Honey is a must-have item in every household. It’s the first thing you’re looking for when you have a sore throat or a cold. Lemon water with honey is a classic remedy for every living soul.
Honey is also a food item that takes forever to finish a bottle, especially if you only use it when you have a cold. As cliché as it might sound, you find an old jar of raw honey that has passed the “best by” date. Does this mean honey goes bad? How long can you keep raw honey?
Of course, these are common questions that are quickly popping up into your mind. You’re not alone. This situation is relatable for most of us. It’s very common to find long-forgotten items somewhere in the pantry, even in the fridge!
If you’re curious to find out the answers, keep reading! In this article, we take a closer look at raw honey’s shelf life, its storage, and how to tell if raw honey goes bad. Sounds interesting? Read on!
What Is Raw Honey?
You might still be wondering: what is raw honey and how it differs from regular honey? Well, let’s quickly tackle this down before we go further with the nitty-gritty of it.
In general, conventional processing of honey requires straining, filtration, and heating process to remove any impurities, reduce moisture, and yeast count. (*)
According to the US National Honey Board, the US federal law doesn’t have an official definition of “raw honey”. In general, raw honey refers to honey as it exists in the beehive and is minimally-processed. It doesn’t go through the pasteurization and filtration process as commercial preparation does.
Raw honey is a widely used term for marketing purposes, mainly to emphasize the health benefits of raw honey compared to regular honey.
How To Store Honey
Storing raw honey (and honey in general) is easy and straightforward. As long as the container is undamaged, you can keep it in its original container.
Honey stands well at room temperature, both before and after opening. Pick a cool, dry, and dark spot. It can be your pantry or kitchen cupboard. Avoid storing honey next to the windows, oven, or stove. Sunlight and heat are not friends with honey.
Honey is hygroscopic. It attracts and holds water. Hence, always keep it closed tightly after each use. Don’t spill water into the jar. Otherwise, natural fermentation will occur anytime the temperature supports.
Refrigeration after opening is not necessary. Raw honey tends to crystallize when kept at a lower temperature, which makes it hard to pour. It’s not necessarily bad, but it takes you extra time to get it ready. However, if your house’s temperature is too warm, refrigeration might be useful to prevent honey from fermenting.
How Do You Tell If Honey Is Bad?
Honey doesn’t go bad in a typical context of food spoilage occurring in fresh produce. But, it does degrade in flavor or appearance due to the physical and chemical reactions during storage.
You might notice that your honey supply gets dark and crystallizes as time goes by. The flavor and aroma might also change a little bit. These are a natural occurrence and harmless.
Don’t panic when you see that your honey gets hardened or crystallized. Your cupboard might be a little too cold for storing honey. It tends to crystallize when the temperature is 50 °F (or 10 °C) or below. There are a few quick ways to fix this trivial issue.
- 1. Place a honey jar or bottle in a bowl of hot water (not boiling water! And don’t boil it).
- 2. If you only need a small amount, take the amount you need and place it in a bowl or a container. Put the container in another bowl of hot water – similar to the previous method.
- 3. You can also quickly put honey in the microwave with the lowest setting for a short interval (15-30 seconds). Avoid overheating honey as it can get darker.
Honey naturally contains sugar-tolerant yeast. The yeast count is typically higher in raw honey since the heating process is skipped.
Natural fermentation can occur when honey contains at least 20% moisture content. This results in a sour taste that definitely ruins this natural sweetener. If you think that raw honey smells or tastes off, it’s time to let it go. Likewise, if you’re in doubt. (*)
Typical commercial honey in the US has an average of 17.2% of moisture content – a safe level to limit yeast activity. As mentioned earlier, honey tends to attract moisture, mainly if you leave it in a humid area or forget to close the lid.
If fermentation is controlled, honey can be turned into a mead, a popular alcoholic drink from honey fermentation that has been existing for thousands of years.
How Long Does Honey Last?
You’ve probably heard that the oldest honey was found at an Egyptian tomb. Indeed, honey is one of the few foods that have an exceptionally long shelf life. Honey can last almost indefinitely with proper storage.
The exact shelf life of honey depends mostly on its processing and storage methods. Honey processors provide a “best by” or “use by” date on the label, usually two years from the bottling date. This date is to indicate a period when raw honey retains its prime quality.
While in your storage, honey can lose its quality due to natural physical and chemical reactions.
|Raw honey (unopened or opened)
|Keeps safe indefinitely; for best quality keep for 2 years in the pantry
This table is for a rough estimate for the best quality. The actual shelf life mostly depends on the preparation method and storage conditions. It’s always worth checking before use, especially for an old jar.
According to the CDC, honey may contain bacteria that cause infant botulism in babies younger than 1-year-old. Infant botulism is different from foodborne botulism, which results from the ingestion of botulinum toxin. A baby contracts infant botulism when swallowed spores of Clostridium botulinum reach the digestive tract and start to grow and produce toxin. (*) (*)
Raw and organic honey differ to some extent. Raw honey refers to a minimal process compared to regular honey, such as skipping the heating process. Meanwhile, organic honey should adhere to organic production, such as no contact with pesticides or other chemical substances.
Manufacturers provide a “best by” date for practical purposes, both for retailers and consumers. Although honey keeps indefinitely, it undergoes chemical and physical changes during storage, which cause flavor loss or crystallization.
While these are not harmful, some consumers are not entirely happy. Therefore, a “best by” date indicates a period when honey should retain its peak quality but remains safe beyond this date.
Honey has been used for thousands of years both as a natural sweetener and home remedies. With proper storage, pure raw honey keeps well for a long time. Technically, raw honey doesn’t go bad similarly to fresh produce.
To maintain its shelf life, always keep raw honey in a cool, dry, dark place. Avoid excess moisture or water getting into the bottle. Spoilage in raw honey mostly happens when spontaneous fermentation occurs, resulting in a sour taste. As honey ages, it may get darker and lose its flavor or aroma, but keeps safe to use.
Up Next: The Best Substitutes for Honey
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