Honey naturally does not spoil when stored properly. There are several factors that make this possible. The first is the high concentration of sugars in the honey. The low moisture level of the honey makes it practically impossible for organisms to grow in honey. Natural raw honey is acidic. It has a PH level of 3 to 4.5, Organisms seek a more neutral environment to live and grow. Finally, it’s the natural enzymes that the bees use in the production of honey that prevents spoilage. During the process, the enzymes produce gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide is what gives the honey its medicinal properties and prevents spoilage. Honey is like liquid gold and is an investment. You want to get the most out of every amazing sweet drop! Bees can teach us a thing or two about storing honey, let’s look at the best tips on how to store raw honey.
How Do Bees Make Honey: A Recap
I have written a complete post all about raw honey. Here is an excerpt from that post. Honey is a supersaturated solution because it contains more dissolved material than water can dissolve. In the case of honey, supersaturation is achieved by added enzymes.
Honey is made from flower nectar that the bees gather from nectar-producing flowers. They use their straw-like tongue called proboscis to draw nectar out of the flower. They carry it in their crop or commonly called their honey stomach. The honey stomach is where enzymes are added to the nectar. This begins the transformation of nectar to honey. Once the forger bees return to the hive; they pass the nectar on to other bees within the colony. The house bees regurgitate and re-drink the nectar to continue the transformation. The transfer of nectar from bee to bee removes excess water and creates a diluted form of honey.
How Bees Store Honey
Once ready, the bees transfer the unripe honey to the honeycomb and leave it uncapped. The bees fan the honey with their wings further dehydrating it to reduce the water content. Once the honey reaches its optimum moisture content, the honeybees store honey by capping it to preserve it. The optimum moisture level is 15.5% to 18.6%. If the bees are working together as a well-oiled machine, the entire process takes about 45 days.
Tip #1 from Bees: Store in an Air Tight Container
The first thing we can learn from the honeybees on how they store honey is that once it’s at the perfect moisture level, the bees cap the honey. The first tip on how to best store raw honey is to keep it in an airtight container. For long-term storage, a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid is considered the best way to store honey. Food-grade plastic containers are also a safe option. Honey that is sold in bulk is kept in stainless steel containers, typically in 55-gallon barrels. Non-stainless steel metal containers are not appropriate for honey storage, as honey is naturally acidic and can react to metals.
When Philip and I began to sell our honey, we specifically bought glass jars because they are best for long-term storage. However, the feedback we got from our customers is that they prefer plastic containers because they are squeezable. We made the switch and have sold out of honey every year. Based on the number of repeat customers we get, long-term storage of honey isn’t necessary for most of them.
The key to the best honey container is a tight seal. Usually, the original container is ideal. A tightly sealed container prevents honey from absorbing moisture and odors. Which is especially important in humid climates. This maintains the low moisture content that is optimal for honey. Honey that has a high moisture level will be of lower quality and can begin to ferment.
Tip #2 from Bees: Store Honey Away from Heat
The optimal temperature of a bee hive is between 93 and 96 degrees. Bees can regulate the temperature inside the hive in several different ways. The best temperature to store your honey is room temperature, between 64 to 75 degrees. High temperatures will destroy the health benefits of using raw honey. Be mindful of keeping your jar of honey away from heat-producing appliances and direct sunlight.
A slightly cool location is ok, but you want to avoid refrigeration or cold storage (between 52 and 64 degrees) for excess honey. All raw honey is subject to crystallization, a natural chemical change. This can happen at any temperature, however, crystallization is accelerated by refrigerating honey. Additionally, it’s a good idea that honey is stored in a dark place to preserve the quality and flavor of your honey.
The great news is that even if your natural honey does crystalize, it’s not ruined. To learn how to gently return your honey to a liquid state by placing the honey jar in warm water, check out this post.
Honey can be frozen. As honey producers, we put our frames in the freezer as a means to store the honey before extraction. In fact, freezing the honey reduces the moisture content of any uncapped honey. Since it’s too cold for the honey to crystallize, it is a way to interrupt the crystallization process. While freezing honey is not a necessary means of long term storage of honey, it is an option.
Expiration Dates on Honey?
If you purchase a bottle of store-bought honey, it will likely have an expiration date on it. Honey has an almost indefinite shelf life. However, commercial products are usually dated for the best quality. Most will indicate the shelf life of a bottle of honey is one to two years from the date of bottling. This is a very interesting article that goes into much more depth on why honey does not spoil.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.