How to prevent raw honey from sugaring
Why has my honey crystallized? Should I refrigerate honey? We get these two questions a lot. It is fairly common for sugar crystals to form in a jar of raw (unpasteurized) honey. Most often, this crystallization will start at the bottom of the container and then spread upward. After time, the honey can look like this:
Why does honey crystallize?
First, crystallized honey has not "gone bad." There is nothing wrong with it. It has merely experienced a change in form. Honey contains two primary sugars - fructose and glucose. Some nectar produces honey that has more glucose than fructose, and some honey is the opposite. The ratio of these two sugars in the honey is called the "F:G ratio."
It is the glucose in the honey that is turning to sugar. When there is a lot of glucose in a solution without much water ("supersaturation"), it just wants to crystallize. Fructose, on the other hand, has no real desire to turn to sugar and can stay in liquid form indefinitely. So the answer to "Why does honey crystallize" is because that's what glucose does when in a supersaturated state - it's a chemical thing.
Honey varieties like tupelo, which has more fructose than glucose, can stay liquid for many years. When sugar does appear at the bottom of a tupelo honey jar, it's because bees were bringing back non-tupelo nectar to the beehive at the same time that the tupelo trees were in bloom. It is this other nectar that was made into honey that is now turning to sugar.
Honey crystallization also requires a solid particle to act as the nucleus for the sugar crystal. Raw honey contains plenty of these particles such as pollen grains, small bits of beeswax and other organic material.
How can you prevent honey from sugaring?
If raw honey wants to sugar, then it will. You can only prevent sugaring by processing the honey with high heat (pasteurization) and using high pressure to force the honey through a dense filter to remove all particles. Such processing produces a clear and shelf stable honey. But it is not raw honey anymore. All beneficial enzymes have been destroyed, and the vitamins and minerals are either degraded or destroyed. Nutritionally speaking, over-processed honey is similar to refined, white sugar.
You can slow the rate of sugaring by keeping raw honey at room temperature with the lid on tight. Should you refrigerate raw honey? Absolutely not. Refrigeration will only hasten the sugaring process. The optimum temperature for honey to crystallize is between 50 and 60 degrees, so keep your honey away from that area of the thermometer.
Another option is to control the crystallization process. If you seed the liquid honey with some small honey sugar crystals (dried or liquid) and blend it well, then the new sugar crystals that form will replicate the smaller crystals in the seed honey. This makes a creamed honey with a nice, smooth consistency throughout.
And the best way to avoid sugared honey? Eat it fast. All of our honey is liquid when we ship, and if it does not sit around too long, then it will never have a chance to crystallize.
Fast honey - slow honey
As for the speed 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 that we carry, along with their respective rates of sugaring:
Slow to Sugar: acacia, sourwood, thyme, tupelo
Medium Rate of Sugaring: blackberry, holly, sage
Fast Sugaring: basswood, clover, coffee blossom, coriander, cotton, orange blossom, wildflower
How to re-liquefy sugared honey
If your honey has turned to sugar, what now? You can eat it just the way it is. Just spread the honey on warm toast or a hot biscuit and enjoy. Some people really enjoy the crunchy texture of crystallized honey. Sugared honey will also dissolve easily in hot tea or coffee, and can also be used for cooking and baking.
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 help break up the sugar. If the container is plastic, let the hot water cool a bit before adding the bottle. If the water is too hot, then it will deform the plastic. Then, shake the bottle every few minutes to break up the sugar. If there is a lot of sugar in the bottle, then you may need to repeat the process a few times.
An easier but longer method works well if your part of the country has hot summer weather. On a sunny day when temperatures rise above 95 degrees, place the bottle or jar on a black surface in direct sunlight. After a few hours in the hot sun, the sugar crystals will dissolve.