Is infused honey safe to eat?

A honey dipper over a bowl of cinnamon infused honey.

Like every other question in the bee business, this one can be answered with two words: “It depends.” In short, the stability of infused honey varies with the amount of water added during the infusion process.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, roots, stems, and leaves are all loaded with water. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it draws water from the surrounding environment. So when fresh ingredients are added to honey, water is drawn out of the plant cells and into the honey. This extra water can cause problems.

Although honey is highly resistant to microbial growth, the resistance is due to several factors including its acidity, its hygroscopic properties, and its low water activity (see below). But when you add water to honey, the honey becomes diluted. Diluted honey is less hygroscopic, less acidic, and the water activity increases. Left at room temperature, honey with too much “wet stuff” added will soon mold or ferment.

Water changes everything

The water activity (aw) of a food is used to predict the growth of bacteria, yeast, and mold. Water activity can be defined as “the partial vapor pressure of water in a substance divided by the partial vapor pressure of pure water under the same conditions.” Foods such as meat, fish, and bread have an aw of greater than 0.95, which means they can rapidly spoil.

According to the food safety site at Clemson University, the acidity and the water activity are the most predictive numbers when it comes to food spoilage. If the pH and water activity are too high, even a dangerous food-borne pathogen like Clostridium botulinum can gain a foothold. C. botulinum requires a pH of 4.6 or greater and water activity of 0.92 or greater in order to grow and produce toxin.

According to the National Honey Board, properly cured honey has a pH that falls between 3.4 and 6.1. The average, though, is about 3.9. In addition, honey has an aw between 0.5 and 0.6. Together, the pH and the aw keep the honey safe. But it doesn’t take much water to raise both.

For infused honey, dry ingredients are best

The take-home message here is that if you infuse honey, you should use dry ingredients in order for the honey to remain stable at room temperature. If you infuse honey with fresh ingredients, it should be treated like any other perishable and kept in the refrigerator.

Remember than any ingredients you add to honey are going to carry a variety of spores. Dry herbs and spices are not sterile. Instead they owe their keeping quality to being dry (that is, they have a low aw). Since dry ingredients contain little water, the aw of the honey plus dried add-ins remains low.

Fresh herbs and spices are not sterile either, and they carry water that can raise both the aw and the pH of the honey. Perhaps a small amount of added water will have little effect, but where do you draw the line? Most often, contamination will reveal itself in the form of fermentation, mold growth, or a musty smell which is enough to warn you off.

Wet infusions need a label

However, If you are going to sell the infused honey or give it away, it is best to stay with dry ingredients. Or, at the very least, include emphatic instructions for safe storage. Since most people consider honey to be shelf stable, they may not recognize that honey infused with fresh ingredients has the potential to spoil.

Honey Bee Suite

A honey dipper over a bowl of cinnamon infused honey.

Dried herbs and spices do not add excess water to infused honey. For good keeping quality, use only dry ingredients. Pixabay photo.

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  • Has anyone here seen what the Chinese are doing to the honey supply marketed in the U.S.? They are hell bent on flooding the market with rice syrup mix with honey, flooding our market to undercut everyone that really gives a rat’s rump about beekeeping, the pride and hard work of all our beekeepers here and our bees so they can make a profit regardless of what garbage they ship to the USA. Horrible shame. Government puts penalties on them and they just ship it through a second party country.

  • Hey Greg McDaniel, last night I watched a new Netflix food documentary called Rotten. It is a 6 episode series. The first one is about honeybees and adulterated honey imports and it’s impact on global markets. The photography of the bees in their hives is good. If you get Netflix it is definitely worth watching.

  • I’m perplexed and a newbee, looking for advice and direction. I’ve just harvested my first 3/4 gallon of honey (yeah!), but it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Should/can I add an oil extract like orange to it? It’s a beautiful amber color and nicely sweet but little if any flavor. Thoughts…

    • ML,

      You can add anything you want, but more to the point is why your honey doesn’t have any taste. Is it possible your bees got into some sugar syrup? A neighboring bee hive perhaps, or some other source of sweetener? The only time I’ve tasted honey with no flavor was when honey bees had access to syrup during a nectar flow.

  • Please forgive me not perhaps following protocol but I need some direction to learn the road map of getting around in the site for specific information research…let me explain briefly then back off to get directions.

    Not being a beekeeper I don’t know much, but find some subjects a bit understandable then hit confusion…such as absconding topic (interested in that subject). But also feel compelled to know more about the predators mites, moth, wasps, and others more specifically are the related to how we house bees example wood hives, sharp corners for predators to breed and mature etc. I’m a person that need to build an overall visual in my mind then expand and absorb content. Thanks for letting me interrupt and again sorry.

    • Larry,

      You can try the search box, the index, or the menus. Unless, you have a specific question, I can’t really help you.

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