Why does Honey Crystallize?
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Raw honey does not always keep its form and consistency. The raw golden liquid that comes out of the hive originally can transform into a thick, spoonable, consistency in which sugar crystals are more pronounced. We call that crystallization.
Let us be clear: crystallization of raw honey is a natural occurrence and is NOT a sign that your honey has gone bad. In fact, many see crystallization at a sign that your honey is pure, raw, and unprocessed – all of which can be better for your health.
Some people even prefer crystallized honey, as it can make for a less messy measuring or spreading process. We love it on our muffins!
So Why does Raw Honey Crystallize?
Honey is basically made of about 70% sugar (in the form of both fructose and glucose) and 20-30% water. Because there is way too much sugar for the water to dissolve, the glucose particles separate from the water and thus become crystallized. Honey that does not crystallize for a very long time may have added water in order to avoid that natural process.
Sometimes honey crystallizes completely, and sometime you get a crystallized layer at the bottom and liquid at the top. That is because not all honey is the same – varieties that have a higher percentage of glucose (sometimes due to the type of flowers on which bees were feasting when they made it) crystallize faster than honey with less glucose.
Honey will also crystallize faster if there is even just a little bit of wax or pollen in the jar. Thus, an at-home process in which honey is not overly filtered will often result in crystallization; so too can little bits of pollen brought in by the bees (which is a good thing for allergies!). In fact, if you prefer crystallized honey, you can add a spoonful of already crystallized honey to a jar of liquid honey and watch the process happen before your eyes (over a period of days or weeks).
Another factor influencing crystallization is the temperature at which the honey is stored, or whether the temperature of the honey was raised during a pasteurization process. Heating honey above 80 degrees can liquefy the honey, but can also result in the loss of important nutrients and faster spoilage. Thus, honey that has been pasteurized may be lacking in some of the very health benefits that you desire. Storing your honey between 50 and 70 degrees will favor crystallization but also retain the beneficial nutrients.
Crystallized honey will quickly melt when it comes into contact with warmth. Thus, spreading it on a warm muffin or adding it to your tea will work perfectly, as will using crystallized honey in baked goods or sauces (like our favorite honey oat bread). But if you really want your honey to liquefy, you can simply place your whole jar of honey into a bowl of warm water. Do NOT microwave your honey, as that will bring the honey to higher temperatures and kill off beneficial nutrients.
So the next time you see a jar of honey that is lighter in color, fairly firm, with whitish crystals around the edges or the top – don’t despair, celebrate! You can bet that the honey you’re looking at is raw, full of beneficial nutrients, and still extremely delicious!