Let’s imagine that you had an epiphany some time ago and decided to start living a healthy life, detoxify your body & mind, and exercise every morning before work. In order to change your lifestyle, you surely had to go shopping first!
It probably all went well for a few days or even months, but then the reality of a hasty modern life kicked in, and you slipped into your old (and not-so-healthy) habits. A pilates ball can wait around for you to start exercising again, but all that healthy food you have stuffed your pantry and refrigerator with will most probably not make it that long.
So, if you have a jar of super-healthy honey that you haven’t touched in months, will it be ok to use it up now? Does honey go bad?
The answer might surprise you! So, stay with us to the very end!
What Is Honey Made Of?
Busy bees use the nectar of flowering plants to make a sweet golden liquid and then store it in their beehive. As you can probably imagine, this thick sugary delight is not meant to be used by us humans – the industrious bees work so hard to save the nectar for times of scarcity.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Bees have a long, tube-like tongue they use to extract the sweet nectar from flowers. The sugary liquid they collect is then stored in their extra stomachs called “crops.” It is there that the nectar gets mixed with enzymes. Its chemical composition and pH are both changed during the process, and the nectar becomes ready for long-term storage.
The hardworking bee always takes the nectar straight to the hive and passes it on to a fellow honeybee. There is no pleasant way to explain this part of the process, so the faint of heart might want to skip the explanation altogether. Namely, a bee that carries the nectar regurgitates it into the other bee’s mouth, and that bee does the same. This “chain-reaction” actually continues until the nectar is partially digested and thus ready to be deposited into a honeycomb.
The viscous nectar will not become the thick honey we all know and enjoy overnight. It is still a long way from our breakfast table. The liquid is filled with water that has to be eliminated- and smart bees are up to that task too.
So, How Do Bees Get All That Extra Water Out Of Their Honey?
Believe it or not, these hardworking insects use their small wings to fan the honeycomb and speed up the evaporation process. Once the majority of water is gone, the bees use a unique liquid to seal the comb. This secretion liquid comes from their abdomen, and it hardens to become beeswax.
The perfect storage method bees use keeps the honey tucked away and safe from air and water. The bees use it as food during the winter season, but honey can be stored indefinitely.
Unfortunately, these small, winged creatures are rarely allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor on their own. Many animals, such as bears or badgers, have a sweet tooth too and often raid the poor bees’ winter supply to harvest delicious honey. Humans do it too, but at least we help the bees as well.
Sugar was not always as widely available as it is today. In fact, up until the sixteenth century, honey was the principal sweetener around the globe. Ancient Greece and Sicily were the largest centers of honey production at that time of history.
Is All Honey The Same?
No, there are different types of honey, depending on the type of flower a bee goes to collect the sweet nectar. Honey harvested from bees that frequent other regions can thus have completely different colors, textures, tastes, and aromas.
Here are the most common types of honey:
- Clover honey
- Buckwheat honey
- Avocado honey
- Sage honey
- Blueberry honey
- Eucalyptus honey
- Alfalfa honey
- Orange blossom honey
Is Honey Good For You?
Yes, it is certainly more healthy than regular sugar. In fact, people associate numerous
health benefits with it.
This syrup-like substance does not always have the same nutrition profile. It depends on the type of honey, but generally, the calories and carbs content are both relatively high.
As a result, a single tablespoon of honey can contain as much as 64 calories and 17 grams of carbs, and only trace amounts of micronutrients. So, how come it is so good for you?
The value of honey is in its antioxidants content. High-quality honey is packed with essential antioxidants such as flavonoids and phenolic acids that are super-healthy for you.
These antioxidants help you fight the free radicals that can damage your cells and cause cancer. Antioxidant compounds can protect you from heart diseases and diabetes too.
Switching from table sugar to honey could help decrease levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. At the same time, it will increase the amount of beneficial “good” HDL cholesterol. As a result, honey can help you regulate blood pressure.
What Are The Benefits Of Honey?
First of all, it is a far better alternative to refined sugar, even though it is high in sugar and calories too. Refined sugar has no nutritional value or health benefits. If you consume it in moderation, honey will not contribute to your weight gain as much as white sugar would or have adverse effects on your health.
Besides supporting your heart health, honey also promotes wound healing. For that reason, in Ayurveda traditional medicine, it is used directly on wounds and damaged skin to speed up the healing process.
Honey has antibacterial properties and inhibits the growth of microorganisms that are known to cause infections. It is often used to treat ulcers, psoriasis, herpes, and dermatitis.
What To Consider When Shopping For Honey?
Not all honey is the same. Cheap honey is often of low quality due to the added sugar syrup. Sadly, this method is often used to cut down the costs of production and maximize profits.
Therefore, avoid low-quality brands. You might save some money, but you will miss out on all the benefits honey brings to the table.
You should opt for a high-quality brand of raw honey. It might be a bit more expensive, but the raw version has not been pasteurized or filtered, and thus nothing is lost. Natural, unprocessed honey retains all the beneficial components and health-promoting properties.
A Word Of Caution: Babies should not be given raw honey until they turn one due to the risk of infant botulism. It is a severe disease caused by the strain of bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum. After the age of one, your baby’s digestive system will develop and become ready to eliminate the toxins these bacteria produce, and it will be safe to introduce honey.
How To Store Honey?
Once you bring your jar of raw honey home, you need to make sure you store it properly. It is best to keep it in your pantry or your kitchen cabinet since it needs to be stored at room temperature.
Should You Keep Honey In The Refrigerator?
No, storing honey in the refrigerator will only speed up the crystallization process. If you want to prevent honey from crystallizing prematurely, you should better keep it at room temperature. After all, there is no need to keep it in the fridge- honey rarely goes bad at all.
Some people like to chew on crystallized honey, though. If you want to enjoy this sweet chewy snack too, at least make sure to transfer the honey from the jar into a more suitable container. You want to be able to remove the crystalized honey more efficiently, and thus you should avoid narrow jars or bottles. It might be a good idea to spread the honey on a plate as that will allow you to cut it into bite-sized pieces once it is hard enough.
Does Honey Go Bad?
As we have already mentioned, honey will hardly ever go bad. In fact, it happens so rarely that many believe honey is the only food that does not spoil.
When sealed well, honey will remain good to eat for hundreds, if not thousands, of years! It is all thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
However, when contaminated or stored incorrectly, honey does go bad and can make you ill.
There are two types of contamination: Natural contamination & Man-made contamination
- Natural contamination occurs due to the microbes naturally present in honey, such as yeast, mold, or certain bacteria. These natural microbes are rarely a cause for concern. Still, we have already warned you that babies can experience severe problems caused by neurotoxin C. botulinum, a naturally occurring contaminant found in honey. It attacks the nervous system of babies and can cause respiratory issues, paralysis, or even death.
- Man-made contamination or secondary contamination can also cause your honey to go bad. It is most often caused by improper handling (contaminated equipment or containers) or if you allow animals or insects to come in contact with honey.
If honey is not stored correctly, it is more likely to get spoiled. If you leave your honey exposed to sunlight, the water content in it will increase and hinder its antimicrobial properties. As a result, your honey will degrade or get contaminated more easily.
Your honey will crystallize even when appropriately stored since it’s a natural process, but it will happen a lot quicker when stored improperly. You can quickly get it into its original state by heating it in a bowl of warm water. However, if honey remains crystalized for a long time, it can release more water and ferment. Such honey changes its color – turns white and appears opaque.
The Bottom Line
Honey is an excellent alternative to refined sugar. It has numerous health benefits and can help you prevent cardiovascular diseases or promote wound healing. You need to consume it moderately, though, due to its high sugar and calorie content.
The good news is that, when stored properly, your jar of honey will stay good to eat for an indefinite time. Be careful not to contaminate it, and you can enjoy its sweetness for a long, long time!
Opt for a high-quality product and make honey a part of your healthy, well-rounded diet!