Every so often someone asks me how to decrystallize honey. Now, they don’t use those exact words. Usually, the conversation goes something like this.
“Um, I’m not sure what happened to the honey we bought but it’s really thick. Is it still good?”
“Why, yes, it’s perfectly fine, it’s just crystallized.” After educating them a bit on why honey crystallizes and why it’s actually a good thing, I share with them my method for how to decrystallize honey. It’s really easy and retains all the beneficial enzymes.
Why Does Honey Crystallize?
Honey is a supersaturation sugar solution. It’s about 70% sugar and less than 20% water which means it has way more sugar molecules than the water molecules can hold. When the sugar crystallized, it separates from the water and the crystals start stacking on top of each other. Eventually, the crystals will spread throughout the honey and the entire jar of honey will be thick or crystallized.
Sometimes the crystals will be quite large and sometimes they are small. The faster the honey crystallizes the finer the crystals will be. Crystallized honey will be lighter than liquid honey.
How fast honey crystallizes depends on several things such as what pollen the bees collected, how the honey was processed and the temperature the honey is stored at. If the bees collected alfalfa, clover, cotton, dandelion, mesquite or mustard, the honey will crystallize sooner than if the bees collected maple, tupelo, and blackberry. Maple, tupelo and blackberry honey have more glucose than fructose and the glucose crystallizes faster.
Before starting beekeeping, I had no idea honey could crystallize. I had only seen honey that is sold in stores, and that honey is never crystallized. Raw, unfiltered and unheated, honey has more particles such as pollen and pieces of wax in it than honey that has been heated and filtered through fine filters. These particles act as building blocks for the sugar crystals and will help the honey crystallize sooner.
Most store-bought honey will have been heated to 145°F for 30 minutes or 160°F for just a minute and then quickly cooled. The heating kills any yeast that can cause fermentation and ensures that the honey won’t crystallize on the shelves. However, it destroys most of the beneficial enzymes.
Lastly, honey will crystallize faster when it’s stored between 50-59°F. This means that it’s not a good idea to store honey in the refrigerator. Honey is best stored at temperatures above 77°F to avoid crystallization. The crystals will dissolve at between 95 -104°F, however, anything about 104°F will destroy the beneficial enzymes.
How to Prevent Honey from Crystallizing
When you process honey, filter it through an 80 micro filter or through a few layers of fine nylon to catch the smaller particles such as pollen and pieces of wax. These particles can start crystallization prematurely. If you’re using a DIY honey extractor you will naturally have more particles in the honey than if you’re uncapping comb from frames and spinning the honey out. Also, when you’re making your beehive plans, know that if you use a top bar beehive where you have to crush the comb to harvest the honey, your honey will probably crystallize.
Store the honey at room temperature; ideally between 70-80°F. Honey is a natural preservative and does not ever need to be refrigerated. Putting honey in the refrigerator will speed up the crystallization process.
Honey stored in glass jars will crystallize slower than honey stored in plastic jars. Also, if you infuse honey with herbs, expect that it will crystallize sooner if the herbs are leafy (such as rose or sage) rather than roots (such as ginger or garlic). The larger root pieces are easier to pick out and ensure you have it all.
How to Decrystallize Honey
The honey crystals will dissolve between 95-104°F. So that’s the trick, you want to heat the honey hot enough to melt the crystals but not so hot you destroy the beneficial enzymes.
If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, you can keep a jar of honey on the stove and the warmth from the pilot light will be enough to dissolve the crystals.
You can also use a double boiler. Put the jar of honey in a pot of water making sure that the water is high enough to come to the height of the honey in the jar. Heat the water to 95°F, I like to use a candy thermometer to make sure I don’t heat the honey over 100°F. I use the candy thermometer to stir the honey and once it’s all melted I turn off the burner and let the honey cool as the water cools.
There is always the possibility that the honey will crystallize again. You can decrystallize it again, however, the more you heat it the more you will degrade the honey. So I wouldn’t do it more than once or twice.
How do you decrystallize honey? Share your method in the comments below.