October 10, 2016

How to Avoid Honey Crystallisation

Although honey crystallisation is a natural process (see also … Why does honey crystallise? ) as  a beekeeper you do not want to help initiate this process before you have had the chance to bottle and sell your honey. Therefore it is important to know how to store your extracted combs and honey.

Honey should be stored at room temperature in airtight containers and the optimum temperature for storing honey is 21 to 27 ºC (70-80 ºF). Temperatures between 11 to 18 ºC (52- 64ºF), are ideal for crystallisation and therefore should be avoided. Refrigerators also aid the process of crystallisation and should again be avoided.

Filter your honey if you want to avoid crystallisation through a 80 micro filter or pass it through several sheets of fine nylon or mesh cloth. This will remove small particles such as pollen, propolis, beeswax, sugar crystals and air bubbles all of which will aid crystallisation by providing a seed or nuclei for the process to start and develop.

Honey can be heated in hot air up to to 40ºC or 104 ºF which will melt any sugar crystals and prevent crystallisation. You must check carefully with an accurate candy thermometer that the temperature does not exceed 40ºC  otherwise it will be overheated. Overheated honey loses a lot of its natural goodness and flavour and is no longer a premium product.

Commercial honey suppliers heat honey to over 63ºC (145 ºF) for as long as thirty minutes or even higher for shorter periods, then cool it quickly. This ensures that the honey will not crystallise and keeps it runny for longer in response to the mass market demand for squeezable honey.  This product is far from the natural nutrient rich product that the bees worked so hard to produce, as the heat treatment removes and kills most of the goodness such as anti-oxidants, enzymes and vitamins from the original product.

As beekeepers we should be aiming to provide our family, friends and customers with a natural healthy product and therefore care should be taken, with regard to temperature.

Finally we would recommend that you put your supers full of empty combs  back into the hives for the bees to clean after you have extracted the honey. Not only will you be giving the bees back something but it will also reduce the likelihood of any residue honey crystallising over winter and getting into next years honey and causing it to crystallise too quickly.

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More About Honey Extraction and Care

Why does Honey Granulate or Crystallise?

Many people when their runny golden honey turns thick, semi-solid and opaque become concerned that the product has gone off or in some way it is past its use by date. However this granulation or crystallisation is a natural process and all honey has a tendency to some degree to crystallise. Beekeepers call this ‘set honey’ and some honey eaters prefer it as it is easier to spread and is less messy.

Honey crystallisation does not affect the flavour or nutritional content of the honey, though it does affect the colour and texture.

The rate at which crystallisation occurs depends upon storage temperature, availability of ‘seed’ crystals, such as pollen grains and the specific mix of sugars and trace compounds in the honey. Honey is a highly concentrated sugar solution, containing over 70% sugars and less than 20% water. The resultant solution is very unstable as the available water has a very high degree of sugar content making it more prone to crystallise.

The two main sugars in honey are fructose and glucose and the relative percentage of each varies from one type of honey to another. The general percentage range of the two types of sugars are fructose from 30- 44 % and glucose from 25- 40 %. It is the glucose in honey which crystallises as it has  a lower water solubility, unlike fructose which is more soluble in water and therefore will remain fluid for longer.

Honey which is made from nectar that is higher in fructose content such as Tupelo Honey and Sage Honey are very slow to crystallise. While honey made from plants such as oilseed rape and ivy are lower in fructose and crystallise very rapidly, doing so on the comb in the hive. These latter types of honey need careful management by the beekeeper and even the bees can have problems managing this type of honey crop.

What happens when crystallisation occurs is the glucose has separated from the water and turned into small crystals, which eventually spreads throughout the honey. Most honey will crystallise uniformly but some just form a crystallised layer on the bottom of the container with the top remaining liquid. The quicker the crystallisation process occurs the finer the texture will be.

Crystallized honey usually sets to a much lighter colour than in its original runny form. This is caused by the glucose crystals which have separated and dried out and which are naturally white in colour, although dark honey will still be a brownish colour in appearance.

Apart from the relative sugar content of the honey, storage temperature and the amount of impurities in the honey also affects the rate of crystallisation. Honey crystallization is most rapid around 10-15 ºC (50- 59 ºF) and is slowed down or prevented at temperature below 10 ºC (52 ºF).  Honey resists crystallization best at temperatures of more than 25 ºC (77 ºF). When the temperature reaches 40 ºC (104 ºF) crystals will dissolve. However temperature above 40 ºC (104 ºF) will damage the natural properties of honey.

The presence of harmless impurities in honey such as pollen grains and beeswax also speed up crystallisation as they act as seeds or nuclei for the crystals. These are perfectly natural and are part of what makes honey so nutritious and healthy and those seeking a more natural product should always look out for honey labelled as ‘raw honey’.

Commercially produced honey responding to public demand for a honey that does not tend to crystallise but remains runny or ‘squeezable’ tends to be filtered to remove any natural impurities. In addition it is often heated to temperatures above  40 ºC (104 ºF), which will remove sugar crystals and along with the filtering will keep the product runny for longer. But the taste and the natural goodness and nutritional value of the honey is much diminished.

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What makes Tupelo Honey Special?

Tupelo honey is highly sought after and is considered to be a premium honey due to its purity and relative scarcity. Pure Tupelo honey is only produced in the Southeastern United States, in the Apalachicola River basin, the Chipola River (a tributary of the Apalachicola) and the  The Ochlocknee and Choctahatchee Rivers in Northwest Florida and Southern Georgia.  These areas are the only places in the world where certified Tupelo honey is produced.  As it is the only place where the white tupelo tree, Nyssa Ogeche , that produces pure Tupelo honey, grows in any abundance.

There are other types of  tupelo, for example black tupelo, but this does not produce the high quality honey that the white tupelo does. When buying Tupelo honey you should ensure that it is the pure certified variety from the white tupelo and preferably raw honey straight from the comb.

The white tupelo blooms from early April to early May, depending on the  weather conditions.  This means that beekeepers have a small window of opportunity to ensure that their bees produce the maximum amount of pure Tupelo honey.

Black Tupelo, Nyssa Biflora , actually blooms in advance of white tupelo and is used to build up bee colony strength. However as soon as the white tupelo are ready to bloom beekeepers empty the hives of all stores and replace them with empty drawn comb ready for the bees to fill them up with pure white tupelo nectar and turn it into this much sought after honey crop.

The hives usually need to be transported to the river banks, often by barge, where the tupelo trees grow in time for the bees to start the harvest. As soon as the white tupelo trees look as if they are going out of bloom the beekeepers have to remove the frames of honey to prevent the bees mixing it with nectar from other types of plants or flowers and therefore ruining its purity. Timing is everything and it is easy to see why this is an expensive and time-consuming operation for the beekeepers.

It is estimated that it takes the nectar from over two million white tupelo flowers to produce just one pound of honey. Add that to the fact that one honey bee during her life will make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey only and you will begin to  see just how much effort is required to produce this amazing crop.

Tupelo Honey

Pure Tupelo honey is a light amber gold colour with a distinctive greenish tint.  It has a distinctive and delicious flavour, with buttery undertones. Honey produced solely from the white tupelo is the only honey that will not granulate, this is due to its high fructose (levulose) (44.3%), low glucose (dextrose) (29.98%) ratio. This combination of sugars has also meant that it is the only honey that some diabetics can consume.

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