Why did my honey granulate?
This question, often followed by “What did I do wrong?” lands in my in-box nearly every day. No matter what you call it—sugaring, granulation, crystallization—it is an annoying and disappointing outcome, especially if it happens before you extract. To understand why it happens, you need to know something about sugars.
Most often, we use the word “sugar” to refer to the granulated white stuff we sprinkle on cereal or dump in tea. But sugar comes in many types. You have probably heard of sucrose, lactose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, and galactose. These are all sugars and there are even more.
Think about dogs for a moment. You probably have no trouble recognizing a dog when you see one. If you compare a collie, a terrier, and a dachshund, you will notice they all bark like dogs, walk like dogs, sniff like dogs, and wag like dogs. Yet in many respects they are very different from each other.
The same is true for sugars. They are sweet, they are edible, and they are all made from similar configurations of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. But they behave differently from each other and therefore have different uses.
Sucrose, known as “table sugar,” is actually composed of both glucose and fructose. It is these same two sugars—glucose and fructose—that affect the rate at which honey granulates.
Honey contains several types of sugar, but mostly glucose and fructose. Glucose granulates easily and quickly; fructose resists granulation. So if your honey has lots of glucose compared to the amount of fructose, it granulates quickly. If your honey is higher in fructose and lower in glucose, it will remain liquid for long periods.
So the answer to the second question is simple: you did nothing wrong. The amount of fructose and glucose in your honey is totally dependent on what the nectar contained. Some plants produce nectar very high in glucose, while some plants produce nectar very high in fructose. Most are in the middle.
Some beekeepers may say you extracted too late, kept the honey too cold, kept it too dry, etc. While it is true you can you sometimes delay granulation by using certain techniques, the root cause of the problem is still the ratio of glucose to fructose in the nectar.
Lucky for us, we usually know what kind of dog we’re getting before we take it home. Beekeepers, however, often don’t have a clue about the nectar coming into their hives. Only through experience will you learn about the nectar in your area and how it behaves.