Why does honey crystallize?

Almost all unheated, unfiltered honey crystallizes; some just crystallize sooner than others.  I say that a lot at farmer’s markets, after all some of our honey is crystallized some of it is runny honey.

Crystallized honey is preferred over runny honey by my family and many other people. You can cook with crystallized honey (my husband, the woodworker at Brookfield Farm, bakes with crystallized honey all the time).  It works in tea; in stir-fry; and as an easily

Jars of crystallized honey and runny honey - same type of honey

Same honey: one crystallized, one runny

spread glaze on fish, meat and fowl. It doesn’t drip off the bread or off your spoon (or fork).  And, to others, and me crystallized honey simply tastes better.

What follows is what I’ve learned about crystallization in unheated, unfiltered honey, which is what we sell.  I’m always happy to learn more.

There are a few honeys that are incredibly slow to crystallize (never say “never”).  Acacia, sage, tupelo, and black locust (aka false acacia) honeys are some of them.  But the majority of honeys will start working their way to crystallization as soon as they leave the nice warm confines of a 95F hive.

Crystallization is the natural state of most honeys after it leaves the hives.  It can even

Crystallized and runny Alfalfa Honey

Same honey: runny and crystallized

crystallize inside a hive if the bee cluster is not on top of the honey when temperatures stay below 50F for a while.

HOW FAST HONEY CRISTALLIZES involves a number of factors:

1) How much glucose versus fructose was in the nectar (these are only of the sugars that are in honey).

2) If the honey is unfiltered: little bits of things on which those crystals can get started.

3) The temperature where the honey is stored.

4) How the honey is stored (plastic is more porous than glass, thus the air exchange is greater).

1) Glucose the Crystallizer:

Crystallized Alfalfa Honey On a Fork

Crystallized Alfalfa Honey

There are a variety of sugars in honey including: glucose, fructose, sucrose, and maltose.  But the main ones are glucose and fructose, which together can make up nearly 70% of the honey content.  Water makes up 18% or less.

The glucose and fructose are the sugars that give honey its “sweetness”.  Glucose is the one that influences crystallization.  The more glucose in the honey, the sooner your honey will crystallize.

What happens:  There is water in all honey (less than 18%).  The water binds to the sugars. But water can separate from glucose.  When glucose loses water it becomes a crystal. Once a crystal forms it will continue to build more crystals until the entire container is crystallized. Anything like pollen, propolis or wax will get trapped in the crystals.

2) Unfiltered Honey and Crystallization.

The crystals that form from the glucose can build on each other, but they can also build

Glucose molecule diagram - wikipedia image

Glucose

on any small particle.  Unfiltered honey has lots of these in pollen, propolis and wax.  Each has handy, jagged bits where a crystal can start to form.

If you and any other particles to the honey, they too will give the crystals a platform on which they can build.  Thus our Brookfield Farm Infused Honeys will all crystalize over time, but some sooner than others.  Our Rose Infused Honey has tiny bits of rose petals and rose hips.  It crystallizes faster than our Ginger Infused Honey.  It’s easier to remove ginger bits than rose petal and rose hip bits.

3) Container: How Honey Is Stored and Crystallization

Air has particles in it, and those particles can pass through containers.  Plastic is far more porous than glass.  Because of this honey stored in a capped, glass jar will take longer to crystallize than if you store it in plastic.

4) Temperature and Crystallization

Crystallization happens much faster at certain temperatures.  When honey drops into the fifties (towards 50F), it will start to crystallize much faster.   Honey stored between 70 and 95F will stay runny much longer.

BITS AND BOBS ABOUT CRYSTALLIZED HONEY:

Not all crystallized honeys have the same texture.  The honeys that are quick to crystallize with have a smoother texture than the honeys that are slow to crystallize.

Quick crystallizers (smooth) include: alfalfa, clover, lavender, dandelion, and star thistle.

Slow crystallizers (less smooth to chunky) include maple, linden, fireweed, blackberry, and black locust.

Why is my honey crystallizing at the bottom?

This is normal.  I don’t have a science-backed answer to this,

Crystallizing Infused Honeys from Brookfield Farm, Washington

Crystallizing Infused Honeys

but my guesses are that either 1) it’s just colder on the counter (or market table) than the air around the jar or 2) the crystals are heavier than the surrounding runny honey and drift to the bottom.

How to make honey crystallize:

Store it at lower temperatures (55F or less) but don’t freeze it.  I’ve heard frozen honey will not crystallize.  This makes sense, as the water cannot precipitate out of the glucose if it’s frozen.

Add a little bit of crystallized honey to your runny honey. If you give the runny honey some crystals, they will start reacting with the glucose in your runny honey and soon it will be crystallized.

How to make crystallized honey runny:

You can gently warm honey by placing its container in a steamer, a water bath (like a water-filled crock pot), a warm sunny window, or a microwave. I would not do this any plastic container.  The important thing is that you do not want to heat that honey over 100F if you want the benefits of honey to remain.   After 120F you’ve got nice yummy honey, but the pollen, propolis, enzymes, and antioxidants have been rendered useless.  Some folks say this happens at 104F.  So, stay safe and don’t go over 100F. If you can’t be exact, aim at 95F for some “wiggle room”.

The problem is that once the honey cools, it will start its march back to crystallization.  After a few sessions of heating and cooling, the honey will start to lose its consistency and its aroma.  Because of this it’s best if you only heat the amount of honey you want runny.  Leave the rest in the container.

LEARNING IS FOREVER

If you have any more facts, musings, or thoughts on crystallized honey, I would love to hear them.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey, in Maple Falls, Washington.

This entry was posted in Honey and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Why does honey crystallize?

  1. Natalie says:

    I’ve got lots and lots of questions! :)

  2. Pingback: How Long Does Honey Last?

    • Honey lasts forever, unless it gets water in it. You can do just about anything with crystalized honey that you can do with runny honey (in tea, on bread, cooking….) And, to me crystalized honey tastes better.Crystalization is the natural state that honey will work its way towards once it leaves the warmth of the hive (about 95 F). Some honey crystalizes faster than others. Factors include: How much glucose versus fructose was in the nectar (glucose means faster crystalization). If the honey was unfiltered and unheated: all those bits of wax, pollen, propolis in the honey give the crystals something to hang on to being their formation. Temperature: Less than 92F and you’re heading for crystalization. (If water gets into honey and raises the water content above 18% the honey will ferment – which is good, if you’re making honey vinegar).

  3. amanda cullen says:

    Thank you for your wonderful information. If I wanted to make solid honey super dooper firm, how would I do this? Ideally without adding any impurities to it.
    Cheers
    Amanda

    • Hi Amanda – sorry for the delay in getting back to you – it’s been crazy here with the bees (a good kind of crazy). I don’t really know – you could try drying it. If it’s still in the frames you can prop them up on something in a warm room with a fan blowing. I’ve not done it. If it’s in the jar – have you tried a fruit/veg drier? It works for yogurt. I really am clueless here. If you discover a way – please share.

  4. Kellie says:

    This information is very helpful. My husband and I are in our second year with our bees and we have honey left from last year that is still clear and runny which really puzzled us this year when most of our honey crystalized. We did have it stored in plastic 5 gallon buckets and I believe the tempperature is below 50 degrees at times so both of those tidbits of info are very helpful to know.

    I did want to suggest something that o did with some of our honey that has been very tasteful. I added cinnamon to some of out crystalized honey this year and it has been very popular with our regular customers that purchase it from us. Not to mention when adding cinnamon to honey there are a lot medicinal benefits other than just the benefits of eating honey on a regular basis. We put our cinnamon honey on every thong from toast, plain cheerios (that’s REAL honey cheerios) and even saltiness crackers.

    Thanks for all the great info.

    • Hi Kelly, Glad this can be of some use to you. Was the honey you had that is taking longer to crystalize from the same hives as the crystalized honey? If so, did you process your honey at two different times? A possible cause is that you have honey from 2 different nectar sources. Along with our own honey, we sell honey from other independent WA beekeepers, one of those, the Kraus Honey Company, has honey that takes almost a year to crystalize. It is from a really dry area, and has black locust as a major nectar source. Great idea about adding cinnamon – we do a cinnamon infused honey too! Ours is usually in the runny state – but will crystalize if it is around long enough. Thanks for commenting, always good to hear from others.

  5. Thank you for you lovely comment. If you ever have a question about honey, let me know, and I’ll see if I can answer it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>