Why does honey crystallize?
Honey is appreciated for its unique flavors: fruity, woody, flowery, more or less acidic. We choose it according to our preferences: liquid, creamy or rather hard. But sometimes our honey changes its appearance, and it's perfectly normal to wonder if it's gone bad? Have we bought poor-quality honey? Is it mixed with other ingredients that can alter its appearance? Let's try to understand why honey crystallizes.
Why does honey become hard?
As with everything else around us, it's a question of chemistry! Crystallization occurs when honey changes its appearance, becoming granular or even hard. It can also change color, lightening in particular. This phenomenon occurs after a certain storage time, whether or not the honey has been opened, is still intact or has already been eaten. Rest assured, this happens all the more when the honey is pure and raw, and therefore has not been mixed with refined sugars and other dubious ingredients. Crystallization, which is natural and inevitable, is also necessary for the nectar, as it preserves its nutrients and therefore its high quality.
Crystallization depends on a number of factors, not least the honey itself, depending on its floral origin and composition. Thus, a honey will crystallize more or less quickly depending on these criteria, but we can also observe a different consistency depending on each honey; some crystals may be fine and imperceptible in the mouth, while other honeys present much coarser, granular crystals.
What's more, to understand the appearance of crystals in honey, you need to analyze its composition. Honey is mainly made up of carbohydrates, at least 70% in every honey, and more or less 20% water. The simple carbohydrates present in honey are of two types: glucose and fructose. It is the level of these two sugars that will make honey crystallize more or less strongly, and their quantity depends solely on the floral origin of the honey:
- The higher the ratio of glucose to fructose, the faster the crystallization. A honey that crystallizes quickly is one that contains fine, rather smooth crystals, like creamed honey.
- The higher the fructose content in relation to glucose, the slower the crystallization. This is because fructose has a high solubility, which means that honey will remain liquid for longer.
Although this crystallization is totally natural and normal, some honeys become quite hard following this change in consistency, and it sometimes seems difficult to dip your spoon into the pot.
To liquefy honey, it can be heated, but certain precautions must be taken:
It's important to know that heating this product of the beehive causes it to lose taste and nutrients, so it loses its qualitative value.
Knowing that the inside of a beehive has an approximate temperature of 35 degrees, it would be wise to heat honey to this temperature, without exceeding 45 degrees. Honey heated too long at high temperature will become as liquid as water and lose its consistency completely.
For this reason, use a double boiler, so that you can easily check the texture and temperature with a kitchen thermometer. Plunge your glass honeypot (not plastic or cardboard) into the pan of water, and stir with a wooden spoon until you find the desired texture, while maintaining the right temperature.
If you only need to melt a small amount of honey, to spread on pancakes for example, take the desired quantity with a spoon and place it in a bowl in a bain-marie.
We strongly advise you not to heat it up in the microwave, so that your honey doesn't lose its organoleptic qualities.
Tip : if you don't have a cooking thermometer, you can keep an eye on the water, watching for the formation of small bubbles on the surface. These indicate that the water is at 40 degrees, and you can dip your finger in without risk of burning. Keep the heat low to maintain this temperature, and keep an eye on it while stirring.
How to prevent honey crystallization
Crystallization of honey is inevitable, and as we've seen, it's a sign of quality and proves that the honey has not been pasteurized. We know that crystallization depends on glucose and fructose levels, but it must also be said that the consistency of honey depends on its water content and the temperature at which it is stored.
We can't really prevent our honey from crystallizing, especially when it's solid or already crystallized (like creamy honeys), but we can make sure it's well preserved:
- For solid honey, it's best to keep it in a room away from humidity, ideally at no more than 20 degrees Celsius, so that it doesn't go out of phase. This type of honey is best kept for 2 years.
- For liquid honey, you can store it in a room at 25 degrees to slow down crystallization as much as possible. This type of honey is best kept for 6 months.
Liquid or solid honey: a preference?
Hardening honeys: honeys that form large crystals and can become granular or even harden strongly, such as mountain honey, rapeseed honey, heather honey or clover honey.