varietal honey

Thixotropic honey gels in the comb

Thixotropy is a property of certain fluids—including honey—that results in changes in consistency. These fluids are gelatinous when undisturbed but become liquid when they are shaken or stirred. If left to rest, they will revert to the gelatinous state.

Several types of honey are well known for being thixotropic. Among them are manuka honey (Leptospermum scoparium) from New Zealand and southeast Australia, ling or heather honey (Calluna vulgaris) from Europe, and grapefruit honey (Citrus paradisi).

It is believed that certain proteins are responsible for this behavior in honey. Honeys that are high in protein (up to 1.9%) are more prone to thixotropy than others. Most honeys have only trace amounts of protein and so are unaffected.

While the nutritional properties of honey are not changed by this, the honey is difficult to extract. A regular centrifugal extractor often won’t work unless the honey is agitated first. To do this a number of inventions have appeared, including a device that inserts vibrating pins into every cell. Once vibrated into liquid, the frames are transferred to a regular extractor.

Since this method is expensive and time-consuming, much thixotropic honey is pressed from the comb. Although this destroys the comb, the wax can be used for other purposes. Alternatively, thixotropic honey can be sold in its natural state as comb honey.

Honey Bee Suite


Manuka flower (Leptospermum scoparium). Flickr photo by iamNigelMorris.


  • I have bees in my vent outside my bedroom and they are making so much noise they are keeping me awake. The bees have a white bum and how long do they stay and when do they leave the nest. I can hear them when I stick my ear to the wall.

  • Hi Rusty

    I notice you write thixotropy but add h in the adjective: thixotropHic. In the UK we spell (and say) thixotropic.
    Separately, I was surprised to discover that it is permitted here to sell Erica cinerea (bell heather) honey as ‘heather honey’, though it is a regular floral honey with none of the gelatiousness we associate with ling honey. I wonder if buyers are sometimes disappointed?

    • Archie,

      Thank you for writing. That was a spelling error on my part and instead of doing it just once, I did it over and over. The post was first published in September 2010 yet you are the first person to point it out. Good on you!

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