Why has my honey crystallized?
We get this question a lot. Quite often, sugar crystals will start to form in a jar of raw (unpasteurized) honey. Generally, it starts from the bottom and then moves upwards in the container. After time, it looks like this:
So now what?
First, crystallized honey has not gone bad. There is nothing wrong with it. It has merely experienced a physical change. Honey contains two primary sugars - fructose and glucose. The ratio of these two sugars is called the F:G ratio, and the F:G ratio varies depending on the nectar source. Some nectar produces honey that has more fructose, some nectar produces honey that has more glucose, and other nectar is pretty balanced between the two.
It is the glucose in the honey solution that is turning to sugar. Where there is a lot of glucose in a solution, it just wants to crystallize - it's a chemical thing. Fructose, on the other hand, has no burning desire to go to sugar, and can stay in its liquid form indefinitely. So honey varieties such as tupelo, which has a higher ratio of fructose over glucose, can stay liquid for many years. When sugar does form at the bottom of a tupelo honey jar, it is because the bees were bringing other nectar back to the hive during the tupelo season. This other nectar was converted into honey with a lower F:G ratio, and that led to sugaring.
Sugar crystallization also requires a solid particle (which acts as a nucleus) to get started. Raw honey contains plenty of particles. Pollen grains, small bits of beeswax, propolis and other organic material provide the solid core that is needed for sugar crystals to begin forming and growing.
So how do you prevent sugaring of raw honey? You can't. If the honey wants to sugar, it will. You can only prevent sugaring by processing the honey with high heat (pasteurization) and high pressure filtration to remove all particles. This processing produces a shelf stable product. But it is not raw honey anymore. All beneficial enzymes have been destroyed, and the vitamins and minerals removed or significantly degraded. Nutritionally speaking, processed honey is similar to refined sugar.
You can slow the rate of sugaring by keeping the honey at room temperature (above 70 degrees) and keeping the lid closed. The optimum temperature for sugaring is 57 degrees, so stay away from that.
Another option is to control the crystallization process. This is how we make creamed honey. By combining some already creamed honey ("seed honey") with a larger quantity of liquid honey, and then stirring the honey mixture frequently for several days, the new sugar crystals that form will replicate the smaller crystals of the seed honey. This results is a creamed (i.e., crystallized) honey with a smooth consistency throughout.
A final tip to avoid sugared honey - eat it fast. Then it won't have any time to crystallize!
Crystallization Rates for Our Honey Varieties
With respect to rates of crystallization, honey is generally classified into three groups: slow to sugar, medium to sugar, and fast to sugar. Here is a list of the honey varieties we carry and their respective rates of sugaring:
Slow to Sugar
Medium Rate of Sugaring
Fast to Sugar
- coffee blossom
- orange blossom
How to Re-Liquefy Sugared Honey
If you have some sugared honey, what now? You can eat it as is. Just spread the honey on warm toast or a hot biscuit and enjoy. Some people really like the crunchy bits in crystallized honey. If this is not your preference, then heat a small pan of water to a simmer and turn off the heat. If the jar is glass, place the jar in the hot water right away and then shake the jar every few minutes to break up the sugar. If the container is plastic, let the water cool a bit before adding the bottle or it will deform the plastic. Then shake the bottle every few minutes as above. If there is a lot of sugar in the container, you may need to repeat the process. Or, if it happens to be sunny summer day over 95 degrees, then you can place the bottle or jar outside in direct sunlight on a black surface. In a few hours, the sugar crystals will dissolve.