Honey's Shelf Life
Honey has an amazingly long shelf life. Thanks to the high concentration of sugars, honey is one of the most stable natural foods you will find. It can have an almost indefinite shelf life if it’s stored properly.
You will notice that honey producers put a “best by” date of about two years on the label. According to the National Honey Board, this is done for practical purposes because honey varies greatly. However, they do note that honey can be stable for decades and even centuries
In reality, the shelf life of honey depends on how it’s manufactured—whether it is pasteurized or raw, the packaging, etc.—and how it’s stored. There are some natural chemical changes that can occur, so you might notice it get dark or crystallize. It may also lose some of its flavor and aroma over time, though it will not “go bad” in the typical food spoilage sense.
Over time, liquid honey also tends to naturally crystallise – a process where the honey appears to be thickened, become lumpy and grainy (see the image below). The rate of crystallisation varies for the different types of honey. Tupelo honey and Acacia honey, for instance, tend to stay liquid and is able to resist crystallization better than other types of honey, whereas Dandelion, Clover and Lavender honey rush to crystallise. (Read more about Honey Crystallization HERE…)
Storing Honey for Short Term Use
1. Choose the right container, if necessary.
- Plastic buckets or containers
- Glass jars
- Mason jars
2. Select a room with a consistent temperature.
We often read from honey storage tips that honey can be kept at room temperature and should not be stored in too cold nor too hot place.
The problem here is it can be confusing because room temperature varies from country to country! For instance, where I live, room temperature sometimes could be as high as 35 degree C but I usually do not refrigerate my honey as cold temperatures hardens it and makes scooping and mixing it with other foods and beverages difficult, and it also speeds up the process of granulation (unless if I want to keep it for a years).
A kitchen pantry is generally a great place to store honey. However, keep honey away from the stove and out of the fridge. These places are prone to sudden changes in temperature.
3. Keep honey away from sunlight.
Store honey away from direct heat (eg near stove area, hot kitchen appliances) or sunlight (next to the windows) as excessive heat over time can affect honey properties. And this is the reason why some honey comes in dark containers.
However, these dark containers do not allow consumers to judge the color, viscosity, and crystallisation of the honey. While glass packaging is preferred by some people as glass is relatively neutral and doesn’t react with food and cause any chemical transfer, storing honey in food grade plastic containers should not pose any safety or health concern as well.
4. Make sure containers are tightly sealed.
You want to minimize the amount of air exposure honey gets. Make sure the jar or container you use is tightly sealed before putting honey away for storage. Honey’s flavor can be affected by flavors in the air, and honey can also absorb moisture when overexposed to air. This can also cause it to change color and flavor.
5. Avoid Moisture Absorption
Honey should be stored in a cool dry place, making sure that the container cap is on tight since honey tends to absorb moisture from the environment, which can cause fermentation and lower its quality. Always scoop honey from jars using a dry spoon as any introduction of water content into the jars should be avoided.
Crystallisation is easily reversible and does not affect the taste and quality of the honey at all, although it adversely changes its appearance. So, please don’t throw away sugary-looking honey, it hasn’t gone bad! It’s easy to restore granulated honey to its natural state, for instance you could put grainy honey on hot toast, the granules will melt as you eat.
Here’s few tips you can follow to avoid mishaps.
1. Fix honey that has crystalized.
Honey can last for years, and natural honey can theoretically last indefinitely. However, honey may start to crystalize after awhile. You can bring the honey back to its liquid state with boiling water.
First, bring a pot of hot water (about 40-60 degree C). Then, set your jar of honey into the pot. Keep the container tightly sealed. As soon as the granules are dissolved, remove the honey from the heat and let it cool as quickly as possible. Remember, avoid adding boiling hot water to honey!
Leave the honey container alone until it’s cool. The honey should have returned to its liquid state.
Honey that has been processed and heated will remain liquid for a few months. For this reason, some manufacturers do pasteurization whereby the honey is heated very quickly and then rapidly cooled to slow down the granulation process of the honey (especially for certain floral varietals) so that they will last longer in its liquid state (and look desirable) on the shelves.
2. Keep honey away from warmer areas in the kitchen.
Many people store honey in the kitchen. This is the most convenient place to store honey, as it’ll be on hand when you need to use it. However, keep it away from warmer parts of your kitchen. Excessive heat can harm honey. Do not store honey near an oven, for example.
3. When to Refrigerate Honey
For honey which possesses a naturally high moisture content, yeast may reproduce over time without proper storage, causing fermentation. While fermentation does not necessarily pose any health risk (mead by the way is fermented honey), some manufacturers pasteurize their honey to kill any yeast cell.
For honey that is very runny and requires long term storage, I would advise leaving it in the fridge to prevent any possible fermentation and change of taste.
Storing Honey Long Term
1. Select a container for your honey.
If you’re not going to use honey for a few months/years, it may crystalize. While this process is normal, and reversible, it can be a hassle. To prevent crystallization, you can store honey in the freezer. You will need a container with a little extra room, as honey will expand some when frozen.
If you just bought a jar of honey, you may need to use some of the honey or transfer it to a bigger container to make room in the jar. Some people like to use an ice tray to freeze honey. This way, when you need honey, you can thaw out one cube at a time. You can freeze honey in an ice tray and then transfer the cubes to a plastic bag.
2. Put your honey in the freezer.
Once you’ve transferred your honey to your chosen container, place it in the fridge. Honey can last a few years when stored in the freezer. While honey lasts a long time in the freezer, it’s never a bad idea to write down the date on frozen food items.
Should Metal Spoons be Used?
One more very frequently asked question – should metal spoons be used for scooping honey? While some people believe metallic composites can affect the taste of foods, I personally love wooden cutlery but don’t see why stainless steel spoons should not be allowed and why the brief contact between the spoon and honey can be an issue.
I also suppose none of the equipment used by beekeepers in storing and extracting honey from the combs is made of glass