Honey is delicious, sweet food in many different flavors and colors, depending on where it is produced. Due to its high sugar and low water content, low pH value and antimicrobial properties, honey can remain fresh for years, decades or more. However, under certain circumstances, it may deteriorate or lose its attractiveness.
Honey is a sweet, natural substance produced by bees from nectar or plant secretions. The bees absorb the nectar of the flower, mix it with saliva, enzymes and store it in a sack of honey. Then they leave it in the hive to ripen and use it as food. Since the composition of honey depends on the species of bees, the plants and flowers they use, it can vary significantly in flavor and color, from clear and colorless to dark amber.
Honey consists of about 80% sugar and more than 18% water. The exact amount is determined by bee species, plants, air, and moisture treatment. It also contains organic acids such as gluconic acid, which are responsible for its characteristic acidic taste. In addition, the pollen contained in unfiltered honey contains very little protein, enzyme, amino acid, and vitamin. Nutritionally, the only important nutrient in honey is 17.2 grams and 65 calorie sugar per tablespoon (21 grams). There are also mineral traces such as potassium, especially in dark varieties. However, the amounts are too small to be nutritionally relevant.
Why Can Honey Be Stored For So Long?
Honey has several special properties that help it last for a long time, including its high sugar and low moisture content, an acidic nature and antimicrobial enzymes produced by bees.
- Very High in Sugar and Low in Moisture
Honey can inhibit the growth of many types of microbes, such as bacteria and fungi. It consists of about 80% sugar. High sugar content means that the osmotic pressure in honey is too high. This causes water to flow out of the germ cells and stop them from growing and reproducing. Also, although it contains about 17-18% water, the activity of the water in the honey is very low. This means that the sugar interacts with water molecules so that it cannot be used by microorganisms and that fermentation or breakdown of honey will not occur. In addition, oxygen is not easily dissolved, since honey is quite dense. This, again, prevents many microbe species from growing or multiplying.
- Acidic Structure
The pH of the honey ranges from 3.4 to 6.1, the average pH is 3.9, which is quite acidic. The main reason for this is the presence of gluconic acid produced during nectar maturation. Initially, the acidic environment of honey was thought to be responsible for preventing microbial growth. However, studies comparing varieties with lower and higher pH values could not find a significant difference in antimicrobial activity. However, for some bacteria, such as C. diphtheriae, E.coli, Streptococcus and Salmonella, an acidic environment is definitely hostile and prevents their growth. In fact, honey is so effective in killing some types of bacteria that it is used even in burn wounds and ulcers to prevent and treat infections.
- Bees Have Special Enzymes That Suppress Bacterial Growth
During honey production, bees secrete an enzyme called glucose oxidase into nectar to help protect honey. As honey ripens, glucose converts oxidase sugar to gluconic acid. It also produces a compound called hydrogen peroxide. This hydrogen peroxide is thought to contribute to the antibacterial properties of honey and help prevent the growth of microorganisms. In addition, honey has been found to contain a variety of other compounds, such as polyphenols, flavonoids, methylglyoxal, bee peptides and other antibacterial agents, which may also contribute to its antimicrobial properties.
Crystallization Does Not Mean Spoiling
There is an important point to be mentioned here. It is thought that the crystallization or freezing of honey means that honey is spoiled. Most consumers think that the crystallized honey is sugar-added and therefore saccharified. It is a completely natural phenomenon that honey is crystallized. It does not show that there is a sugar additive in honey. It mostly relates to storage conditions. It simply means a differentiation in the consistency, there is no change in the nutritional value or quality of honey. In fact, while the quality of the honey that is crystallized is suspected, frozen honey is preferred in various parts of the world for ease of consumption. It is also possible to return the crystallized honey to its former consistency, by just soaking in warm water for a short time.
It is also known that maggots may live in honeycomb honey. So how does this happen? This rarely seen situation is not related to honey itself, but to honeycombs. A type of moth called wax moth lays its eggs on the wax. These eggs ripen in a very long time. After the bees make honey on the honeycombs, the larvae turn into a kind of worm and come out of the honeycomb. In fact, those maggots you see are a good sign, not an abuse. Like having a maggot in fruit without medication. Because wax moths prefer the most natural ones, not with added or poor quality waxes. Well, isn’t there anything the beekeepers can do about this? Obviously not. It is not possible for the beekeeper to follow it or to see it visually. After the honey is harvested, there are methods such as cooling and heating the slats to the extent that the larvae cannot survive, but it is not economical and beekeepers do not like to intervene in honey even if it is not a harmful process.
When/How Does Honey Expire?
Despite its antimicrobial properties, honey may deteriorate under certain conditions or cause disease. These include contamination, toxic substances, improper storage and deterioration over time.
- Can Be Contaminated
Microbes that are found naturally in honey include bacteria, yeast, and mold. These come from pollen, bees’ digestive system, dust, air, dirt, and flowers. Due to the antimicrobial properties of honey, these organisms are often found in very small numbers and cannot reproduce. This means that there should be no health concern. Also, neurotoxin C. botulinum spores are found in very small amounts in 5-15% of honey samples.
This is usually harmless to adults. However, babies under the age of one year can develop baby botulism, which in rare cases can harm the nervous system, and cause a stroke or respiratory failure. Therefore, honey is not suitable for this young age group. In addition, a large number of microorganisms in honey can show secondary contamination during processing from humans, equipment, containers, wind, dust, insects, animals and water.
- May Contain Toxic Compounds
When bees collect nectar from certain types of flowers, plant toxins can pass to honey. A well-known example of this is “mad honey” caused by grayanotoxins in nectar from Rhododendron Ponticum and Azalea Pontica. Honey produced from these herbs can cause dizziness, nausea, problems with heart rhythm or blood pressure. In addition, a substance known as hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is produced during honey processing. While some research has found negative effects of HMF on health, such as damaging cells and DNA, other studies have also reported some positive properties such as antioxidative, anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory features. However, it is recommended that the final products do not contain more than 40 mg of HMF per kilogram of honey.
- May Contain Additives
Honey is an expensive, time-consuming food to produce. For this reason, it has been the target of adulteration for many years. It contains additives to add cheap sweeteners to increase volume and reduce costs. To cheapen production, bees can be fed corn syrups with sugar, cane, beet sugar or sugar syrups that can be added directly to the final product. Also, honey can be harvested before it ripens to speed up processing. This leads to higher and unsafe water content. Normally, bees store honey in the hive and dry it to contain less than 18% water. If the honey is harvested too early, the water content can be over 25%. This results in a higher risk of fermentation and bad taste.
- May Be Stored Incorrectly
If honey is stored incorrectly, it may lose some of its antimicrobial properties, become contaminated or begin to deteriorate. When left open or not properly closed, the water content may start above the safe level of 18% and increase the risk of fermentation. In addition, open jars or containers may allow the honey to be contaminated with microbes in the environment. If the water content is too high, they may reproduce. Heating the honey at high temperatures can also cause adverse effects by accelerating the deterioration of color, flavor and increasing the HMF content.
- Can Crystallize and Disintegrate Over Time
Even when stored properly, the crystallization of honey is quite normal. This is because it contains more sugar than it can dissolve. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, but the process causes some changes. Crystallized honey becomes whiter and lighter. It also becomes much more opaque rather than clear and may look grainy. It is safe to eat crystallized honey. However, water is released during the crystallization process, which increases the risk of fermentation. In addition, honey that has been stored for a long time may become darker and start to lose its taste and aroma. While this is not a health risk, it may not be as tasty or attractive.
Correct Storage and Use of Honey
How honey should be stored is as important as its naturalness and reality. Honey that is stored under suitable conditions keeps its freshness for a long time. That’s why it’s important to store it properly to get the most out of your honey’s long-lasting properties. An important factor for storage is humidity control. If too much water gets in your honey, the risk of fermentation increases and may worsen.
In order for honey not to lose its natural properties, it should be stored in places away from heat and light. The color and the chemical structure of the honey changes when exposed to heat for a long time. In addition, crystallization can be seen in honey that is kept between 10-15 degrees, kept in the refrigerator or exposed to frequent heat changes. For this reason, the ideal honey storage temperature is between 18-24 degrees. Another important point is to keep the honey closed. Otherwise, honey can absorb odors and moisture in the environment.
So what are the points to consider when storing the honey?
- Honey should preferably be stored in glass jars and jar lids should be tightly closed.
- Honey should be protected from sunlight and heat.
- Honey should not be put in the refrigerator and should also be protected from extreme cold.
- The ideal temperature for honey is room temperature.
- Honey should not be stored in open-mouthed boxes or bowls.
- Honey should be taken enough to be consumed from its jar.
- The jar where you put the honey should not be moist. Because moisture can have negative effects on honey.
- The lids of the jar where you will put the honey should be closed tightly. So the bad smells and moisture outside will not get in your honey.
- Honey should be kept away from heat sources such as oven or stove.
- Freezing honey is one of the methods of storage. When you want to consume it, it will be enough to take it out of the freezer and wait for it to thaw. However, as stated earlier, it is not appropriate to store the honey in the refrigerator.
Other tips on best storage practices include:
Store in an airtight container: Jars or bottles purchased from the store, glass jars, and stainless steel containers with an airtight lid are suitable.
Store in a cool dry place: Honey should ideally be stored below 10 ° C. However, it is generally convenient to store it in cold room temperatures between 10-20 ° C (50–70 ° F).
Cooling: Honey can also be kept in the refrigerator if desired. However, it can crystallize faster and become denser.
Heating if crystallized: If honey crystallizes, you can liquefy it by gently heating and mixing. However, do not overheat or boil. Because it spoils the color and flavor.
Avoid contamination: Prevent honey from getting contaminated with dirty containers, such as knives or spoons, which can allow bacteria, yeast, and mold to form.
If in doubt, throw it away: If you taste honey, it is frothy or you notice a lot of free water, it may be best to throw it away.
Remember that different types of honey can look and taste differently. For specific storage instructions, consult those labeled on your product.
Best Honey Containers That You Can Buy Online
- Mkono Honey Jar with Dipper and Lid Glass Beehive Honey Pot for Home Kitchen,9 Ounce, Clear (Price: $11.98)
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- honeycomb Shape Honey Pot Jar with Dipper Heat-Resistant Glass Storage Container Honey Pot Glass Honey Jar with Dipper and Lid Cover for Home Kitchen (Price: $10.99)
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