A Sweet Phenomenon
Have you ever opened your cupboard to get raw honey and found that it looked different than the last time? If it’s been awhile since you used your honey chances are that it crystallized or formed solid crystals. Your honey may look strange, but don’t worry, it’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a natural process that occurs because of the composition of the honey and even in this state, honey can last on the shelf almost indefinably.
Honey is composed of different sugars and water, but not in equal parts. Honey is mostly sugar, but less than 20% water. This super-saturated sugar solution, which is unstable, over time will crystallize to form a more stable saturated solution.
Different Kinds of Honey
There are more than 300 different varieties of raw honey sold in just the U.S. The different types of honey, come from different types of plants that honey bees gather nectar and subsequently pollinate. These honeys commonly include clover, Macadamia nut, Lehua, and Christmas Berry just to name a few of the Hawaiian varieties. The name of the honey tells you what type of plant it came from, which is also why they taste different.
The Crystallization of Honey
In honey are two kinds of sugars, glucose and fructose. You can get an idea of how quickly your type of honey will crystallize if you know the ratio of these two sugars. Honeys with a low glucose-to-fructose ratio will crystallize more quickly and we find this to be true with floral honeys like dandelion and clover. If the glucose-to-fructose ratio is high, like with flowering trees such as tupelo and eucalyptus, then crystallization is much slower.
Why does this happen? The glucose in the honey separates from the water and forms the actual crystals, while the fructose stays as a liquid. The crystals are lighter in color than the liquid part because glucose crystals are naturally pure white, and crystallization also makes the honey thicker.
The temperature you store your honey will also affect its crystallization. Keeping it in a warmer area will prevent crystallization while colder areas will increase the rate of crystal formation. Honey left on the comb will also crystallize slower than honey that has been extracted from the comb. And the presence of any particles like pollen or dust grains will also speed up the crystallization process.
Different types of honey crystallize differently. The quicker crystallization happens the finer the crystals tend to be. Lehua honey crystallizes quickly and has a smooth texture. Crystals also come in different shapes and sizes. Crystallization can be uniform or varied, and sometimes crystallization occurs in different layers within the honey.