Why does honey crystallize? (And why you need to fix it)

EDUCATION

8 minutes.

Essential Takeaways

Honey crystallization isn’t a bad thing. Honey contains more sugar than water, so over time, these sugars begin to separate and crystallize. This is actually a sign of a raw, pure, less adulterated honey product.

Crystallization is somewhat preventable and reversible. Other than crunchy bits in your honey, the only real downside to crystallization is what can come next: fermentation.

Fermented honey can change flavor. So you want to decrystallize it before this point.

“Honey crystallization or granulation is a natural phenomenon by which honey turns from liquid (runny) state to a semi-solid state. Beekeepers refer to this as set honey.”

Set honey.

That sounds a little final, doesn’t it?

Honey crystallization (or granulation) can sometimes be seen as a bad thing. But it’s actually a perfectly natural process, and often signals an authentic, unadulterated product.

And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to throw your jar away.

But you do need to decrystallize your honey before it ferments. Once that process starts, it’s a different story.

So what happens when honey crystallizes? How do you stop honey from crystallizing? And can you reverse the process?

That’s what we’ll explore here.

In this guide to honey crystallization:

  • Why does honey crystallize?
  • Does honey go bad when it crystallizes?
  • How to keep honey from crystallizing
  • How to decrystallize honey
  • Get the real stuff
  • Crystallized honey FAQs

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Why does honey crystallize?

So what causes honey to crystallize?

Honey is made primarily from sugar and water. It contains more sugar than water, and there isn’t enough water content to keep the sugar dissolved.

So, over time, it can begin to separate and form honey crystals¹.

These honey crystals continue forming until all the sugar in the water is crystallized.

Whilst every honey has a slightly different chemical composition, here’s an idea of the elements and their rough proportions:

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Factors that influence honey crystallization

“Each variety of honey crystallizes differently. Some of them never crystallize, some crystallize very slow, some very quickly, some have fine crystals and some have bigger crystal grains.”

Why does some honey crystallize and some not?

It’s all to do with chemical composition and how this changes over time.

In fact, scientists have tried to predict crystallization behaviour with limited results. Even a difference in moisture content of just 1% can impact honey crystallization¹.

The key factors that can impact the crystallization process of honey:

  • Its botanical origin. Some honeys never crystallize, some crystallize quickly.
  • Its water content. This can range between 13 and 29%².
  • Its storage temperature. Honey stored at 20°C (68°F) typically produces coarser crystals than honey kept at -20°C (-4°F). Finer crystals typically taste better.
  • Impurities in the honey. These could include pollen grains and beeswax particles which have been known to influence crystallization. This is also why crystallization can be the sign of a purer, raw, less adulterated product. If these things are still present, the honey is probably less processed.

But does any of this actually matter?

Is crystallized honey inedible or bad for you?

Does honey go bad when it crystallizes?

“[The] crystallization process will not cause any change in nutritional value if honey is properly crystallized, but improper crystallization will lead to increase in water activity and thus leading to fermentation.”

Nothing bad happens when honey crystallizes. But left long enough, it can begin to ferment, which might change its flavor.

Honey is hygroscopic. This means it absorbs water from the air, raising its moisture levels.

Raw honey hasn’t been pasteurised, so these moist conditions allow yeast to grow, fermenting the natural sugars and producing things like carbon dioxide and acetic acid.

And they don’t taste great.

But fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent honey from crystallizing and fix crystallized honey if it’s too late.

How to keep honey from crystallizing

“Crystallization being an undesired phenomenon, there are several methods to prevent it such as heating honey or storing at low temperature, ultrasound treatment, filtration, ultrafiltration.”

Pure honey crystallizes because of its natural chemical composition.

But there are a few things you can do to delay or minimize the process.

Some honey producers will put their honey through certain processes to prevent crystallization like heating, filtration, and ultrafiltration.

This can remove some of the beneficial compounds of honey.

We take another approach to ensure that the good stuff in our manuka honey remains intact.

How we prevent crystallization in our manuka honey

We know that heating honey and pasteurising it can prevent it from crystallizing.

But temperatures above 35°C (95°F) can kill the good stuff³ in manuka honey.

All those fabulous health benefits will be compromised.

So how do we protect those, whilst reducing the chances of crystallization?

We cream our honey.

This involves mixing fine honey “seed crystals” with the liquid honey and storing it at a low temperature.

As their name suggests, these seed crystals provide a base for natural crystals to grow, minimizing their size and protecting the integrity of the honey’s flavor.

As crystallization is a naturally occurring process, pure raw manuka honey may still crystallize.

How to keep honey from crystallizing at home

The best way to avoid crystallizing honey at home is to use it up!

The next best way? To store it properly.

Here’s what that means:

  • Keep it in an airtight container (our jars are ideal for storage).
  • Keep it in a cupboard or away from direct sunlight.
  • Keep it at room temperature (refrigeration, or temperatures under 10°C (50°F), can accelerate crystallization).

Even after doing everything right, it's possible that your honey will still crystallize.

So next, let’s explore how to uncrystallize your honey.

How to decrystallize honey

If you’re interested in how to fix crystallized honey, the good news is, you can.

Your honey is still perfectly good for consumption.

You need to warm your honey to melt the crystals.

It’s important to do this carefully so that you don’t end up killing the good stuff in the honey associated with its antibacterial properties.

(Avoid putting your honey in the microwave or in a saucepan).

Here’s what to do if honey crystallizes:

  1. Warm it up (gently). Place your container of honey in a larger bowl, and fill that outer shell container with warm water. Do not using boiling water! And avoid taking the honey out of the container and placing it in a saucepan with direct heat.
  2. Remove the honey from the warm water bowl and stir it slowly. If there are still granules, put it back in for a few more minutes.
  3. Repeat this process until you remove the grainy consistency in your honey. It could take a while to get back to a smooth consistency.

Decrystallizing your honey a few times shouldn’t have a negative impact on it if you follow these steps each time.

Get the real stuff with New Zealand Honey Co.

The best way to tell that your honey is genuinely 100% pure is to opt for UMF™ graded manuka honey.

Manuka honey is the most regulated honey in the world.

Unlike regular honey, it’s tested, traceable, and packed full of good stuff.

Find out which UMF™ manuka honey is right for you and order yours here.

Crystallized honey FAQs

In a rush? Get quick answers to your questions about honey crystallization here.

What causes honey to crystallize?

Its sugar and water contents. Honey contains more sugars than water, so over time, this separates and crystals form. When this happens, the type and shape of the crystals depends on factors such as the botanical origin of the honey, how it’s been processed and how it’s been stored. Crystallization is one sign of a raw, pure honey product.

How long does it take for honey to crystallize?

This varies based on the type of honey, how it was processed, and how it has been stored. Honeys with less moisture content crystallize faster. Storing honeys at lower temperatures also accelerates crystallization. Studies have tried to predict crystallization behaviour with mixed results.

Does pure honey crystallize?

Yes, absolutely. In fact, if temperatures get too low, honey can even crystallize in the hive. Studies have found that impurities in the honey like pollen and beeswax particles can influence the granulation process. If a honey contains these kinds of particles, it is much less likely to have gone through intense processing. Crystallization is actually a sign of a pure honey product.

Can you use crystallized honey?

Yes. Crystallized honey still tastes like honey, but with an added crunch. Finer crystals are thought to taste better, but it’s really down to your personal preference. Just don’t leave the crystallized honey for too long, otherwise it may start to ferment.

How to fix crystallized honey

Gently warm your honey to melt the crystals. Avoid direct heat (like a saucepan), instead placing your honey jar in a warm water bath. Remove the honey, stir it, and replace until you get the desired consistency back.

How do you decrystallize honey?

Decrystallize honey with a warm water bath. Place your honey jar into a larger container, and pour warm (not boiling!) water into the outer shell. Leave your honey for a few minutes, remove it, stir it, and replace. Repeat this process until your honey’s liquid consistency is restored.

Why does some honey crystallize and some not?

It all depends on the chemical composition of the honey. Honey crystallizes because it contains more sugar than water, and so there isn’t enough water for the sugar to stay dissolved. But honeys vary in their moisture content. Some contain as low as 13% water, some as high as 29%. So this impacts if, and how quickly, it crystallizes.

Does honey go bad when it crystallizes?

No, honey doesn’t go bad when it crystallizes. You can decrystallize honey. But if the crystallized honey starts to ferment, the flavor will change, and you won’t be able to restore the honey.

Is it safe to eat honey that’s crysallized?

Yes, it’s safe to eat crystallized honey. You can decrystallize it if you’d prefer it to be liquid again.

Is real honey supposed to crystallize?

Yes. Crystallization is a natural process that pure, raw honey goes through. Not every honey will crystallize, and some will crystallize faster than others. But it’s a good sign that your honey is real and less processed. Honey can even crystallize in the hive if temperatures get too low!

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Your wellness journey starts with a spoonful a day.

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