honey

Liquefy honey the easy way (or not)

Honey comes in many formats. Learn to use them all. Pixabay

You can liquefy crystallized honey over and over, but why bother? It’s a delectable and stable treat in its solid form.

Nearly all types of honey crystallize when stored. Some types, like canola honey, crystallize almost immediately. Other types, especially varieties made from tree flowers, crystallize slowly over months or even years.

The nectar honey bees collect to make honey contains different types of simple sugar, such as glucose, fructose, and maltose. It’s the ratio of the sugars in the honey that determine how fast it crystallizes. Most commonly, it is the ratio of glucose to fructose that makes the difference.

Glucose crystallizes easily, but fructose does not. So honey with greater amounts of fructose stays liquid much longer.

How to liquefy honey

Here is the easiest way to liquefy a jar of honey:

  1. Warm a pan of water to 105–115 degrees F, then turn off the heat
  2. Take the lid off the honey (to allow for expansion)
  3. Set the jar of honey in the water so it sits upright. If the water is too deep, pour some out.
  4. When the water falls below 105, remove the jar and reheat the water.
  5. Repeat the process, stirring occasionally, until the honey is liquid.

Now, here’s the problem. This process can take hours, depending on how big the jar is and how much water is in the pot. Personally, I do not have the patience for this. But if you liquefy it in a microwave, you will probably overheat it.

Why temperature is important

Since honey is made from flower nectar and honey bee enzymes, it is extremely delicate. Although honey can last for many years, certain things destroy it quickly. The primary destroyers are heat, light, and oxygen.

These three threats can degrade or oxidize the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, flavors, aromas, antioxidants, and phytochemicals found in honey. None of these things make the honey dangerous to eat, but they lessen its nutritive and esthetic value.

You may think that heating it just once won’t do much damage, and maybe it won’t. But liquefied honey won’t stay that way for long. If it’s a large container, you may end up repeating the process frequently, wearing out the honey and stripping it of its best qualities.

Don’t liquefy honey, just eat it

I like to enjoy honey with all its nuances of flavor, aroma, and taste intact. For me, the crystals are unimportant. Unfortunately, here in North America, we are taught that crystallized honey is somehow inferior to liquid honey. But that is only a perception, not a fact. In some places, crystallized honey is preferred.

If you use honey with hot foods, it will liquefy right away. Drop a spoonful in tea or coffee, and just stir. If you spread it on warm toast, muffins, pancakes, hot cereal, or scones, it will be liquid before the first bite.

I also use crystallized honey in salad dressings, barbecue sauce, and cake frosting. As you beat it with the other ingredients, it combines as well as liquid honey.

If you use it on crackers with cheese, crystallized honey will not drip off the side, making the snack more enjoyable. And don’t forget, you can pack a peanut butter and crystallized honey sandwich in your lunch without having to bring a change of clothes. Solid honey definitely has a place in modern life.

Only liquefy the amount of honey you need

If you absolutely must liquefy honey for some reason, I recommend heating only what you need in the next day or so. If you heat more than that, you will probably need to reheat it. Exposure to heat is cumulative, so the honey is going to degrade a little more each time.

Remember, if you overheat a small batch, you won’t ruin the whole thing. Additionally, it only takes a short time to liquefy a small amount, another plus.

Tips on storing and heating honey

If you store your honey properly, you may be able to keep it liquid longer. But remember, the source of the nectar is the ultimate cause for crystallization.

  • Keep honey covered. You don’t want the honey to absorb water from the atmosphere or collect airborne yeasts. Also, you don’t want it to oxidize.
  • Keep honey in the dark. Remember, light can degrade the constituents.
  • Keep honey at room temperature. Cold honey crystallizes faster and hot honey degrades.
  • Keep honey in a glass jar. Some folks like squeeze bottles, but other people can taste the plastic in their honey. Because honey is very acidic, it can react with some containers. Also, heating honey in a plastic container can enhance the flavor of plastic.

Your honey may have already been heated

Many consumers don’t realize that wholesalers and retailers often heat honey right before it goes on sale. This practice arose because consumers expect their honey to be liquid and refuse to buy the crystallized version.

Many places that heat honey do so in a responsible way, but no doubt some don’t. As long as it’s liquid when it goes on the shelf, they are happy. But don’t be fooled by this practice. If you buy honey and it crystallizes soon afterward, it may have been warmed for sales purposes.

Buy from a local beekeeper if you can

For the best and freshest honey, buy it from a local beekeeper you trust. Sometimes you can even buy crystallized honey at a discount, and that’s a win-win.

Rusty Burlew
Honey Bee Suite

Who knew? My dictionary and grammar checker prefer liquefy with an “e ” over liquify with an “i.” Until today, I didn’t know the preferred one was even a thing.

21 Comments

  • I’ve read heating honey over 95° will kill the beneficial enzymes in it. You recommend heating it to over 100° Is that really a good idea?

    • Mark,

      I don’t recommend heating honey at all, not ever, but people do it anyway. So if they are going to do it, less heat is always better. All enzymes and phytochemicals don’t break down at exactly the same point, so there is some variation. But you also have to remember that many people will take liquid honey over crystallized honey regardless of what happens to the enzymes and phytochemicals, and I don’t expect that to change.

  • Back before I learnt how to make creamed honey, I always kept honey in the fridge because everyone said you shouldn’t keep it in the fridge because it’ll crystallize on you. That’s like saying you shouldn’t put your bread dough in the hot oven because it will become solid and delicious.

  • In the U.K referred to as “set honey”, has a way better connotation than crystalised, which is viewed as somehow comprimised. I always tell folks the honey found in the Wgyptian tombs was preserved and still 100% edible after 5000 years.

    • Well, I’m an argumentative sort, so let me just switch sides and say, We’ve all heard the 5000 year old honey was still edible, and still sweet, but have we actually heard it was still as TASTY as it ought to be?

      Also, I like the “set honey” instead of “crystallized”, but new age crystals are so all popular now, you’d think more people would be DEMANDING crystallized honey.

  • If I need to liquify any honey, I put it in my sous vide at 107 and just run it until it is all done.

  • In terms of warming it in a pan of water for hours with the lid off, is that not likely to allow the honey to take on water, meaning it will ferment? I would have thought if it was only 110F there should not be significant expansion of the honey and glass so it would be better to stay sealed away from the moisture.

  • Hi Rusty,
    Where does creamed honey fit in? All my honey stored in a cool dark shed has creamed. I love it, but have no idea how this came about.
    Thanks,
    Katharine

    • Katharine,

      Creamed honey usually refers to a process in which small crystals are introduced into honey as “seeds.” The small crystals assure that the rest of the crystals will also be small. Small crystals feel smooth and silky when you eat them, whereas larger crystals feel grainy. The crystal size depends on a number of factors, but if your naturally crystalized honey has a creamy texture, you can celebrate.

  • I like your point of view. You can’t have a runny honey sandwich with crystallized honey. I’m old enough to have peanut butter and honey sandwiches at school. I remember they tasted better than freshly made because the honey would soak and crystallize in the bread.

    I have been confused by the difference between “creamed honey” and “small crystal honey”. Both were categories for entry in the local royal show (aka country fair). Perhaps the amount of air incorporated? I was also told that you couldn’t make good small crystal honey unless you had a good starter. Basically, you have to use another small crystal honey. This doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps you could write about this.

    Food for thought.

    • I had no idea that there was a difference between “creamed honey” and “small crystal honey” and I am anxiously awaiting Rusty’s post on this.

      Meanwhile, my creamed honey must actually be small-crystal honey. And I got my small crystal starter by grinding some chunky naturally crystalized honey with a stone mortar and pestle (for ONE HUNDRED YEARS, or at least it felt like that) till it was creamed enough to suit me. And after that, I just used my own I-call-it-creamed honey for a starter.

      • I like your style! I was thinking of whirling some in a food processor (don’t own a blender anymore) but figured it wouldn’t homogenize enough. Or repeatedly smashing a quarter tsp of granulated sugar on the counter as a starter.

  • Let me know if the food processor method works so I can whiny-baby about the effort I wasted with the mortar and pestle.
    : )

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