varietal honey

The trouble with canola honey: crystallization

Canola field in full bloom. Pixabay

Canola fields are large and produce huge crops of honey. Trouble is, the honey crystallizes quickly, so beekeepers must act fast.

The word “canola” was coined from the phrase “Canadian Oil, low acid”—a plant developed from rapeseed (Brassica spp.) with low levels of erucic acid that is suitable for human consumption. Rapeseed is a species closely related to vegetables such as turnips, collards, mustard, and cabbage.

Rapeseed is a good crop for honey bees, offering both nectar and pollen in early spring. Huge acreages of it are planted in Canada (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and in North Dakota and Minnesota. The nectar flows are heavy and yield huge crops of light-colored, mild-flavored honey.

Canola honey can crystallize in the field

However, rapeseed honey—commonly called canola honey—crystallizes so quickly that it is a problem for beekeepers. It will crystallize in the comb while still in the field. Many beekeepers go through their hives and pull out the combs of canola honey as soon as it is capped. After collecting, it should be extracted within 24 hours and marketed immediately. Extracted canola may last 3 to 4 weeks before it crystallizes in the jar.

As an alternative, many beekeepers use it to make creamed honey. But even this has to be done immediately or the honey will become nearly impossible to separate from the comb.

Most all canola is genetically modified

The other problem with canola honey is that 85-90% of the North American crop is genetically modified to resist herbicides. So if you would rather not eat plants whose DNA has been altered by mega chemical companies, you should probably avoid canola honey. This is sad because the farmers work hard, the beekeepers work hard, the bees work hard, and a rapeseed field in full bloom is a breathtaking sight.

However, I believe human beings should have the right to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified organisms. Until governments mandate the labeling of such products, people who want to avoid them pretty much have to avoid everything that may contain them.

Honey Bee Suite

Canola fields are huge and produce tons of honey. Pixabay photo



  • Another issue to be concerned about is that canola (and many of the other Brassicae) freely cross-pollinate with other mustards, including weeds like Yellow Rocket (Barbarea vulgaris). That not only widens the exposure to bees, but raises the prospect of Round-up Ready weeds!!

  • I’m thinking of planting 1/2 acre of rapeseed-00 on my farm in central Alabama to give my honey bees more to forage on. I read your article “The Trouble with Canola Honey” and was wondering if it also applied to fields planted with Rapeseed-00 as it is not only low in erucic acid but also glucosinolates. Since high levels of glucose in honey can cause honey to cystalize more rapidly, does the lower levels of glucosinolates possibly help slow down the cystalization process?

      • Thanks for your quick feedback! I’ve done some additional research and I can’t even buy rapeseed, let alone rapeseed-00 unless I want to buy it to sow many acres of it, so I’ve moved on to a variety of clovers which are readily available.

        • The common small holding alternative would be called “mustard greens”. Any species of brassicas that grow in your area will work in a similar fashion.

    • Ken,

      Double low (low erucic, low glucosinolate) oil generally refers to the presence of these compounds in the seeds of the plant, not necessarily the nectar or stem tissue. Glucosinolates are catalyzed by the enzyme myrosoinase into D-glucose and an unstable thiol-hydroxymate-O-sulphonate. In the tissue of the plant they are compartmentalized into specialized cells and do not come into contact with one another unless tissue damage occurs. This becomes an issue during seed crushing because it enables this reaction. The products of this reaction are responsible for the spiciness one generally associates with mustard, and are generally understood as a form of plant self defense. Double low oil has been bred to have fewer glucosinolates and euricic acid in the seeds, but not necessarily the other tissue of the plant. I’m not aware of any research looking into the glucosinolate content of canola nectar.

    • I’ve had the pain of keeping bees on canola crops and I can assure you that the bounty obtained from it is not worth the pain of having the honey crystalize in the comb and I mean crystalize fast. Most beekeepers who are forced to have bees on this crop have learned to harvest with the comb only 80-90% capped. It will granulate that fast and then it’s nothing more than bee food.

  • Hi! Doing research on honey and have just bought some German rapeseed honey. It is really good and with it being grown and produced in Germany, there are no dangers of the GMO version.

    The only thing I would like to say about this article is the comment at the very end. I do agree with the author, that people should be able to decide whether they “want” to eat GMO or GE food or not. But I also think, that this is a no-brainer. No one should ever have to decide to eat poison. Like the old thought goes,would you rather drink one cup of water with one drop of poison, or would you rather drink a cup of poison with a drop of water? I am grateful for the time spent in writing this article. Thank you.

    • Shelly,

      I disagree that the problem is a “no-brainer” because how are people to know whether foods contain GMOs or not? We can assume if they are not organic they probably contain GMO, but most people don’t know that or haven’t ever thought about it or can’t afford to buy organic.

      One of the Obama campaign promises that dissolved after election was the labeling of GMO-containing products. How sad for us all that the “poison” is hidden.

  • I am very much in favour of GMO/GE labelling. I have a serious intolerance to canola oil which affects my nervous system and alters my heartbeat. I am astonished how fast its proliferation is being promoted and I wonder when the day will come when there is nothing left for me to safely eat. I read of its potential use as liquid fertilizer in hothouses and dry for potato crops especially, and in pellet form for fish farms and animal feed. It is in some brands of blended olive oil, peanut butter, and babies’ arrowroot cookies. It’s almost already impossible to avoid it!

  • Good day.

    I have yesterday purchased a gallon of fresh honey here in Alberta that and canola is abloom outside my window, literally.

    The lady, however, assured me that her honey was “pre-canola” while speaking to me. Only I discovered her ad in circulation media claiming the honey is “from various grasses and some canola”. I agree with the author: it is sad. For son many reasons 🙁 I have respect for the people who grow my food (tend the bees is this case) but how sad it is again that they feel they need to lie in my face.

  • But the canola plant (rapeseed) kills the honeybees. It crystallizes very quickly, making the honey not good for consumers, and especially not good for the bees. The crystals are in a form that the bees can not consume (it is a different crystallization that the bees can not digest), so they will starve to death in the colder months. Rapeseed is a high commodity agriculture product, so the bad affect it has on honey bees (all bees) is not advertised. Many beekeepers that are now within canola field areas are no longer in business due to bad effects canola plants have on the honey and the honey bees.

  • Hello, I see this is a fairly old thread, but I was hoping to revive it in hoping that there is any new information about canola. I live in the heart of canola country in Montana, and it has been horrible trying to raise bees. It is definitely true that the bees will starve with hundreds of pounds of canola honey in the hive. In our area, canola blooms from late May through July, so there is no “pre-canola” season. Farmers try to plant it as early as possible, because as soon as the weather gets hot, seed production declines. I have had many beekeepers tell me to simply extract the honey as soon as the bees cap it. The problem is that my bees were very inconsistent with capping, so either combs weren’t capped or were already crystallized every time I checked. Even a small amount of canola nectar causes crystallization, so all honey is affected. This means that no matter how much honey is in the hive for the winter, the bees die of starvation, because it is all worthless to them. Alg mentions that the bees cannot consume canola crystals. I don’t have scientific documentation about this, but I know that I can nurse a hive through the winter with crystallized cane sugar (and ordinary honey in the comb), but I cannot do that with canola honey. I have had to give up on beekeeping. My only alternative is to watch my hives die each winter and replace them in the spring. I have neither the heart or the money to do this. 🙁

    • Trista,

      I’m also curious about why crystallized canola honey is so bad for bees. I routinely give my bees crystallized honey in winter, and it makes excellent winter feed, year after year. But it is not canola. What is the difference?

  • Rusty,

    On the GMO note, there are a few issues with labeling. You’re right that people have a right to choose, but we can manipulate people’s choices. This has drawn an interesting debate between the ethics of any GMO labeling (it says “Non-GMO” or “Contains GMO”, which may influence consumer to believe GMO is bad and avoid) and the “happy” GMO label proposed by the USDA (GMO opponents say it influences consumers to accept GMO and thus is manipulative).

    This is further complicated by the fact that GMO has not been shown to be dangerous—at least, no different than selective breeding, and it’s currently believed GMO is actually safer. Likewise, many current cultivars not qualified as “GMO” were derived from not just natural mutations, but the application of nuclear material (yes, radioactive stuff) and mutagenic chemicals to plants to cause random mutations. Think of every new seed and every new plant as a random GMO.

    There are some people who bring up GMO in a more-scientific, more-measured light—that is, their complaints are actually valid. Round-up Ready GMO allows heavier application of pesticides, which may remain in food. Bt Corn, on the other hand, avoids the use of pesticides, which protects the bees and other pollinators; Bt is a protein which is generally digested by humans, although an extremely high concentration of Bt can cause damage (so can drinking way too much water).

    I bring these to light because, as you probably already recognized, your minimal discussion of GMO is nonetheless one-sided and makes an argument which influences the reader to believe a certain viewpoint. Essentially, your article will shift a naive or undecided reader to believe GMO is bad, in a way denying individual choice. That’s an important concept—I’m a politician and I’ve argued this a LOT in terms of criminal justice reform and economic equity and welfare (people aren’t genetically-predisposed to be criminals or lazy; they’re products of their environments, and the decisions they make are based on their entire life experiences). It’s hard even for people like me to maintain true autonomy.

    • John,

      I find it fascinating that so many people believe a blogger has no right to publish personal opinion. That’s what a blog is: a web log of personal experience and opinion.

      • I am simply expanding the conversation and underscoring the consequences of the presentation of an opinion or any other statement. What people say has consequences—and the appeal to irrelevant expertise is powerful (i.e. people will identify someone with scientific knowledge in one area and apply the same credibility to a different area of science).

        You are functioning, in some capacity, as a persuasive speaker. In some ways, we all are. It is a dangerous power to wield, but also a necessary one. The presentation might try to not make a direct indictment, but the whole discussion carries an obvious undertone: that GMOs may in fact be unsafe and unhealthy—and that is not an opinion, but rather a matter of scientific fact; the science says GMOs are no different in those respects from anything else.

        You also continue the implication by acknowledging GMOs as “Poison”, which is a more direct support of non-scientific ideals. It would be similar to someone arguing publicly that climate change is not real and that sulfoxaflor is harmless to honeybees: it’s not an opinion; they’re just wrong, and there is a danger to leaving such assertions unanswered.

        • Hey John.

          Thanks for replying to this discussion. (That I just read today)

          It’s nice to see a differing opinion. I’m no scientist or researcher and don’t claim to be one, but I find that people are quick to jump on the “GMO is poison” train without any solid research to back it up but more as a jerk reaction.

          As for Canola crystallization, I know of a commercial beekeeper that overwinters 1500 hives in Manitoba and his hives work the canola fields every year, yet he’s not showing any unusually high colony losses compared to any other beekeepers around North America.

          I personally think the main major source of colony death in winter is Varroa mites that weren’t killed off with proper hive treatments for varroa.

  • Hi. I came across this blog and am interested in feeding my bees the crystalized canola honey. Would I store the frames of crystalized/ capped canola honey and then feed in spring and fall? So curious about how to do this.

    Happy Bee Keeping Folks!

    • Caitlin,

      Crystallized honey can sometimes cause diarrhea in honey bees (known as honey bee dysentery) if the honey separates and if the bees are confined for the winter. The dysentery-like symptoms are caused by too much water in the diet. For that reason, it is best to feed crystallized honey in the spring or summer months when they are free to fly and relieve themselves. The problem comes when they are forced to hold their feces due to cold weather.

      On the other hand, if the honey doesn’t separate and remains solid, they can eat it any time, including the winter.

  • I am reading the book LIQUID GOLD, about beekeeping in Great Britain in which the bees have access to rapeseed. We live in western VA and have 4 hives now, hope to get 2 more nucs. We try to grow good things for our friends and are on the lookout for possible plants to try. The crystallization concerns me, but if it is combined with other local plants would it be as big an issue? We usually harvest honey in early September. Thank you for your input and suggestions.

    • Mary,

      I know rapeseed grows well in Virgina. As to how much it would affect crystallization, I don’t know. I suspect it would depend on what else is in bloom at the same time.

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