How Long Does Honey Last?
I’m sure you heard honey is the only food product that doesn’t go bad. I know I read about it a million times.
I’m guessing you have a jar of honey sitting in storage for quite some time already, and you want to find out if honey actually lasts forever. That’s the same question I ask myself each time I reach for that jar of honey that I opened over 5 years ago (as you can tell, I don’t use honey that much). So, the answer to the question of whether or not honey expires isn’t a straightforward yes or no. The best short answer I can give you is: honey lasts indefinitely if you store it properly. Let’s expand on that.
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As I already mentioned, honey can last forever (2). That’s possible thanks to two characteristics: low water content and acidity. Honey has a water content around 18% (1), and that’s simply too little water for most bacteria to live in. So if any accidentally get to the jar, they simply die, instead of multiplying. When it comes to acidity, the average pH of honey is 3.9 (1), which again is a bit too harsh for most microorganisms. You know that vinegar lasts pretty much forever, right? That’s thanks to its acidity, and it works the same way in honey too.
Why there’s a date on the jar of honey, you ask? In pretty much all cases it’s a “best-by” date that informs you how long the product should retain quality. It by any means doesn’t mean the honey will expire or spoil past that date. It’s there to inform you that the taste and quality of the bee’s product can change over time. And at a certain point, you might find it not as good as it used to be. Long story short, if you store honey for a prolonged period, you might notice a slight change in flavor, especially if it’s of questionable quality. But if you stored it properly, it will surely be safe to eat.
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Honey doesn’t require much in terms of storage. Keep it at room temperature, and always sealed (2. The latter is especially important, as honey is hygroscopic (1), which means it can absorb moisture from the air. And if you allow that to happen, the water content of the product raises. That makes a less hostile environment for all the bacteria, plus the honey can ferment (2). It’s especially important always to seal the jar tightly once the honey crystallizes.
When scooping, always use clean spoons, so you won’t contaminate it with any food particles that might eventually spoil and cause it to go bad.
Last but not least, honey doesn’t require refrigeration, and refrigerating it isn’t a good idea. It keeps just fine at room temperature, plus refrigeration speeds up crystallization of the honey.
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No, hardened honey is not spoiled by any means. It’s just less liquid and more solid than liquid honey (2). Fresh honey has more sugar than the water can (typically) dissolve at room temperature (1), so over time some of that glucose turns into solid granules to fix that. That’s why crystallized honey isn’t solid, but semi-solid with some liquid visible in the jar.
Reversing crystallization is quite easy. Just put the jar with the lid off in a pot of warm (not boiling, as it might break the jar) water for a few minutes. Stir it with a tablespoon once it starts liquefying to speed things up. As an alternative, you can scoop as much honey as you need with a spoon, put it in a glass vessel and submerge in warm water. This will get the job done faster. Plus it’s said that liquefying honey degrades its flavor slightly, so doing that repeatedly to the same jar doesn’t seem to be a good idea.
Well, technically speaking, honey can go bad. If the water content raises, it can ferment (1). Or if something got into the jar and instead of dying managed to actually spoil, it might cause the honey to spoil too. Please note that both and super-rare occurrences, especially if you take good care of the jar. But if the substance smells off or there are some discolorations on the surface, just throw it out.
- Honey can last forever if you store it well.
- Keep honey in a tightly sealed jar at room temperature. Refrigeration is neither necessary nor advised.
- Crystallized honey isn’t spoiled. You can heat it up to bring it back to its liquid form.
- If it developed an off aroma or changed color, throw it out.