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
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
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:
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
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,
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.