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.




    • Bruce,

      Just heat it as gently as possible. The greater the heat, the more flavor compounds breakdown. When I have to break crystallization I just try to be patient and use as little heat as possible. It takes longer, but it works.

  • Rusty,
    Thanks for directing me to this post. Knowing that glucose oxidizes more readily to starch; I understand what is happening.


  • Bruce,

    Try some honey that has granulated. I like it because it will not drip when I load the toast up. I at times prefer it this way. Some folks ask for it this way. In any recipe it will work the same as it is still honey. As Rusty suggests you can warm it slightly and it will “remelt” I put it in a pan of water on a “very” low setting taking an hour or more to get it back clear.
    By spring all my “Raw” honey is granulated so it is a natural process. If you find it in comb when extracting it may be from last year. Extract what you can and then give the comb back to the bees, on top of an empty deep or 2 empty mediums, they tend to haul it down into the house cleaning the comb out to use next year. I’ll try the stir thing next year I do not see how it changes the make up unless the air changes things somehow.

  • The best way to eliminate crystallized honey is to eat it. I WISH I could get my honey to crystallize in the comb. That sounds delicious.

  • I was of the opinion that crystalization was due to early harvesting. Thanks for the clarification.

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