Is it true that honey is the most long-lasting food? Does honey go bad, spoil or expire? What is its shelf life and how can you tell when it has gone bad? Is crystallized, dark and fermented honey bad or safe? Read on to find out
Does Honey go Bad or Expire?
Honey is one of the few foods that do not go bad easily. Long ago, it was used as a food preservative along other substances like salt. These are some of the few foods that can be used as preservatives while still edible.
Honey has unique properties which explain the reason as to why it does not go bad. The expiry date written on honey jars only shows up to what period honey will be at its best. To begin with, honey is a sugar. There are people who substitute sugar for honey as a sweetener because of its additional nutritional value.
Like any other sugar, honey is hygroscopic meaning it does not contain a lot of water while still in its natural state. This low moisture is the reason very few microorganisms and bacteria can survive in honey.
Sugars in honey draw off all the water in bacteria cells and yeast drying them up and consequently preventing them from contaminating honey. Scientifically, this is the process of osmosis. In this case, the bacteria living in the honey is hypotonic and honey is hypertonic since it has high sugar content and low water composition.
An executive director at Robert Mondavi Institute in California, named Amina Harris explained that; the very low moisture content of moisture in honey causes the microorganisms to die. Harris further explained that, since the organisms can’t survive in honey, they do not get a chance to spoil it.
Additionally, the acidic property of honey also preserves it from going bad. Honey’s pH ranges between 3 and 4.5. This makes honey highly acidic killing off anything that tries to live in the honey and spoil it.
Despite the super properties of honey, it can go bad when exposed to moisture. In normal cases, honey contains 18% of water meaning no yeast can survive in such an environment. The high sugar content in honey means it easily attracts moisture from the environment. High water content in honey encourages survival of bacteria and microorganisms which work towards spoilage of honey.
Raw Honey Shelf Life & how to tell if honey is bad
Shelf life of raw honey
Honey is considered a magic food due to its long shelf life. When properly stored, that is, stored well enough not to allow any moisture in; honey can stay long beyond the indicated expiry date. In fact, the National Honey Board explains that pure honey has an indefinite shelf life as long as it is kept properly.
You need to understand that processed honey may have a shorter shelf life if precaution is not taken. This is because, during processing, the properties of honey that preserve it may be interfered with. Even that, when processing is done properly without interfering with honey properties, the shelf life of processed honey also becomes indefinite.
You may wonder how bees survive during winter when plants aren’t flowering. Bees create honey and store it in their hive and since it does not go bad, they can eat it during winter. Bees create food that can last for a couple of years.
During collection of honey, bees flap their wings and dry the nectar. After regurgitating the nectar, bees contain enzyme glucose oxidase in their stomach. This enzyme helps create gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide in honey makes it impossible for bacteria to survive.
How to tell that honey has spoiled
When not stored properly, honey can go bad. When you observe thickening of honey at the bottom, it does not necessarily mean that it has gone bad. The most reliable way to tell if honey has gone bad is by tasting it to ascertain that it still satisfies your taste buds.
One of the identified signs used to tell that honey is losing its quality is when it crystallizes and starts losing its color. However, these changes do not mean that honey can no longer be used.
Moreover, when you feel a pungent smell from the jar, it means that your honey has possibly gone bad. In that case, you are advised not to eat that honey. Discard it and acquire a new one.
Does honey go bad when it crystallizes
Why honey crystallizes
Crystallization is a process that occurs naturally. Raw or pure honey crystallizes without changing the texture or color of the honey. Bees prefer liquid honey and so they always maintain warm temperatures that do not allow for crystallization. Bee hive temperatures are about 93 degrees.
Honey crystallizes when the temperatures are extremely cool. Sizes of the crystals formed depend on the temperature at which crystallization happened.
Apart from temperatures, the type of flower the bee visited also determines how easily honey will crystallize. According to Gwen Pearson in Wired; Maple, blackberry and tupelo honeys crystallize slowly as compared to alfalfa honey.
Raw honey crystallizes easily when compared to processed honey. This is because, pieces of the hive that remain in the honey during extraction of honey increase the rate at which honey crystallizes.
From chemistry point of view, honey crystallizes since it is listed among the over-sugar saturated solutions. Honey has a very high content of sugar, about 70% sugars. The water content on the other hand is about 20% and this means, the water in honey has more sugar content to hold than it naturally should.
Is crystallized honey bad?
Many people keep asking if crystallized honey is safe to eat. Actually, there are many people who prefer crystallized honey since it is easy to use, for instance, when you want to spread it on your bread. National Honey Board states that; it is very normal for honey to crystallize and whichever type of honey, it crystallizes at long last.
The only time crystallized honey is not friendly is when the crystals formed are too hard that they cannot even be spread. In such a case, it is advisable to turn the honey back to liquid. All in all, crystallized honey is not honey ‘gone bad’ and it is very okay if you eat it.
Does honey go bad if left out
You now realize that, whether honey will go bad or not is much dependent on how you store it. Honey left out in the open goes bad very easily. In the environment is a lot of moisture. Due to the high sugar concentration in honey, it attracts a lot of moisture.
When the water content of honey increases, it means that the chances of the honey going bad increases as discussed above. The high-water content creates an environment that favors survival of bacteria and microorganisms.
High water content from the moisture acquired makes it difficult to dry the cells of the bacteria in honey. With initial low water content, the cells are dried of water and so the bacteria cannot survive. Therefore, leaving honey outside is a big risk if you really want to use your honey for a long time.
Can honey ferment and is fermented honey safe?
Fermentation of honey
Honey can ferment when not stored properly. The main determinant of honey fermentation is the water content in the honey. Raw honey unlike processed honey is not pasteurized and that increase the chances of its fermentation. This means that raw honey contains live yeast. When not properly stored, this honey acquires moisture from the surrounding allowing the yeast to grow.
The grown yeasts are responsible for the fermentation of raw honey. When the sugars in honey ferment, more yeast is made. Apart from that, there is formation of alcohol, acetic acid and carbon dioxide all of which work together to change the flavor of honey.
US Agriculture handbook number 335 Beekeeping In The United States explain that, yeast only grow when the moisture content is above 17 and 18.5 % and this depends on how many yeast spores are present. This means, not unless raw honey contains moisture that exceeds 17%, it can be stored at room temperature comfortably without any fermentation.
You will also realize that crystallized honey is more prone to fermentation when compared to non-crystallized honey. The moisture of the left liquid after honey crystallizes increases making it easy for fermentation to take place.
You are therefore advised to store your honey in a refrigerator if at all you prefer crystallized honey. Yeast cannot grow under temperatures below 50 degrees F. This means then that refrigerating is one way to prevent your honey from fermenting.
Safety of fermented honey
Fermented honey may still be good to eat but you realize that the taste is not pleasant. You do not have to dispose the fermented honey even if the taste is awful. You can store the already fermented honey in a refrigerator to stop the yeast from growing or you can heat the honey in a hot water bath to 160 degrees to pasteurize it and kill the yeast.
What makes honey dark-is honey turned dark bad?
Honey may be dark depending on the nectar from which it was made. Some nectar may be darker. Even that, as honey gets older, regardless of the nectar color, it turns dark following oxidation and aging.
When honey turns dark, it does not mean that it is bad. You can enjoy your darkened honey as long as it has not lost the desired flavor. When the taste of honey changes, consider getting new honey to avoid any discomforts after taking the old honey.