A tale you might have heard goes like this: Explorers found a batch of ancient honey in an Egyptian pyramid, and it was in perfect condition, unspoiled, after 3,000 years. Meanwhile, my blackberry honey crystallizes in my basement in the damp forests of North Carolina. So I wonder: What went wrong? What you might not know is that some types of honey are more prone to crystallization, fermentation or molding than others, and that methods of honey storage make all the difference. Regardless of whether the story of the Egyptian honey is true (National Geographic says it is), to a large extent, the way we store our honey has the greatest impact on its ability to remain edible.
When stored properly, we know honey can be enjoyed almost indefinitely. In the hive, honey is rarely left untouched for more than a season; it’s either harvested by the beekeeper or eaten by the bees through the winter and replaced by new nectar come spring. Here are a few tips to remember when considering honey storage.
1. Choose the Right Container
Once harvested, honey should be stored in a clean, dry, airtight container. Honey contains very little water content (less than 18 percent moisture), so bacteria does not grow very easily in it. This is one reason it has such a long shelf life. The ideal container for long-term honey storage is glass. Glass does not warp, does not leach chemicals, and it’s easy to keep airtight. A food-grade plastic would be a second choice, but any plastic leaches chemicals over time. Never store honey in metal, as the material will cause the honey to oxidize. And remember: Tighten the lid to keep moisture out.
2. Maintain Consistent Temperature
Many people believe that room temperature is sufficient for honey storage, but what constitutes “room temperature” varies greatly between locations, individual homes and even rooms in the same house. Generally, a temperature between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is a good range. All the better if you can keep the temperature from going far above or below that range. Also keep honey out of direct sunlight or near a stove or other appliance where it might be subject to extreme heating and cooling often.
3. Avoid Inadvertent Contamination
Especially with large containers of honey, practice good hygiene and mindfulness when handling or using honey. Never double-dip a spoon or utensil into a honey jar, especially if it has touched another liquid. This might happen after a spoon has been dunked into a mug of tea; doing so will reintroduce excess moisture (the tea on the wet spoon) causing the honey to ferment and spoil over time. In small jars of honey that are used very quickly, this might not be a problem. But if you go long periods between using your honey, it’s best to be careful and avoid double dipping. The good news is that you can lick the honey off of two spoons now!
4. Don’t Worry if Honey Crystallizes?
If you reach for the honey jar and find sparkly, golden crystals, don’t worry. Crystallization (also called “granulation”) is a natural process that occurs over time with almost all honey. Even properly stored honey may crystallize over time. The good news? It’s still edible (as long as it hasn’t fermented) and will easily return to its more liquid state when warmed. You can use crystallized honey as it is, or you can gently warm it over a very, very low heat to return it to its liquid state. Either way, the honey is fantastic.