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The other night some friends of mine tried to convince me that decrystallizing honey is bad for the honey. I don't buy it.

Is there any truth to their claims? I couldn't find anything to support them--or even anything considering the question at all.

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3 Answers 3

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Honey contains lots of aromatic compounds, which are quite big, fragile molecules. This is one of the reasons why cold centrifuged honey costs more. When you decrystalize honey by heating it, many of these aromatic molecules break up, and you lose the complexity of the aromas. So yes, it is bad for the honey. Also, it may reduce its health benefits, as vitamins and other micronutrients tend to degrade under heat (but only some of them - others, like trace minerals, are quite unimpressed by temperature).

Of course, the question is not only if it is bad, but if it is worse than eating crystalized honey. This depends on 1. The honey quality and 2. the way you plan to use the honey. With the honey quality, it is obvious that, if the honey has already been heated in the production process, the volatile stuff has already been destroyed, so subsequent heating for decrystalization is not a problem. But if you spent money on cold centrifuged honey, you are negating its benefits by heating it.

About the use: If you will heat it anyway (as in putting it in tea, or baking it into a dough), there is no reason not to decrystalize first. Also, if you are only using it as a sweetener, even cold, there is no problem in heating it. But if you are using it as an aromatic agent, like in a creme fraîche and honey dressing for a fruit salad, or using it as a bread spread, then it will taste better if never heated. It will still have a general honey taste and aroma, but the subtle notes will be missing. Whether this bothers you or not depends on whether you rate aroma or texture higher. My personal choice is to not heat honey in these cases, but your preference might be different. Probably the best way to decide is to take a small amount of crystalized good quality honey, heat it, and compare it side-by-side with the crystalized version. Then use whatever version you like better.

If you happen to like the decrystalized one more, it is probably a good idea to not spend money on fancy honeys in the future ("cold-centrifuged lavender honey from South France" etc.), as it won't taste all that different from a common wildflower honey after decrystalization.

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Crystallized honey is harmless. It is the natural precipitation of glucose out of the supersaturated solution. As shown in the first link, and recommended here, if you don't wish to use crystalline honey then you simply heat it.

The ideal storage temperature for honey is below 50 F (10 C). Temperatures between 50-70 F (10-21 C) will encourage crystalliztion. Very warm temperatures in the range of 70-81 F (21-27C) will discourage crystallization but degrade the quality of the honey. Temperatures in excess of 81 F (27 C) will prevent crystallization but will significantly degrade the honey and encourage fermentation and spoilage. You can read all of this and more on the Honey Hotline Fact Sheet (PDF).

So yes, while heating is the recommended method for de-crystallizing honey. repeatedly doing this will degrade your honey over time. That doesn't stop me though, I tend to use my honey before it crystallizes. If not, I never find myself heating it more than a few times.

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I'm just a humble beekeeper. I went about my business doing what I do, ignorant of other ways or ideas. I sell my honey at a local food co-op, being the only local beekeeper who can meet their demand. I did a taste-tasting event one day where I got to interact with those who buy honey. WOW! What an eye opening experience. There were folks who would not ever consider buying my honey because it was liquid (I just harvested it three days ago!) and instead opted for the "raw" honey that had traveled thousands of miles and through various customs agents to get to their shopping cart.

Bees make liquid honey. Honey naturally crystallizes. Not all honey crystallizes at the same time. As a relatively small time beekeeper, I extract all my own honey. I get it from the bees, and spin it out a few hours later. I keep the room I extract in a balmy 80 degrees and have no problem extracting it or bottling it at this temp. I have never even heard of "heating" my honey to extract it... I guess the HUGE producers have to do that, they don't tend their own bees, but contract with commerical beekeepers. They are harvesting days to weeks after the honey has been taken from the bees.

In summertime a beehive can easily be over 100 degrees inside. Yes, it can be over 100 degrees where the honey is when the bees have it. I call this the biological norm temp.

The previous responders were right in that compounds in the honey do denature when it's heated. I couldn't find the link, but there is a good article on the half-life of enzymes in honey at various temperature... at high heat, they can disappear quickly. But at temperatures below 110, they are relatively stable... at 90 even more so. If I need to decrystallize honey, I stay around 90-100 degrees and decrystallize slowly. Again, 90-100 degrees is within the biological norm for honey; I don't feel I compromise the integrity of my honey with heat.

P.S. There is no USDA definition for "raw honey". As a beekeeper, I find it a meaningless term. One person could live in a climate where he harvests and bottles at 100 degrees, and another could harvest on day that is 60 degrees, but heat her harvesting and bottling area up to 90 degrees. Is his "raw" but hers not raw because she heated her working space?

P.S.S. Buy from small time beekeepers... they don't have the fancy equipment to heat or "cook" honey.

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P.S.S.S. As a beekeeper, I have NEVER heard the term "cold centriguged honey". I feel sorry any foolish guy who is waiting til its 50 outside to harvest his honey and watch him extract at an agonizingly slow pace. Again, that same honey was just 100 or hotter just a few weeks earlier. –  FameFlower Nov 21 '11 at 20:01

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