Why did my honey crystallize and then ferment?

Honey crystallizes because it is a supersaturated solution. This just means that there is more sugar dissolved in the water than the water can normally hold.

There are several types of sugar found in honey, mostly glucose and fructose, but also sucrose and maltose. It is the glucose part that causes crystals to form.

Some honeys have more glucose than others. The amount of glucose depends on the flowers that produced the nectar. Honey made mostly of glucose will crystallize easily, whereas honey made with mostly fructose is very slow to crystallize.

The crystals begin forming around particles called “seeds” and then continue to multiply until a lattice builds throughout the container. There are plenty of these seeds in a jar of honey. They may be particles of dust, pollen, wax, propolis, or even air bubbles.

Several things can cause the glucose to suddenly form crystals, and it doesn’t take make much to set the process in motion. Slight changes in temperature or humidity—in the presence of the seeds—is enough to get it started.

Crystallized honey may not keep as well as liquid honey. When glucose goes from the liquid form to the crystal form, it loses some of its moisture. This moisture remains in the container and causes the total moisture in the liquid part of the honey to increase.

Honey needs to be about 18.6 percent water or less for long-term storage. If the liquid portion of the honey is more than 18.6 percent water after the crystalline glucose leaves the solution, the honey may ferment.

Fermentation is caused by yeast. But the yeast cannot grow in the low-moisture environment of cured honey. The sugar depletes the water from the yeast cells and they cannot survive. Spores of yeast remain, however, and if the water content suddenly rises the yeast can grow again.

Fermentation can be prevented by pasteurization—the process of heating the honey to 145° F for 30 minutes (or 150° F for 15 minutes) and then cooling it rapidly. This kills the yeast spores, but it also destroys some of the taste and fragrance components of honey and is generally frowned upon. In addition, heated honey often crystallizes within a few weeks and yields large, coarse crystals which give honey a crunchy—rather than a creamy—texture.

One of the popular solutions to these problems is the Dyce process of controlled crystallization, which yields a product known as “creamed” honey. I will describe the process in another post.

Rusty

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Comments

jess
Reply

The only way to avoid crystallized honey is to eat it faster, right? That’s what I tell people. I hope I’m right.

beekeeperbabe
Reply

@HoneyBeeSuite This is apparently what can happen in late harvest honey stored by the bees, which gives them diarrhea.

Laurie
Reply

My 11 year old daughter is doing a science experiment on what type of honey crystallizes the fastest. Can you give any advice on how we can do an experiment to make the honeys crystallize faster than they would naturally?

Rusty
Reply

Laurie,

Dry them. Put them in a food dryer or in an oven turned on the “proofing” or “drying” setting (about 100 degrees F) for maybe five or six hours. At first they will become more liquid, not less, but when they go back to room temperature again, they should crystallize fairly quickly. Also, you could seed the honey with some kind of particle. Seeds give the molecules something to latch onto to start the crystallization process. The seeds should be inert particles, maybe very fine sand or even pollen. You would stir it in and then let the honey sit perfectly still.

Laurie
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OK, getting frustrated with trying to get honey to crystallize :( If I have different types of honey in cupcake tins….no lids and I put it at 100 degrees for about 5 hours? How long should it take to crystallize and should it be at room temp (about 70 degrees) or cooler????? Project is due in less than three weeks and we are struggling to get this honey to crystallize. Any help is greatly appreciated!!!!!!

Rusty
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This is so interesting, Laurie! Most people go to great lengths to keep their honey from crystallizing and here you are trying to do the opposite.

Taking it from the top, the primary cause of crystallization is the ratio of fructose to glucose in the honey. A high amount of fructose keeps it from crystallizing, whereas a high amount of glucose will make the honey crystallize quickly. An excellent example of quick-to-crystallize honey is canola (oilseed rape) which often crystallizes in a day or two.

All honey will eventually crystallize if the percentage of water drops too low, say below about 16%. That is why I suggested drying it. Warm temperatures keep it from crystallizing, but if you can drive off enough water it should crystallize when it cools off again . . . although it may take a while. After you dry it, try putting it in the fridge overnight.

Have you tried seeding the honey with some small particles?

Remember, that an experiment that doesn’t work is just as important as one that does. They both teach. There is no failure in designing an experiment, following the protocols you’ve decided upon, and having it not work. What you learned is: that particular method doesn’t work.

Is this your own honey or honey from the store? Is it varietal or mixed? Dark or light? How many different kinds do you have? Fascinating stuff . . .

Laurie

OK, we have the following different types of honey that were store bought: Clover, really raw honey (was completely unprocessed, unfiltered, unrefined, and unheated), Organic, Alfalfa, Tupelo and Acasia. We have first tried an experiment that we found on Education.com which had us adding water and putting it in the freezer for 2 minutes at a time and checking for crystallization. NOTHING happened after several hours…..did not work because it was the water that was freezing and the honey was not crystallizing.

So, we tried seeding the different kinds with sand granules and storing it at 55-65 degrees. That is going on for almost 2 weeks now and no crystallization.

So now I am going to try your idea of heating it to 100 degrees. Could I put a sliver of wax in each one before heating it? Will that encourage crystallization? Am I correct that I will be heating it for about 5 hours and then at what temp should it be stored? I am going to see if I can get that Canola honey. Does the Canola honey typically crystallize in a day or two without doing anything to it? Any more suggestions are greatly appreciated!!!!

Rusty

Laurie,

Normally, warming honey breaks down the crystals and causes it to re-liquify if it already has crystals. But what I am proposing is to warm it for a long period in order to drive off the water. You should do whatever you can to drive off the water, including using a shallow container (so the the honey spreads out), removing any covers from the honey containers, and keeping the door to the oven open. Yes, I’m thinking about 5 hours at 100 degrees F.

After removing it from the oven, let it cool to room temperature and then cover the containers with plastic wrap so it doesn’t re-absorb any moisture. Then store it in a cool place like the refrigerator. It should crystallize as it cools, although it may take a few days.

I don’t think wax would help it to crystallize. In fact, the wax would probably melt, float on top of the honey, and prevent the water from being driven off. I would skip the wax.

Yes, canola honey often crystallizes while still in the comb before the beekeeper can get it to the extractor.

Laurie

OK, We have the 6 different types of honey in 100 degrees with the door propped open. We will keep it there for 5 hours??? Then we will cool it to room temperature (which is about 70 degrees), cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Our frig temp is about 36 degrees, will that be too cold? Should I up the temp at all???? Anything else? I am hoping we see some crystallization within the next 3-5 days, do you think that is asking too much? Also, what exactly will it look like and will we notice it on the top, bottom?????

The other question I have is regarding the really raw honey we are using. When we bought it in the store, it was much thicker and grainy looking. How will we be able to tell if that crystallizes?

Are you familiar with any of the types of honey we are using that I mentioned earlier? Any idea which ones may be quicker to crystalize? We were thinking the Alfalfa just from any research we did.

Rusty

Laurie,

Sounds good. The fridge temperature is fine; leave it like that. Crystals usually settle on the bottom. Don’t stir it.

The “grainy looking” honey you saw had already started to crystallize. Those grains are the beginning of the crystals.

Tupelo honey almost never granulates, acacia is also slow to granulate, clover and alfalfa are fairly quick to granulate. Whatever the organic honey is sounds like it is quick to granulate as well.

Laurie

Great, I will be looking for crystals on the bottom. I hope the dark non-stick cups the honey is in will not prevent us from seeing the crystals? Will I be able to see through to the bottom to notice the crystals?

Rusty

Laurie,

The crystals are lighter colored than the honey. I’m sure you will see them.

Laurie

So, we heated the honey to 100 degrees for 6 hours. Then we left it at room temp for bout 30 minutes before putting it in the frig. It is now about 4 1/2 days since the honey has been in the frig. I am not seeing any crystallization on the bottom of the honey. The only possibility of crystallization would be the raw honey. It looks whitish in color on the top with a bubbly, creamy affect to it. Hard to describe. Would that be crystallization and how would I know? Does raw honey have more glucose than fructose that it would crystallize before the others? I know raw honey if not heated or filtered could crystallize quicker and this raw honey was not heated, filtered, processed or refined. I was expecting to see some crystallization with the Alfalfa………ahhhhh frustrating. Her project is due in 11 days. Any help???????

Rusty

Oh dear, this is not going well. However, that whitish creamy look is crystallized honey. The creamy texture is due to the formation of very tiny crystals, the type used to make so-called “creamed honey.” The fact that honey is raw has no bearing on how much fructose or glucose it contains. The amounts of those sugars is due to the type of plant that produced the nectar. But why bubbly? Does it smell like it is fermenting? Does it smell yeasty or moldy? Is part of that container liquid and part creamy?

Laurie, what is the hypothesis of your daughter’s experiment? What is she trying to prove or disprove? I’m just not sure where she’s going with this.

Laurie

The raw honey that has the white creamy look to it is pretty thick and creamy if I touch it with a toothpick. Some of that container is more gel-like but that looks like regular honey and doesn’t have the white coloring to it. The other 5 honeys (Tupelo, Acacia, Alfalfa, Organic and Clover) all are gel-like without any signs of crystallizing or white color to them. Now, my question is, will they go back to their liquid form when they sit out from the refrigerator and no longer be gel-like? My daughters hypothesis is that she is predicting honey with higher amounts of glucose than fructose will crystallize faster……also considering how it is handled and stored. So, the goal was to do what we could to speed the crystallization process along. Does that help you to help me????? :)

Rusty

Laurie,

I’m fresh out of ideas, really. One problem I see is that the raw honey (the one that crystallized) isn’t labeled with a variety so you don’t have any idea about its fructose-to-glucose ratio. It’s going to be impossible to draw any conclusions from that. The same problem goes for the one labeled “organic.” Even honey that is labeled with a variety, such the other four, can be a mystery. Something labeled “clover” for example is probably mostly clover, but that’s about all you can safely assume.

The gel-like consistency may be from the cold, but I honestly can’t remember seeing refrigerated honey. I can go stick some in the fridge for awhile and see what it does. My guess is it will return to normal consistency once it warms up again.

If any readers out there have any ideas about this experiment, I would love to hear from you.

Laurie

Oh and BTW, the raw honey with the white creamy appearance does not smell moldy or fermented. It smells like a sweet honey.

Rusty
Reply

Laurie,

If you dry it, be sure to take the lids off so the water can evaporate. And whatever you do, once you start waiting for crystals do not disturb the honey at all.

Laurie
Reply

Also, can it just be heated at 100 degrees or does the setting actually have to say drying????

Rusty
Reply

No, you can just heat it at 100 degrees. A dry setting is helpful because it uses the convection fan to move the air out of the oven, which makes it more efficient. If you don’t have a dry setting, prop the oven door open a bit as if you were using the broiler.

Deb
Reply

Hi, I bought a couple gallons of crystalized honey from 2012. I also bought this years honey which is not crystalized. The beekeeper told me he thought it smelled a little fermented but when I tasted it..it tasted so good and very sweet, and a slight odor of fermentation. Then I came home and started researching fermented honey. My question is, considering it tastes very sweet and does not have a strong ferment taste..is it safe to drink in our tea? And, should I store or freeze the honey we won’t get to for a couple months? Thank you for any help with this. I am really hoping I didn’t
buy 2 gallons of “bad” honey. Deb

Rusty
Reply

Deb,

It’s really just a matter of taste. Some people love fermented honey, others not so much. Fermented foods are not harmful . . . think of beer, wine, sauerkraut, soy sauce, even sour cream. You can greatly reduce the rate of fermentation by freezing it. But no, it’s not bad. Probably just some of the cells that were not capped before the beekeeper extracted it began to ferment and then got mixed in with the rest. If that is the case, the fermentation process will stop on it’s own and just leave some residual odor. I would eat it in a heartbeat.

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