What Causes Honey Crystallisation?
You’ve almost certainly seen it, even if you didn’t know what it was called.
Let’s set the scene. You buy a beautiful jar of honey from the store and it is in a luscious and gooey liquid form. As it sits in your cupboard shelf over time however, it starts to get grainy, crunchy and may even become completely solid?
That’s called crystallisation!
For some reason, there is a perception that honey that crystallises has "gone bad" or that it is a sign of contamination. FALSE! It's the result of a natural process, and we need to start embracing crystalised honey.
So why is this?
Honey is a super-saturated solution of two sugars: glucose and fructose. Since it is super-saturated, it's a natural chemical process that some of these sugars will eventually come out of solution. The sugars separating from the solution, is known as crystalisation. These crystals tend to multiply rapidly, so what’s left in your jar after a while isn’t something “different” to your original honey – it’s just honey in a semi-solid or solid form.
It doesn’t help that the colder weather can increase the appearance of these honey crystals. So, the fix? Just pop your jar of honey into a warm water bath and stir – it will soon be soft and runny again in no time.
And let’s be honest, most of us probably usually use honey in our baking, coffee or slathered on hot toast anyways…
In the battle to fight food waste, we are now working closely with Zealandia Honey, a locally owned honey producer. This local and sustainable business has a batch of Raw Kanuka honey that has just started to show signs of sugar separation. We are lucky enough here at Misfit Garden, that we can now offer this RAW & ORGANIC honey as an add-on to your weekly order! For 30% less than the original RRP!
This Kānuka Honey has a smooth texture and aromatic flavours with hints of caramel ending in beautiful floral notes.
Raw & Organic Kānuka Honey - Zealandia
Want more science? Then read on!
What causes the crystallization of honey? Here comes the science.
The reason honey is sweet is because it’s primarily composed of sugar. Approximately 70% of honey is either fructose or glucose, around 10% is made up of disaccharides (double or complex sugars), and about 20% of honey is water. Minerals, vitamins and other substances are only a very small percentage of honey’s composition; it’s basically a delicious sugar solution!
The simple sugar-to-water content ratio of 70% to 20% is what’s most important, because that’s much more sugar than can remain naturally dissolved in water. In chemistry terms, that means honey in its natural state is a “supersaturated solution.”
Honey is initially condensed into liquid form in the hive. That’s due to the enzymes it contains, and the evaporation of water caused when honey bees flap their wings rapidly over the honeycomb. But after the beekeeper harvests the honey, the delicate sugar-water balance can’t remain forever. Glucose has less ability to remain dissolved than fructose (chemists call property that “lower solubility”), so eventually, the chains of glucose in the honey begin to break down.
As glucose molecules begin falling out of the sugar-water solution, they attach themselves to pollen grains or other solid matter in the honey – and then to each other. So the crunchy stuff that develops during the process of crystallization in honey is really nothing more than a whole lot of sugar crystals. That’s why you can easily turn honey back into its liquid state by heating it: the heat simply melts the crystals, which are restored into the honey solution.
Just like snowflakes, not all crystals are the same. The faster honey crystallizes, the smaller and finer the crystals will be. If the crystals form over a long period of time, they’re more likely to be larger and grittier.