Honey: Asked & Answered

Customers at markets and even everyday friends always come up to us with bee or honey related questions. Things like: “What is honey made of?”, “Why does various honeys taste different?”, “Why does honey crystallize?” “Can I stop or slow the crystallization?”, and “Can honey freeze?”. Well, we are here to answer these questions of yours. Just keep reading and if your question wasn’t answered here, leave a comment and we will get to it next time.

 

What is honey made out of?

For some people, the answer is simply as follows:The bee drinks up the nectar, takes it back to the hive, and spits it back up. This is what becomes the honey we are so fond of.

 

But that’s not enough for others. They want to know what honey looks like chemically? Is it all one compound, or is it a mixture?

 

Honey is a little bit of water (averages ~18%)  with lots of other stuff dissolved into it. Mostly, different types of sugar. Fructose (~30% – 44%) and glucose(averages ~25% – 40%), are the two most abundant sugars in honey; these are both monosaccharides. Monosaccharides are  the simplest form of sugar that when broken down become energy. Several different disaccharides (a double sugar made of two sugar molecules bound to each other, like sucrose) are next, with a combined average percentage of ~9%. Then oligosaccharides (sugar molecules made up of chain of several single sugars attached to each other) are next with a combined average percentage of ~4%. These are all followed by the minute amounts of enzymes, amino acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, organic acids, pollen, and other substances that make honey more than just a mixture of sugars in water.

 

Why does various honeys taste different?

The exact percentages of the different substances in honey determine how a honey tastes. These percentages are highly dependent upon the types of flowers that provided nectar to the bees. This is why honey from one plant source tastes different than honey from a different plant source. The relative concentrations of the different sugars affect how sweet the honey tastes. Honey’s with higher fructose concentration taste sweeter. On the other hand, differing relative ratios of the trace aliphatic acids (amino, and organic) in honey are what impart the characteristic flavors to different types of honey.

 

Why does honey crystallized?

The sugars cause a phenomenon called crystallization because honey is a very concentrated sugar solution. When it first forms, there is more sugar dissolved in the water than the water should be able to hold. That means when it forms, honey is a supersaturated sugar solution. If a seed crystal forms in the honey, or is introduced into the honey, sugars can come crashing out of the solution.

 

Differences in water content of the honey, storage temperature, and glucose content all affect weather or not a honey will crystallize, and the texture of the crystals that will form. Honeys with higher glucose content, as well as those with lower water content are more likely to crystallize. Any given honey is most likely to crystallize fastest between 55℉ (13℃) and 63℉ (17℃). Seed crystals occur at the greatest rate between 41℉ (5℃) and 46℉ (8℃).

 

Below 41℉ (5℃), crystallization will not occur at all.

 

Because different honeys have differing ratios of sugar to water, and fructose to glucose, different honey varieties are more or less likely to crystalline.

 

Can honey freeze?

Water freezes, so does honey? The short answer is no, at least, not like you might think. And here’s why. Honey is more than just water. It is a little bit of water (14%-20%), with a mixture of mostly sugars dissolved into that small amount of water. This solution is very viscous, and It doesn’t behave like pure water at all. As water cools, the water molecules become regularly arranged, it becomes a crystalline solid (ice) at 32℉ (0℃). The process of going from a liquid to a crystalline solid is called freezing.

 

As honey is cooled, it becomes increasingly viscous and slow moving. At 32℉, where water freezes to ice, honey is still a free flowing liquid. Once honey gets down to -4℉ (-20℃) it appears to be a solid, but it is actually still an extremely slow moving liquid. When it reaches -44℉ it begins to change into a glass.  By the time it reaches -60℉, the honey is now in a glassy state. A glassy state is a semi amorphous state. An amorphous state is made up of a disordered jumble of molecules bound together. Since honey does not turn into a crystalline solid, it technically does not “freeze.”

 

Can I keep my honey from crystallizing?

The best option for long term to store the honey is to keep the honey below 41℉. While your fridge should be set down around this temperature, the temperature can fluctuate allowing the honey to reach the 41℉ to 46℉ the danger zone for seed formation. The freezer is a safer bet because it is not likely to reach the danger zone even with opening and closing and causing the temperature to fluctuate. As was said before when the temperature is below 41℉, all crystallization stops. So, if you have the freezer space, this is an option but make sure that there is a 1 inch head space, to allow for any expansion of the honey as it cools.

 

You basically have two choices. Between 70℉ (21℃) and 104℉(40℃), or below 41℉(5℃).

 

If you want to slow down the whole crystallization process, store your honey above 70℉. So, not your unfinished basement in the winter. If your cupboards are on an exterior wall, check their temperature to make sure they stay warm enough. Also make sure your storage area doesn’t get too hot. Storing honey above 104℉ degrees will cause a loss in quality. And remember, given enough time, raw honey stored above 70℉ may develop crystals, but storing at this higher temperature will greatly slow it down.

Closer look at the crystallization of  honey

Any More Questions?

So, with that we hope covered some questions you all may have had about honey. However, if we haven’t, feel free to leave us some more and we will answer them in due time as well. If you have other questions regarding our products then click this link if you have a question like: “My dog just ate my lip balm, will he be okay?”. As crazy as it sounds, we have even answered that. Stay tuned and we will see you all again!

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