Honey-Gone-Good and Honey-Gone-Bad - Case Studies

Image Creamed Honey Honey does not go “bad” as many foods do; it remains wholesome after decades. -Eva Crane, “A Book of Honey”

Crane is describing “real” honey – that which is raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized. While real honey may not go “bad”, such as developing mold, high-glucose honey may have color, texture, flavor and, most important, nutritional changes that compromises its health benefits.

Ancient cultures stored raw, unfiltered, liquid-honey in porous, sealed jars, stacking them in cold caves. This was a very intentional food-preservation method which brilliantly controlled the speed that high-glucose honey did, or did not, crystallize. Controlling crystallization created a wholesome honey that stored well for years, and even decades.

Where and how you store honey makes a huge difference between honey-gone-bad and honey-gone good.

Two friends contacted me, each lamenting they’d “ruined” their raw, unfiltered liquid-honey, purchased from local beekeepers last September.

One friend placed her glass jar of honey on the top shelf of her kitchen cabinets. The other friend placed her plastic buckets of fresh, raw honey in her root cellar under the bottom shelf.

In both cases, the honey was out-of-sight, out-of-mind and when discovered, served as a bit of a surprise party! In both cases, the honey’s viscosity, color, texture, aroma and flavor were dramatically different than when first stored. The most noticeable difference was the change in viscosity, once free-flowing liquid, now a thick, creamed honey, the result of naturally-occurring super-fine crystallization which occurs in high-glucose honey.

One was edible, its color a beautiful, light-taupe; the other was inedible, its color a dark, mahogany brown, an indication of naturally-occurring toxins, the result of erratic temperature fluctuations. More on that in a bit. First, let’s compare the storage methods –

Kitchen Cabinet Stash – The dark-brown, near-mahogany honey was stored on the top-shelf of the kitchen cabinet. Temperatures had fluctuated between 68F and 90F, a range that kept the honey in a perpetual state of crystallizing or liquefying, never remaining constant.

Because the moisture had no way of escape, the honey fermented towards sour and alcohol, evidenced by the clear liquid floating on top a more solid brown mass. Temperatures that we might not consider to be excessively warm, damage honey –

“Honey stored at 77°F for 40 days will incur as much damage as honey heated to 145 °F for 60 minutes.” Cornell University Master Beekeeper program

Root Cellar Stash – Constant, stable root-cellar temperatures were 55°F, ideal for small-crystal development, created an evenly-colored, light-tan, naturally-creamed honey with only a slight surface “crust”.

The plastic covers were bulging, ready to “blow their lid” – there’s a fine-line between crystallization and fermentation. Plastic is a poor choice for long-term storage, a topic covered in our Honey Storage Tips article.

“It is best to minimize temperature fluctuations and avoid storing honey near heat sources.” National Honey Board, Shelf-Life Stability Report

To Eat or Not To Eat – That Was The Question

Understandably, both friends questioned whether or not they had been so neglectful of their honey, that it had spoiled, having gone bad.

“Honey [raw and unfiltered] is highly stable against microbial growth because of its low water activity, low moisture content, low pH, and antimicrobial constituents.” – Cornell University “Master Beekeeper – Shelf-Life and Stability”

Image Brown Honey While honey may well remain stable in its ability to fight off microbial growth, that doesn’t mean its nutrients, enzymes, aroma and flavor are stable. Color is a good indication of damage, and especially so when it comes to a naturally-occurring enzymes resulting from roller-coaster temperatures shifts and storage inability.

HMF is a sugar breakdown product. Its presence was once considered to be a marker for the adulteration of honey with commercial invert syrup, however it has since been found that HMF can occur naturally in honey through improper heat processing or extended storage. As such, HMF is used as indicator of honey quality since it increases with temperature and storage time. European Food Standards Agency

New evidence in the last few years suggests that a naturally-occurring enzyme, Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) increases in strength, while honey’s nutritional benefits decrease. While HMF isn’t isolated strictly to honey – occurring in a wide-range of heated products including corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit juices – there is ongoing research studying HMF’s impact on human-health.

We do know, that HMF high-fructose corn syrup kills bees, and has been linked to DNA damage in humans. European honey standards measure HMF, which, when exceeding unacceptable limits, honey is prohibited for human consumption. The United States has no such testing or standards.

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