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Crystallized honey. What does it mean? Is it good?

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Crystallization of honey is an absolutely natural phenomenon that usually occurs when we have low temperatures late in autumn or winter. It does not mean, in any way, that honey is of poor quality or adulterated but just the opposite. Pure and untreated honey tends to crystallize over time. Crystallization does not affect honey except its color and texture. Crystallized honey is not damaged and retains the taste and its quality characteristics of liquid honey. Some consumers prefer honey to be crystallized as it is easy to spread on bread without dripping as well as giving a richer flavor. Many consumers, prefer to buy crystallized honey for the above reasons.

But why does honey crystallize?

Honey is a very concentrated solution of natural sugars. It contains more than 70% sugars and less than 19% water. There are many sugars in honey in proportion to water content. This means that the water in the honey contains an extra amount of sugars than it could naturally hold. Sugars hyperavailability makes honey unstable as we are now talking about a supersaturated solution.

Honey consists mainly of fructose and glucose. Depending on the type of honey, the content of these sugars varies and ranges for fructose from 30-44% and glucose from 25-40%. The fraction of these two main sugars is the main reason that leads to the crystallization of honey, and the relative percentage each time determines whether it crystallizes quickly or slowly. What crystallizes is glucose due to its lower solubility. Fructose is more soluble in water than glucose and remains in a liquid state.

Depending on the honey we have different crystallization rates. The following factors influence the rate of crystallization:

(I) the source of the nectar that bees collect

(ii) the methods by which the honey is processed

(iii) the temperature in the maintenance and storage of honey.

The higher the glucose content and the lower the water content of the honey, the faster the crystallization occurs. Conversely, honey with less glucose than water is a less saturated glucose solution and crystallizes slowly.

The rate of crystallization depends not only on its composition but also on the presence of catalysts such as seed crystals, pollen grains, and honey bee pieces of wax. These small particles serve as nuclei for crystallization. Pure and unrefined honey (unheated and unfiltered) contains pieces of wax, pollen and propolis, and crystallizes quickly.

In order to make honey more attractive to consumers, is usually processed (eg heating and filtering) and remains in liquid form more than raw honey because of the elimination of nuclei, which stimulate the growth of glucose crystals.

The storage temperature has a great effect. Crystallization is faster at temperatures of about 10-15 °C. At a temperature below 10 °C, crystallization is slowed down. Low temperature increases the viscosity of honey (honey is thicker when it cools), and this slows the formation and diffusion of the crystals. Honey resists crystallization better at higher temperatures above 25 °C. When the temperature is 40 °C the crystals dissolve. Temperatures above 45 °C begin to ruin the honey.

Crystallized honey may return to its liquid form and consistency with gentle warming or light heating of its packaging indirectly and not with direct flame in a container.

Overheating of honey for any length of time will reduce its quality mainly by destroying enzymes, losing its fine taste and aromas, and changing the color. Heating should be done with care, patience and at the right temperature (no more than 50 °C).

Indicatively we mention the time period of crystallization of certain types of honey produced in Greece:

HONEY / MONTHS

Fir / does not crystallize

Pine / 24

Chestnut / 12-18

Thyme / 8-18

Various flowers / 1-3