Does honey go off?
Many people believe that honey will never expire and is completely spoil-proof. We've heard the stories of jars of honey being unearthed from ancient tombs and finding the honey inside to be as good as the day they were sealed.
While it's true that honey does have an incredibly long shelf life, especially when sealed and kept in perfect conditions, that's not the exact conditions most of us keep honey in once we've bought it and started using it. Unfortunately it is possible to cause honey to go bad. However there are reasons for this and a number of things we can do to avoid it.
Why does honey have such a long shelf life?
There's a few main reasons why a jar of honey will last longer than almost everything else in a cool pantry:
- high sugar content
- low moisture content
- antibacterial properties
Honey is primarily made of sugars. Sugar is naturally very low in moisture, which most bacteria needs to grow, thrive and survive. It's the reason dampness and mould are so closely linked, moisture helps create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Without moisture it's far less likely and this is the main reason honey lasts so long.
As well as having very little moisture honey is also acidic, which might seem strange for something so sweet to taste but it's actually true! An average jar of honey has a pH of around 4, which is a fair way over on the acidic side of the pH scale from a neutral pH of 7. Most of this acid comes from gluconic acid, which is produced in the hive during the honey processing by the bees. The acidic nature of honey can also help stop the growth of micro-organisms.
The processing of the honey in a beehive also creates a small amount of a compound called hydrogen peroxide, which is an antiseptic with antibacterial properties. It's part of the reason why honey is effective as a wound treatment. It's also part of the reason why bacteria has such a hard time spoiling honey.
These are the 3 main reasons honey lasts so long. Some others are the fact that it's also quite dense, which means oxygen cannot easily absorb into it. Honey also contains a variety of other compounds and antibacterial agents, which may also add to its almost spoil-proof properties.
But you said it can still go bad?
Despite honeys antimicrobial properties, under some circumstances it can go off, unless you are actually planning on sealing your honey in a tomb and never opening it! There will always be a small risk that we could cause the honey to spoil, thankfully most of the reasons this might happen can be easily avoided.
It should be noted that getting your jar of honey from the cupboard and finding that it's 'gone off' is a very uncommon experience, something that most of us will never experience in fact. But contamination and poor storage could effect your honey in a negative way.
Contamination is the most likely reason for your honey to go off. As we've already stated, the main reason honey lasts so long is because of it's lack of moisture content. But what if we inadvertently allow moisture into our honey? Honey is hygroscopic, which means it doesn’t have much water content of its own, but readily absorbs water from its surroundings. It's best to think of honey like a sponge!
If we leave the lid off the jar in a kitchen near to our kettle or just open in a humid room even, then there's a high chance that the honey will start to absorb the water particles in the air. If it does that enough then that will increase the chance that bacteria could start to grow in the honey. It's the surrounding environment that's the real danger to our honey, so it's important to keep it sealed when we aren't using it.
Contamination could come from a spoon that wasn't completely clean, or just microbes passed from surfaces or in the air. Normally these wouldn't grow or reproduce in our honey and wouldn't do us or the honey any harm, but combined with honey that has a higher water content than it should have, it will always increases the risk.
How to tell if your honey has gone off.
Like most foods it's usually very easy to tell when something is off. Look for any mould on the honey's surface, which is unlikely unless you've left it open and out on the counter for weeks on end. The best way is always going to be to just to give it a sniff. Honey has a lovely sweet, slightly acidic smell. If it smells rancid or like the cat has had an accident, then it's not recommended that you use it!
How to look after your honey.
While it may be tempting to transfer your Just Bee Raw Honey into a cute little beehive honey pot and leave out for all your friends to admire, we recommend storing it in the container it arrives in. It has a good screw on lid and will keep moisture and any other contaminates out of your honey.
Some people like to keep their honey in the fridge which is absolutely fine but it may crystallize faster. In most cases we recommend a normal cool room temperature and a cupboard or shelf out of direct sunlight is almost always fine.
Avoid contamination from spoons or knives that aren't absolutely clean. If you like honey on toast don't dip a buttery knife in your honey, for example.
Keep moisture and contaminates out of your honey and it should literally last for years... or at least until you finish the jar, which always usually comes first in our case!