Why did my honey crystallize and then ferment?

Honey crystallizes because it is a supersaturated solution. This just means that there is more sugar dissolved in the water than the water can normally hold.

There are several types of sugar found in honey, mostly glucose and fructose, but also sucrose and maltose. It is the glucose part that causes crystals to form.

Some honeys have more glucose than others. The amount of glucose depends on the flowers that produced the nectar. Honey made mostly of glucose will crystallize easily, whereas honey made with mostly fructose is very slow to crystallize.

The crystals begin forming around particles called “seeds” and then continue to multiply until a lattice builds throughout the container. There are plenty of these seeds in a jar of honey. They may be particles of dust, pollen, wax, propolis, or even air bubbles.

Several things can cause the glucose to suddenly form crystals, and it doesn’t take make much to set the process in motion. Slight changes in temperature or humidity—in the presence of the seeds—is enough to get it started.

Crystallized honey may not keep as well as liquid honey. When glucose goes from the liquid form to the crystal form, it loses some of its moisture. This moisture remains in the container and causes the total moisture in the liquid part of the honey to increase.

Honey needs to be about 18.6 percent water or less for long-term storage. If the liquid portion of the honey is more than 18.6 percent water after the crystalline glucose leaves the solution, the honey may ferment.

Fermentation is caused by yeast. But the yeast cannot grow in the low-moisture environment of cured honey. The sugar depletes the water from the yeast cells and they cannot survive. Spores of yeast remain, however, and if the water content suddenly rises the yeast can grow again.

Fermentation can be prevented by pasteurization—the process of heating the honey to 145° F for 30 minutes (or 150° F for 15 minutes) and then cooling it rapidly. This kills the yeast spores, but it also destroys some of the taste and fragrance components of honey and is generally frowned upon. In addition, heated honey often crystallizes within a few weeks and yields large, coarse crystals which give honey a crunchy—rather than a creamy—texture.

One of the popular solutions to these problems is the Dyce process of controlled crystallization, which yields a product known as “creamed” honey. I will describe the process in another post.



  • @HoneyBeeSuite This is apparently what can happen in late harvest honey stored by the bees, which gives them diarrhea.

  • My 11 year old daughter is doing a science experiment on what type of honey crystallizes the fastest. Can you give any advice on how we can do an experiment to make the honeys crystallize faster than they would naturally?

    • Laurie,

      Dry them. Put them in a food dryer or in an oven turned on the “proofing” or “drying” setting (about 100 degrees F) for maybe five or six hours. At first they will become more liquid, not less, but when they go back to room temperature again, they should crystallize fairly quickly. Also, you could seed the honey with some kind of particle. Seeds give the molecules something to latch onto to start the crystallization process. The seeds should be inert particles, maybe very fine sand or even pollen. You would stir it in and then let the honey sit perfectly still.

      • OK, getting frustrated with trying to get honey to crystallize 🙁 If I have different types of honey in cupcake tins….no lids and I put it at 100 degrees for about 5 hours? How long should it take to crystallize and should it be at room temp (about 70 degrees) or cooler????? Project is due in less than three weeks and we are struggling to get this honey to crystallize. Any help is greatly appreciated!!!!!!

        • This is so interesting, Laurie! Most people go to great lengths to keep their honey from crystallizing and here you are trying to do the opposite.

          Taking it from the top, the primary cause of crystallization is the ratio of fructose to glucose in the honey. A high amount of fructose keeps it from crystallizing, whereas a high amount of glucose will make the honey crystallize quickly. An excellent example of quick-to-crystallize honey is canola (oilseed rape) which often crystallizes in a day or two.

          All honey will eventually crystallize if the percentage of water drops too low, say below about 16%. That is why I suggested drying it. Warm temperatures keep it from crystallizing, but if you can drive off enough water it should crystallize when it cools off again . . . although it may take a while. After you dry it, try putting it in the fridge overnight.

          Have you tried seeding the honey with some small particles?

          Remember, that an experiment that doesn’t work is just as important as one that does. They both teach. There is no failure in designing an experiment, following the protocols you’ve decided upon, and having it not work. What you learned is: that particular method doesn’t work.

          Is this your own honey or honey from the store? Is it varietal or mixed? Dark or light? How many different kinds do you have? Fascinating stuff . . .

          • OK, we have the following different types of honey that were store bought: Clover, really raw honey (was completely unprocessed, unfiltered, unrefined, and unheated), Organic, Alfalfa, Tupelo and Acasia. We have first tried an experiment that we found on Education.com which had us adding water and putting it in the freezer for 2 minutes at a time and checking for crystallization. NOTHING happened after several hours…..did not work because it was the water that was freezing and the honey was not crystallizing.

            So, we tried seeding the different kinds with sand granules and storing it at 55-65 degrees. That is going on for almost 2 weeks now and no crystallization.

            So now I am going to try your idea of heating it to 100 degrees. Could I put a sliver of wax in each one before heating it? Will that encourage crystallization? Am I correct that I will be heating it for about 5 hours and then at what temp should it be stored? I am going to see if I can get that Canola honey. Does the Canola honey typically crystallize in a day or two without doing anything to it? Any more suggestions are greatly appreciated!!!!

          • Laurie,

            Normally, warming honey breaks down the crystals and causes it to re-liquify if it already has crystals. But what I am proposing is to warm it for a long period in order to drive off the water. You should do whatever you can to drive off the water, including using a shallow container (so the the honey spreads out), removing any covers from the honey containers, and keeping the door to the oven open. Yes, I’m thinking about 5 hours at 100 degrees F.

            After removing it from the oven, let it cool to room temperature and then cover the containers with plastic wrap so it doesn’t re-absorb any moisture. Then store it in a cool place like the refrigerator. It should crystallize as it cools, although it may take a few days.

            I don’t think wax would help it to crystallize. In fact, the wax would probably melt, float on top of the honey, and prevent the water from being driven off. I would skip the wax.

            Yes, canola honey often crystallizes while still in the comb before the beekeeper can get it to the extractor.

          • OK, We have the 6 different types of honey in 100 degrees with the door propped open. We will keep it there for 5 hours??? Then we will cool it to room temperature (which is about 70 degrees), cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Our frig temp is about 36 degrees, will that be too cold? Should I up the temp at all???? Anything else? I am hoping we see some crystallization within the next 3-5 days, do you think that is asking too much? Also, what exactly will it look like and will we notice it on the top, bottom?????

            The other question I have is regarding the really raw honey we are using. When we bought it in the store, it was much thicker and grainy looking. How will we be able to tell if that crystallizes?

            Are you familiar with any of the types of honey we are using that I mentioned earlier? Any idea which ones may be quicker to crystalize? We were thinking the Alfalfa just from any research we did.

          • Laurie,

            Sounds good. The fridge temperature is fine; leave it like that. Crystals usually settle on the bottom. Don’t stir it.

            The “grainy looking” honey you saw had already started to crystallize. Those grains are the beginning of the crystals.

            Tupelo honey almost never granulates, acacia is also slow to granulate, clover and alfalfa are fairly quick to granulate. Whatever the organic honey is sounds like it is quick to granulate as well.

          • Great, I will be looking for crystals on the bottom. I hope the dark non-stick cups the honey is in will not prevent us from seeing the crystals? Will I be able to see through to the bottom to notice the crystals?

          • Laurie,

            The crystals are lighter colored than the honey. I’m sure you will see them.

          • So, we heated the honey to 100 degrees for 6 hours. Then we left it at room temp for bout 30 minutes before putting it in the frig. It is now about 4 1/2 days since the honey has been in the frig. I am not seeing any crystallization on the bottom of the honey. The only possibility of crystallization would be the raw honey. It looks whitish in color on the top with a bubbly, creamy affect to it. Hard to describe. Would that be crystallization and how would I know? Does raw honey have more glucose than fructose that it would crystallize before the others? I know raw honey if not heated or filtered could crystallize quicker and this raw honey was not heated, filtered, processed or refined. I was expecting to see some crystallization with the Alfalfa………ahhhhh frustrating. Her project is due in 11 days. Any help???????

          • Oh dear, this is not going well. However, that whitish creamy look is crystallized honey. The creamy texture is due to the formation of very tiny crystals, the type used to make so-called “creamed honey.” The fact that honey is raw has no bearing on how much fructose or glucose it contains. The amounts of those sugars is due to the type of plant that produced the nectar. But why bubbly? Does it smell like it is fermenting? Does it smell yeasty or moldy? Is part of that container liquid and part creamy?

            Laurie, what is the hypothesis of your daughter’s experiment? What is she trying to prove or disprove? I’m just not sure where she’s going with this.

          • The raw honey that has the white creamy look to it is pretty thick and creamy if I touch it with a toothpick. Some of that container is more gel-like but that looks like regular honey and doesn’t have the white coloring to it. The other 5 honeys (Tupelo, Acacia, Alfalfa, Organic and Clover) all are gel-like without any signs of crystallizing or white color to them. Now, my question is, will they go back to their liquid form when they sit out from the refrigerator and no longer be gel-like? My daughters hypothesis is that she is predicting honey with higher amounts of glucose than fructose will crystallize faster……also considering how it is handled and stored. So, the goal was to do what we could to speed the crystallization process along. Does that help you to help me????? 🙂

          • Laurie,

            I’m fresh out of ideas, really. One problem I see is that the raw honey (the one that crystallized) isn’t labeled with a variety so you don’t have any idea about its fructose-to-glucose ratio. It’s going to be impossible to draw any conclusions from that. The same problem goes for the one labeled “organic.” Even honey that is labeled with a variety, such the other four, can be a mystery. Something labeled “clover” for example is probably mostly clover, but that’s about all you can safely assume.

            The gel-like consistency may be from the cold, but I honestly can’t remember seeing refrigerated honey. I can go stick some in the fridge for awhile and see what it does. My guess is it will return to normal consistency once it warms up again.

            If any readers out there have any ideas about this experiment, I would love to hear from you.

          • Oh and BTW, the raw honey with the white creamy appearance does not smell moldy or fermented. It smells like a sweet honey.

    • Laurie,

      If you dry it, be sure to take the lids off so the water can evaporate. And whatever you do, once you start waiting for crystals do not disturb the honey at all.

    • No, you can just heat it at 100 degrees. A dry setting is helpful because it uses the convection fan to move the air out of the oven, which makes it more efficient. If you don’t have a dry setting, prop the oven door open a bit as if you were using the broiler.

  • Hi, I bought a couple gallons of crystalized honey from 2012. I also bought this years honey which is not crystalized. The beekeeper told me he thought it smelled a little fermented but when I tasted it..it tasted so good and very sweet, and a slight odor of fermentation. Then I came home and started researching fermented honey. My question is, considering it tastes very sweet and does not have a strong ferment taste..is it safe to drink in our tea? And, should I store or freeze the honey we won’t get to for a couple months? Thank you for any help with this. I am really hoping I didn’t
    buy 2 gallons of “bad” honey. Deb

    • Deb,

      It’s really just a matter of taste. Some people love fermented honey, others not so much. Fermented foods are not harmful . . . think of beer, wine, sauerkraut, soy sauce, even sour cream. You can greatly reduce the rate of fermentation by freezing it. But no, it’s not bad. Probably just some of the cells that were not capped before the beekeeper extracted it began to ferment and then got mixed in with the rest. If that is the case, the fermentation process will stop on it’s own and just leave some residual odor. I would eat it in a heartbeat.

  • What you have to do so your honey does not ferment is heat it up to a beginning boil, let cool, then put in mason jar, honey bears etc. It will not ferment then and last long term. I have 10 year old honey, fresh as the day we took it off the bees!!!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I really enjoy reading your info.

    In regards to the school science project, while I did not read all of it, I got the part that they could not get the honey to crystallize. It appears they were using an oven. Is it a gas oven or electric? If gas, I know our gas oven vents a lot of steam while heating. Though the honey is being heated, could the use of a gas oven be adding too much moisture for the honey to crystallize?

    • Hi Debi,

      That makes sense since water vapor is a product of combustion. My own thought is they were keeping it too warm. If they cooled it down, it may have crystallized faster. I forget the details, though. I would have to re-read it.

  • Hello.

    I had a large hive removed from my attic and kept all of the comb and honey. I didn’t do a thorough job of filtering it before filling four, large jars, and there were still bug parts, comb, and debris. It was refrigerated for a few months, but the jars have been at room temperature since August. I have noticed that the honey looks different- some areas are liquidy and some crystallized, but several different colors. I think it might be fermenting, and want to be sure that it won’t make me sick if I eat it. I haven’t had any in a couple of months. Please tell me what to do, as I would hate to toss it in the trash but certainly don’t want to jeopardize my health.

    • Karen,

      Nothing about your honey will make you sick. Even if it ferments, some people consider fermented honey a delicacy. You may not like it, but it won’t hurt you. Crystallization is a natural process. All honey crystallizes in time and crystallized honey is a different color than liquid honey. Sometimes the honey will look streaky because part is crystallized and part is not. Just enjoy it.

  • Hi Rusty, so if the refractometer reading is below 16% the honey will crystallize, so my question is, how do you correct honey that is below the 16% so it won’t crystallize again? I have placed jars in the sun and they de-crystallize but then they go back to crystallization.

    • Priscilla,

      You can’t prevent the crystallization because it is caused by the relative amounts of fructose and glucose in the honey. Honey with lots of glucose ferments quickly, whereas honey that is mostly fructose does not. It all depends on where the nectar came from.

  • I’ve crystallized (“creamed”) two batches of my raw filtered honey by seeding it with nice smooth creamed honey. The first worked out great, although it was slow (many weeks). The 2nd batch never really crystallized, only partially and the crystals were very big and rough.

    So I’ve been reading up on the Dyce method. All references state that I would need to pasteurize the honey. I just want to crystallize my raw honey. Do I absolutely need to pasteurize it? Why?

    • Mike,

      I can’t think of any reason you would need to pasteurize. If you discover one, please let me know.

  • This year I did a harvest of 95% capped honey. We do a crush and strain harvest. The honey dripped in the catch bucket for about 24 hrs before being bottled. The house is air conditioned. Within a month most of the jars started to crystallize, a month or so later it started to ferment.

    What should I look for in the future to not have this happen. I have a honey refractometer coming but didn’t have 1 this year. Thanks for many information you can give me.

    • Gary,

      I had to do some research on this. When honey crystallizes, it normally is uniform, homogeneous throughout. But occasionally you get the two layers, and many people believe this a result of elevated moisture in the honey which causes uneven crystallization. But why the bees sometimes cap honey that isn’t ready is an entirely different question, and I don’t know the answer to that one. It’s not real common, but I do hear about it from time to time.

  • Hi Rusty. I’m worried, we harvested our honey in August of 2020 and it has already started crystalizing and the color has changed. We did have a few frames that the girls hadn’t finished capping but saved those till last and put that honey in a separate container. Mind you, the honey wasn’t running out of these frames so I’m assuming it was ready. They are all stored in BM jars and dated (the special ones I marked as wet, so we could use them first). They are stored in the house in a back room at about 60-65 deg. We have a few jars from 2018 that have barely started turning. What could be happening?

    I really enjoy reading your articles.
    Thanks for any input and advice.

    • Kathy,

      I think the answer to your question is in the post. Crystallization is determined by the proportion of glucose to fructose in your honey, something you have no control over. Some honey crystallizes even before it can be extracted, some takes longer. August till now is sort of a normal time for crystallization for many types of honey. Remember the bees in 2018 didn’t collect from the same flowers as the bees in 2020. Nothing is the same.

      Color change is a normal part of the process that takes place during crystallization. It occurs because crystals reflect light differently than does liquid. This is not a sign of anything except the shape of the crystals.

      Crystallization is a normal part of the life of honey and is absolutely nothing to worry about. In some cultures, crystallized honey is preferred over liquid honey, but here in North America, we do stuff to honey to try to force it to stay liquid, which is really too bad and not in any way natural.

      Just enjoy your honey, stop worrying, and don’t force it to be something it’s not.

  • Hard to find a post where my question is on topic. I landed here because I’ve had a lot of delicious white sugar bits on my underboards where bees were cleaning out granulated-in-the-comb frames.

    One of my hives has been having a wet underboard, which tastes a bit vinegary. Is this possibly fermented honey that is being cleaned out by the bees? (I have a treatment in there, but it is thymol not formic–I know the formic smells a bit vinegary, but the thymol doesn’t at all.) Also, this is a very NOT leaky hive, so the moisture is coming from whatever’s already in there. And it doesn’t look at all like bee poop or I wouldn’ta been tasting it! (Or, who knows, maybe I would. SOME have suggested I’m strange.)

    • Roberta,

      Maybe it’s uncapped honey that is fermenting and bubbling out of the combs. That would account for it being liquidy and vinegary. With all the warm weather, it wouldn’t surprise me.

      For what it’s worth, I too taste questionable things. You can learn a lot.

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