven't noticed it. It's a dark honey so it could be hiding at the bottom. I've kept it at room temp in my pantry all these years and haven't noticed any degradation in the quality. As other posters have noted, honey will crystallize but simply warming it will return it to it's liquid state.

            3 Replies
            1. re: morwen

              I tried warming the bottle by soaking it in a pot of hot water for over one hour yesterday, and while it did seem to loosen the stuck honey at the bottom of the bottle, only some of the crystal seems to dissolve. It wasn't a complete cure for this, only partial. I'll try doing it again when I have time. Thanks to everyone for this tip.

              For everyone else - thank you for your interesting comments regarding making honey, cheating with sugar, etc. Maybe warehouse honey is honey that has been made using shortcuts. It may account for why it costs so much less.

              1. re: RGC1982

                Microwave seems to work better on the crystals. Also come from beekeeper household, and we did heat it before putting into jars because customers didn't like the crystals. NOTHING beats the taste of honey "beekeeper treats" fingered and licked off of the wax caps, and the comedy of watching "drunk" bees careening around the extraction shed. The bees fed on a wide variety of fruit trees including citrus, native chaparral and eucalyptus.

                1. re: RGC1982

                  Try it again, but sprinkle a few drops of water (emphasis on the word a "few"), and then stir or shake it occassionally. Also, it takes quite a while for the crystals to dissolve, so be patient. I do this all the time to those honey-bear things.

              2. I grew up in the grainbelt and we had neighbours who had bees. They actually contracted people to grow buckwheat near their hives to get buckwheat honey. Even now when I taste regular honey it seems bland compared to the fresh buckwheat honey I grew up on.

                Another common version in our area was honey with a canola/rapeseed flavour which is very mild.

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