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:
- Warm a pan of water to 105–115 degrees F, then turn off the heat
- Take the lid off the honey (to allow for expansion)
- Set the jar of honey in the water so it sits upright. If the water is too deep, pour some out.
- When the water falls below 105, remove the jar and reheat the water.
- 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.
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.