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Crystallized Honey

Emily Dilandro, Elizabeth Friedl
  • Author
    Emily Dilandro

    Emily DiLandro has taught college and high school Biology, Microbiology, and Marine Biology for three years. She has a Masters degree in Microbiology from the University of South Florida and a Bachelors degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

  • Instructor
    Elizabeth Friedl

    Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Read about crystallized honey. Learn why liquid honey crystallizes and how to keep honey from crystallizing. Understand how to tell if honey has gone bad. Updated: 10/26/2021

Crystallized Honey

Crystallized honey is a state to which normal honey can convert due to its chemical structure, including the ratio of different sugars in the honey as well as its purity and the type of plant from which the honey was derived. Crystallized honey, although it may seem degraded to a point of being inedible, has a shelf life of two or more years.

Figure 1: Crystallized Honey

Image of a bottle of honey that has a closeup of crystallization

Figure 2: Liquid Honey

Image of a honey loader with liquid honey dripping from it into a jar.

Is Honey a Liquid?

In its original form, honey is a liquid. Honeybees make honey to serve as food for energy and insulation from the cold during wintertime. Honey is produced by these bees from the collection of nectar of different flowers. The nectar then gets broken down into simple sugars through evaporation and is stored within the honeycomb of beehives. The evaporation occurs from the architecture of the honeycomb as well as the constant fanning of the bees' wings. Honeybees produce excess honey, and, therefore, beekeepers can harvest the excess for human consumption. The sweet, liquid honey is harvested through centrifugation (separation of particles) of the honeycomb sheets that then go through a purification process to remove debris and wax particulates.

A Sweet Phenomenon

Have you ever gone to your cupboard to grab some honey and found that it looked a bit different than the last time? If it's been awhile since you used your honey chances are that it crystallized or formed solid crystals. Your honey may look strange, but don't worry, it's perfectly fine. In fact, it's a natural process that occurs because of the composition of the honey and even in this state ,honey can last on the shelf for a few years.

Honey is normally found as a liquid, but in this state it is super-saturated and unstable.
liquid honey

You see, honey is actually made up of different sugars and water, but not in equal parts. Honey is mostly sugar (over 70%) and just a little bit water (less than 20%). This means that it is a super-saturated solution, which is unstable and over time it will crystallize to form a more stable saturated solution.

Figure 3: Honeybee hive ready for harvest

An image of a round honey bee hive.

Why Does Honey Crystallize?

Honey crystallizes due to the ratio of sugars present in the honey. Honey is made up of over 70% sugar and around 20% water, meaning that it is super-saturated and thus highly unstable. If there is a higher ratio of glucose than fructose, honey is more likely to crystallize because the glucose separates from the water and forms whitish crystals. If there is more fructose than glucose, the chances of crystallization are lower.

Crystallization also is more likely to occur if there are impurities in the honey compared to the pure honey. Impurities include dust, dirt particulate, and pieces of wax that originate from the honeycomb. The ratio of sugars in honey also is dependent on the source of nectar that was collected by the honeybees.

Does Real Honey Crystallize?

Real honey does crystallize, but the rate and likelihood of this is based on the chemical composition of the honey. The nectar and pollen sources are especially important when understanding the chemical composition and thus the rate of crystallization in honey. There are over 300 sources that honey can be made from with each differing in sugar ratio, flavor, and color. The darker honeys usually have more flavor while the lighter colored honeys are milder. The assorted colors of honey also have different ratios of sugar content as well as vitamins and minerals. For example, darker honey tends to have more antioxidants than lighter honey. While the various nectar sources have different chemical components, even the same flower can produce chemically distinct nectar when collected at various times throughout the year based on the climate.

How to Keep Honey from Crystallizing

When honey is stored at room temperature or warmer, it is less likely to crystallize. If stored at or below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the crystallization process will occur much more rapidly. This is due to the glucose separating from the water molecules and binding together, creating the crystals.

What to Do with Crystallized Honey

If honey does crystallize, it is still edible; the sugar is merely in a different state, with nothing inherently wrong with it. To change crystallized honey back to its liquid state, the honey can be heated. This can be done in the microwave or in a double boiler. Unfortunately, the flavor may change over time if this process is done too often because amino acids in the honey react with the sugars. This is due to the amino acids in the honey reacting with the sugars, which browns the honey. This process is called the Maillard Reaction and is the breaking down of molecular bonds in honey. Overall, altering the molecular structure of honey will change its flavor over time.

Different Kinds of Honey

Before we go any further let's take a step back and look more closely at honey itself. You may not have realized that there are over 300 different kinds of honey sold in the U.S. alone. The different types of honey we get come from different types of plants pollinated by the bees. Clover, mesquite, tupelo, and orange blossom are just a few types you may be familiar with, and if you look closely at their names you'll see that they are also different plants! The name of the honey tells you what type of plant it came from, which is also why they all taste so different.

Honey comes in hundreds of different varieties.
varieties of honey

The Crystallization of Honey

In honey we find both glucose and fructose which are two kinds of sugars. And you can get an idea of how quickly your type of honey will crystallize if you know the ratio of these two sugars. Honeys with a low glucose-to-fructose ratio will crystallize more quickly and we find this to be true with floral honeys like dandelion and clover. If the glucose-to-fructose ratio is high, like with flowering trees such as tupelo and eucalyptus, then crystallization is much slower.

But why does this happen? Well, the glucose in the honey separates from the water and forms the actual crystals, while the fructose stays as a liquid. The crystals are lighter in color than the liquid part because glucose crystals are naturally pure white, and crystallization also makes the honey more viscous or thicker and slower flowing.

Crystallization is a natural process that occurs in honey when glucose separates out into crystals.
crystallized honey

The temperature at which you store your honey will also affect its crystallization. Keeping it in a warmer area will prevent crystallization while colder areas will increase the rate of crystal formation. Honey left on the comb will also crystallize slower than honey that has been extracted from the comb. And the presence of any particles like pollen or dust grains will also speed up the crystallization process.

You've probably already guessed that different types of honey crystallize differently and you're right! The quicker crystallization happens the finer the crystals tend to be. Crystals also come in different shapes and sizes. Crystallization can be uniform or varied, and sometimes crystallization occurs in different layers within the honey.

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Additional Info

A Sweet Phenomenon

Have you ever gone to your cupboard to grab some honey and found that it looked a bit different than the last time? If it's been awhile since you used your honey chances are that it crystallized or formed solid crystals. Your honey may look strange, but don't worry, it's perfectly fine. In fact, it's a natural process that occurs because of the composition of the honey and even in this state ,honey can last on the shelf for a few years.

Honey is normally found as a liquid, but in this state it is super-saturated and unstable.
liquid honey

You see, honey is actually made up of different sugars and water, but not in equal parts. Honey is mostly sugar (over 70%) and just a little bit water (less than 20%). This means that it is a super-saturated solution, which is unstable and over time it will crystallize to form a more stable saturated solution.

Different Kinds of Honey

Before we go any further let's take a step back and look more closely at honey itself. You may not have realized that there are over 300 different kinds of honey sold in the U.S. alone. The different types of honey we get come from different types of plants pollinated by the bees. Clover, mesquite, tupelo, and orange blossom are just a few types you may be familiar with, and if you look closely at their names you'll see that they are also different plants! The name of the honey tells you what type of plant it came from, which is also why they all taste so different.

Honey comes in hundreds of different varieties.
varieties of honey

The Crystallization of Honey

In honey we find both glucose and fructose which are two kinds of sugars. And you can get an idea of how quickly your type of honey will crystallize if you know the ratio of these two sugars. Honeys with a low glucose-to-fructose ratio will crystallize more quickly and we find this to be true with floral honeys like dandelion and clover. If the glucose-to-fructose ratio is high, like with flowering trees such as tupelo and eucalyptus, then crystallization is much slower.

But why does this happen? Well, the glucose in the honey separates from the water and forms the actual crystals, while the fructose stays as a liquid. The crystals are lighter in color than the liquid part because glucose crystals are naturally pure white, and crystallization also makes the honey more viscous or thicker and slower flowing.

Crystallization is a natural process that occurs in honey when glucose separates out into crystals.
crystallized honey

The temperature at which you store your honey will also affect its crystallization. Keeping it in a warmer area will prevent crystallization while colder areas will increase the rate of crystal formation. Honey left on the comb will also crystallize slower than honey that has been extracted from the comb. And the presence of any particles like pollen or dust grains will also speed up the crystallization process.

You've probably already guessed that different types of honey crystallize differently and you're right! The quicker crystallization happens the finer the crystals tend to be. Crystals also come in different shapes and sizes. Crystallization can be uniform or varied, and sometimes crystallization occurs in different layers within the honey.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you prevent honey from crystallizing?

If honey is kept at room temperature or higher, it is less likely to crystallize. Sometimes, the sugar composition of the honey makes it more likely to crystallize, despite the temperature.

Is it safe to eat honey that has crystallized?

It is safe to eat honey that is crystallized. Crystallized honey is composed of glucose that has moved away from the water molecules and attached to itself, creating crystals. Crystallization does not mean honey has gone bad.

How do you fix crystallized honey?

Even though crystallized honey is still edible, it can be returned to its liquid state. This is done by heating up the honey in the microwave or in a double boiler. This may affect the flavor over time if done repeatedly.

Can pure honey crystallize?

Pure honey can crystallize if the glucose to fructose ratio is high. This is dependent on the variety of nectar and pollen that is used to make the honey.

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