Does Honey Expire?
One of the main questions I get asked at our shops is, “does honey expire?”
The answer is no!
Honey is one of the very few foods that when stored properly, can last forever.
Archaeologists excavating Egyptian tombs have found pots of honey 3000 years old, still well preserved.
It sounds almost magical, how could this be?
To provide some insight into this, let's dive into a little bit of what honey is and how it is produced.
What exactly is Honey?
Honey is the product of sweet nectar collected by bees, which is mixed with saliva and enzymes and taken back to the hive to ripen and be used as food.
The composition of honey depends on multiple factors, including the species of bees, and the plants and flowers they use. These differences produce different colours and flavours.
The plant's nectar is technically just bait used to attract insects. While the bees are busy collecting this sugary nectar from plants, they accumulate bits of pollen, which carries the genetic material of the plant. As they move from flower to flower, they deposit bits of pollen from previous flowers, spreading the plant's genes. Pollination is an essential part of plant reproduction, and flowers fertilized by this process can later yield fruits and seeds.
The bees consume a small amount of the nectar they collect, and carry the rest back to the hive.
Back at the hive, the nectar goes through a process by the worker bees which thickens it by evaporating the water. They also mix it with digestive enzymes that break down the sugar, starch and proteins, increasing its acidity.
Once the nectar has gone through this process, the bees deposit it into the honeycomb, where it continues to get thicker.
So why does honey last so long?
Three secret ingredients: High sugar content and low moisture, acidity, and antimicrobial properties.
Thanks to the bee's work in evaporating moisture, honey has very little water.
On top of this, it is composed of about 80% sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, meaning they have the ability to absorb moisture from the air.
Honey in its natural state has such low moisture that bacteria and microorganisms cannot survive in that environment.
Aside from its high sugar content and low moisture, honey is naturally very acidic. It has a pH between 3 and 4.5, making it an environment that doesn’t allow for bacterial growth.
Honey’s effectiveness in killing certain bacteria is part of what makes it an excellent treatment for burn wounds and ulcers, to prevent and treat infections.
The low pH of honey also makes it compatible with many food products in terms of pH and acidity. For example, honey has the ability to “smooth” the flavour of very acidic products such as lemon juice or vinegar, making it a highly valuable ingredient in sauces, dressings, condiments, and beverages.
Third, honey has molecules in it that fight bacteria.
Bees secrete an enzyme called glucose oxidase during honey production, which helps to preserve the honey. As the honey ripens, this compound converts sugar into gluconic acid and produces a compound called hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide breaks down the cell walls of bacteria.
Additionally, naturally unheated or raw honey also contains other antimicrobial compounds such as defensin-1, an antibiotic that bees produce as part of their immune system.
This is why honey has been used in most ancient cultures for both nutritional and medical purposes. Its healing benefits both topically and orally continue to be used today to treat many diseases including bacterial infections.
Altogether, these properties of low moisture to high sugar, acidity, and antimicrobial properties make it incredibly stable and long-lasting, as long as it’s not exposed to outside moisture or humidity.
How to store honey
Honey can go bad if it absorbs too much water, so it’s essential to keep it in a sealed container.
It can also begin to change colour or crystallize, but this is normal and fine as long as the moisture levels stay low.
If crystallization happens, just remove the lid from the jar, place it in a pan of water, and warm it over low heat until the honey returns to its original consistency.
Though it does last for an incredibly long time, for the best flavour and quality it is best to consume your honey within the first year or two.
It’s amazing to think that some of the smallest creatures on this earth have the ability to produce one of the few foods that can last for thousands of years without degrading, and continue to be used as medicine today.
If you do want to receive all of its medicinal benefits, be sure to purchase high-quality, raw honey.
Where to find the best raw honey?
BCB Honey has won multiple international awards for taste, quality, and purity. In a number of studies, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance testing (NMR for short) has shown that many types of store-bought honey are adulterated with other sugar syrups such as rice and corn. NMR is a very sensitive technique that is also used for testing fruit juices and wines.
Results from NMR testing showed that our honey comes from 100% pure flower nectar, containing no sugar syrups.
Our honey can be purchased in-store in British Columbia or online at www.bcbhoneyfarm.com