Crystallized Honey: How to Restore Its Properties

There are many myths about crystallized honey. We'll tell you the reality behind crystallization and answer all your questions about it.
Crystallized Honey: How to Restore Its Properties

Last update: 21 September, 2022

For many, crystallized honey is a sign of the adulteration of the product. However, nothing could be further from the truth, as the only problem with honey with small sugar crystals is how to extract it from the container to continue using it.

Some questions that may arise are whether it loses properties or not, and if it’s a good idea to use it. In this article, we’ll clear up your questions, and give you the best tips so that you can restore its properties.

To understand how to decrystallize honey, you must first know its composition. In addition, you shouldn’t forget that it’s a product that should be treated with the same delicacy as the bees that made it.

What is honey?

OK, so maybe you think that’s a bit of an obvious question, but bear with us! Honey is a sweet product produced by Apis mellifera bees, from the nectar of flowers and other plant secretions. What makes it a unique food is that bees release, transform, combine, dehydrate, concentrate, and store these plant substances in their honeycombs.

Honey is usually in liquid form, but it can also be found in solid or semi-solid state, such as crystallized honey. In the latter case, it doesn’t mean deterioration or loss of its sensory or medicinal properties.

When crystallized honey is present, it’s a guarantee that the product hasn’t been adulterated by excessive heating. Therefore, it maintains all its natural properties.

What’s the chemical composition of honey?

Honey has a greater or lesser tendency to crystallize, depending on its chemical components. The composition of honey depends on the source of the nectar, beekeeping practices, climate, and environmental conditions.

If the honey has less water and more solutes, then it crystallizes more easily.

 

A jar of honey being stirred.
Bees produce honey with a high sugar content and a low proportion of water, which favors crystallization.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates represent the main component in honey and are what form the crystals. They’re made up of simple sugars, such as fructose and glucose, which represent 80% of all solids.

Some experts state that when honey contains more glucose than fructose, it tends to crystallize faster during storage. Conversely, the more fructose it contains, the longer it remains liquid.

Water

Mature honey has a water content of below 18%. When it’s above this amount, it tends to ferment. Water influences its viscosity and color, and conditions the sensory qualities of the product.

Enzymes

A peculiar characteristic of honey is the presence of enzymes added by the bees. These are the ones that transform the three sugars in the nectar into about 25 additional ones. That’s why they’re considered responsible for honey’s complex composition.

Some of these enzymes are invertase, which transforms sucrose from nectar into glucose and fructose. Oxidase is responsible for the antibacterial property. Phosphatase degrades starch and diastase is used as an indicator of adulteration when heating honey.

Proteins

Honey doesn’t even contain 1% of proteins. Many of these are represented by enzymes.

As for its amino acids, most of them are free, such as proline, alanine, leucine, and isoleucine. They bind to sugars to darken it.

Organic acids

The organic acids in honey contribute to the flavor, aroma, and stability of the product. It’s characteristic to find gluconic acid, which is obtained by the action of the enzyme oxidase on glucose. Other acids are acetic, butyric, malic, citric, oxalic, and tartaric.

Why does honey crystallize?

The answer to the crystallization of honey is its chemical composition, as it’s a solution with many sugars dissolved in a small amount of water. We’re talking about approximately 80% of sugars in only 18% of water.

The speed of crystal formation depends on certain factors. Some of them are storage time, the type of container, and ambient temperature.

For example, plastic containers allow water to escape from the honey and this accelerates crystallization. In addition, storing it at 14 degrees Celsius (57 Fahrenheit) favors the formation of crystals. Above 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) it remains liquid.

A sudden movement of the container or the presence of foreign particles in the honey also forms crystals. The faster crystallization occurs, the creamier the honey texture will be.

Although we’re used to using liquid honey, crystallized honey can also be measured with a spoon or spread with a knife. However, some techniques are applied to return it to its natural fluid state.

How to restore crystallized honey?

If you want crystallized honey to be transformed back into a liquid state, you can restore it by applying two techniques based on the use of heat.

1. Heating in a water bath

In a water bath, the food doesn’t receive the heat directly, but it does so slowly and through the movement of the water surrounding the container.

The first thing to do is to put the container containing the crystallized honey in a container with hot water. Stir constantly until the honey dissolves.

You can also transform it into a liquid state in portions, depending on what you’re going to use. This is because there’s a risk of crystals forming again.

The temperature of the water should be increased gradually, making sure you don’t burn the honey.

Once the liquid state is recovered, it must be kept under certain storage conditions so that it doesn’t recrystallize. For example, in an environment at no less than 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and never in the refrigerator.

2. Microwave heating

The microwave heats faster than the bain-marie method, but care must be taken because the heat isn’t transmitted evenly. It’s advisable to heat the open container of honey at medium power for 30 seconds.

If it remains crystallized, repeat the heating for 20 seconds and, if necessary, reduce the time successively. Don’t forget to stir to speed up the process.

A microwave.
The microwave may seem easier to handle, but the heat it gives to the honey isn’t even.

Recommendations when applying heat to honey

If you have it in a plastic container, it’s recommended to transfer it to a sterilized and dry glass container. This will prevent moisture loss and re-crystallization.

Don’t exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) when recovering crystallized honey. Some components, such as enzymes, may be affected.

A high temperature denatures enzymes, making them lose their original structure and functions. So, the first thing you should have is caution and a thermometer at hand. If you don’t have a thermometer, insert the finger of your hand as far as you can bear the heat without burning yourself.

The good news is that crystallized honey keeps its sweetness, aroma, and color, as well as its benefits. If it forms crystals, it’s pure honey.

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