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I buy raw, unfiltered honey from the grocery store in jars sold/packed directly by the farmer. When I had used the last jar to about half, I noticed the honey beginning to dry(crystalize?) to the point where I couldn't use the honey around these spots. Not too long after this, the entire jar had crystallized into a block of unusable hard stuff.

I didn't do anything differently with this jar than the last jar, but only now am I having the issue. My question(s):

Why is the honey crystallizing, and why so rapidly?

1) Is the honey unusable at this point?

2) Should I store the honey differently after purchasing it(move from jar to other container)?

3) I've never seen this happen to the filtered, strained(fake) honey from the store, so what causes this to happen in the raw and unfiltered form?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 33 down vote accepted

Honey is entirely useable after crystallization. This is a natural and spontaneous process and doesn't affect the honey negatively in terms of flavor or quality. It's dependent upon the sugar content of the particular honey, and in particular the crystallization speed is determined by:

  1. the nectar source collected by bees (the sugar composition of honey),
  2. the methods in which honey is handled (processed) and
  3. the temperature in preservation.

To re-liquefy, gently heat it in a water bath in its container, up to 40°C (104 °F) - the temperature of a beehive in the summer. Beyond this will damage the honey.

Don't store honey in a cold area - the optimum temperature is 20-27 °C (70-80 °F). Ideal crystal formation occurs at 11-18 °C (52-64 °F), and storing in the refrigerator accelerates the process.

More information in the PDF at the bottom of this post.

Reference:

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1  
Microwave also works to dissolve the crystals. 15-30 seconds with the top off the container. Honey heats up fast! –  Wayfaring Stranger Apr 28 at 12:29
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Be very careful in the microwave though because if you have a plastic container it can melt and even if it is glass there can be some very hot spots and some un-affected spots depending on your microwave. Warm water seems best. –  Brad Apr 28 at 16:26
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Please don't microwave. There's not much point in raw unfiltered honey it it gets too hot, as derivative says. Your microwave may well boil the edges and leave the centre cold, the warming should be slow and gradual. (I love crystallised honey, great texture for toast as long as your bread is tough enough for the spreading). –  Adam Eberbach Apr 29 at 1:40
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More to the point with a microwave it might heat in a way that causes the glass to shatter as the honey expands into a liquid again. Warm water is the safety, best way. –  indofraiser Apr 29 at 13:01
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@indofraiser Has that happened to you? It shouldn't if the container is open; besides which, liquids that solidify as crystals usually shrink when they melt back to liquid form. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 29 at 21:50

Crystals breed crystals, so once a sugary substance starts to crystallize, it will seem to crystallize very rapidly. Gently warm it in a water bath or the microwave and the crystals will dissolve.

This is very common with "raw" honey, but it happens with processed honey as well. It's normal.

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  1. Crystalized honey is perfectly safe to eat. Warming the honey should return it to liquid form. This is usually best done by placing the closed container into warm water (to the touch, but not so hot that you can't hold your hand in it) until the crystals break down (drying, opening and stirring the container, if possible, will help to evenly warm the honey and thus prevent crystals from forming off of any fragments you may accidentally leave behind). If you are impatient, you can also warm the container in a microwave, but you should keep a close eye on it so that the container does not melt, and be VERY careful when handling it. I highly recommend that if you choose to use a microwave oven, that you warm it in 5-10 second intervals with frequent stirring. Hot honey can cause severe burns. My brother has a permanent scar about 2.5 inches in diameter on the back of his wrist from a honey warming accident when he was young.

  2. So long as the original container is air tight, you won't really benefit from moving it from one container to another. However, keeping it in a stable "room temperature" environment (around 72 degrees) should help to prevent crystals from forming quickly. Cold environments cause crystallization to occur much more rapidly, since the molecules slow down and can cling together more easily.

  3. One possible cause of this is that most honey sold in stores is pasteurized - the honey is treated to kill bacteria and prepare the honey for "long term" storage. This process has the added benefit of breaking down any crystals that have started to naturally form in the honey. With vastly reduced auantity of crystal deposits, additional crystals take longer to form. This also typically gives the "fake" honey a smoother texture, and a slightly different flavor (regardless of the crystals that build up easily, I prefer non-pasteurized myself).

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Honey crystalizes because of the crystals and and solids(pollen, wax, dust and microbes suspended in it. Filtered honeys have much less of this and thus are less likely to crystalize, also less likely to taste like honey. Some honeys are more prone to this than others due to a high sucrose content, while others with a high fructose content almost never crystalize(tupelo, pure sourwood, which is rare)

It's a myth that honey doesn't spoil. If crystallized too long some will spoil, as the sucrose crystalizes the remaining water dilutes the other sugars. When the moisture content gets above 18-20percent microbes can grow. Due to the high osmotic pressure and acidity it's almost impossible for anything harmful to grow in it but some plucky yeasts and fungi will begin to break it down. This can affect flavor, usually mildly but can add an alcohol or vinegar funk.

Any gentle reheating will dissolve the crystals. Keep it below 140 degrees to maintain flavor. As long as it smells good and doesn't have any obvious fungi it is safe to eat.

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Just soak jar/bowl of honey in dish of hottish water for a while and it will soften and usually go runny; that's if you aren't looking for a more scientific answer..!

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