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I've heard that "honey never spoils", but I'm incredulous. Is this true, and if so, how? Isn't there some indicator that I should throw the honey in my cupboard away?

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I've always heard that too, but this source says to only keep it for a year: simplystated.realsimple.com/2012/05/03/how-to-store-condiments I'm curious to know if they're making things up or what –  Yamikuronue May 14 '12 at 18:44
    
www.foresthoney.com/index.php?acao=glossary&glossary_id=14 was linked in this answer cooking.stackexchange.com/a/2023/6317 as stating honey has been found over a thousand years old and still edible –  Yamikuronue May 14 '12 at 18:45
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This question was asked over at Skeptics, too: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/7247/4020 –  Flimzy May 14 '12 at 22:12
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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Honey is very stable for a number of reasons. The main ones though are the low amount of water (most honey is under 18% water) and the high amount of sugar (which is a preservative). Both of these things keep things like mold and bacteria from being able to grow. Over a long period of time (and if left unsealed) the honey could absorb moisture and then ferment (the sugar would turn to alcohol) but if sealed then your honey should be fine for a long time. This PDF from the National Honey board http://www.honey.com/images/downloads/shelflife.pdf says that a shelf life of 2 years is often stated. On Chowhound I saw a discussion that said that in the UK the "best by" dates are usually 4 years out so I'm guessing that those dates have far more to do with decisions by the respective governments (i.e. laws that state a maximum best by date no matter what the food is) then the actual shelf life of honey. As the honey in your cupboard, if it's only a few months or a year old as long as it's been in a sealed container then it most likely should be fine.

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If it is allowed to crystallize the honey can also separate enough that the liquid portion becomes dilute enough to spoil. –  Sobachatina May 14 '12 at 19:01
    
@Sobachatina, how would you tell that the honey is spoiled? I have had crystallized honey and microwaved it for a short time and it appeared, tasted and worked like it was good as new. –  Cos Callis May 14 '12 at 19:49
    
@Cos, Crystallization doesn't imply that it is spoiled- it can just allow it to spoil. I've never had honey go bad either so I don't know if it molds or just starts to ferment. –  Sobachatina May 14 '12 at 20:01
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Honey also "inherits" the properties of the flowers it was made of. Many honeys include at least some nectar from herbs with bactericidal qualitites, up to the point where a tablespoon of certain honeys can prevent your bread from raising because it will kill all the yeast. But the strength of their antimicrobial qualities depends a lot on the flower type used, and you can't normally know much about that. –  rumtscho May 14 '12 at 20:55
    
@Sobachatina, I understand that crystallization does not mean spoiled, but your comment implies that this would be an indicator and I was wanting to know how (beyond just crystallization) one might tell.. appearance, smell, picket signs reading "occupy...." are typical signs of spoilage. –  Cos Callis May 15 '12 at 4:12
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