Honey is known for its incredible shelf life. When stored properly, honey can essentially last forever without spoiling. But does heat impact its longevity? Can honey still go bad if exposed to high temperatures?
The short answer is yes, honey can go bad in the heat. While honey has antibacterial properties that allow it to resist spoilage for a very long time under normal conditions, extreme heat can degrade honey and cause it to lose quality.
Some key factors that determine how heat impacts honey include:
– The original quality and purity of the honey
– How long the honey is exposed to heat
– How high the temperatures reach
High-quality raw honey that is minimally processed is more resistant to heat damage. But when exposed to excessively hot conditions for too long, the enzymes, nutrients, flavor, and aroma can begin to break down.
Let’s take a deeper look at how heat affects honey, the signs of spoiled honey, and how to best store honey to maximize freshness.
How Does Heat Impact Honey?
Honey is comprised primarily of the sugars glucose and fructose. It also contains trace enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that give honey its unique nutritional profile.
While honey won’t support bacterial growth, it can lose quality under less-than-ideal storage conditions. Heat is one of the main factors that can speed up this process.
Here’s an overview of what happens to honey when it’s exposed to heat:
– Loss of Enzymes: Honey contains enzymes like diastase, invertase, glucose oxidase, and catalase. Enzymes are sensitive to heat and can become denatured and lose function at temperatures above 115°F (46°C). This can impact the digestibility of honey.
– Loss of Nutrients: The B vitamins and vitamin C in honey are susceptible to heat degradation. Over time, the nutrient content declines.
– Change in Texture: Excess heat can cause the fructose in honey to caramelize, resulting in a thicker, stickier texture.
– Darkening Color: The color of honey typically darkens with heat exposure as the pH rises. Lighter colored honey varietals like acacia are more prone to darkening.
– Change in Flavor: Heating alters the subtle flavors and aromas of honey, usually causing it to take on a bitter taste.
– Higher Hydroxymethylfurfural: Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a compound that increases as honey is heated. High HMF can indicate overprocessing and aging.
– Loss of Antioxidants: Compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids are sensitive to heat. The antioxidant activity declines as honey is heated.
So while room temperature storage won’t immediately spoil honey, substantial exposure to heat above 115°F (46°C) will start to degrade it over time.
At What Temperature Does Honey Start to Degrade?
As a general rule of thumb, honey should be stored at temperatures below 95°F (35°C) to retain its quality.
Honey can withstand short periods of temperatures up to 115°F (46°C). But when stored for extended periods above this temperature, the honey will start to darken, lose its aroma, crystallize, ferment, and develop a bitter taste.
Here is an overview of how honey holds up at various temperatures:
|Temperature Range||Impact on Honey Quality|
|Under 75°F (Under 24°C)||Best temperature for long term storage. Enzymes remain intact and deterioration is minimal.|
|75-95°F (24-35°C)||Some deterioration in color and flavor over time. Enzymes slowly lose activity.|
|95-115°F (35-46°C)||Noticeable darkening and loss of antioxidant content. Enzymes become completely inactive.|
|Over 115°F (Over 46°C)||Rapid degradation of color, flavor, aroma, and nutrients. Honey essentially ‘bakes’ resulting in burnt notes.|
As you can see, cooler is always better when it comes to honey storage. But temperatures up to 95°F (35°C) should not immediately damage honey if exposed for a short period of time.
Try to avoid keeping honey for long at temperatures exceeding 115°F (46°C) to retain its freshness. This is when the impact on quality becomes quite drastic.
How Long Can Honey Last in Hot Temperatures?
The duration of heat exposure also influences how quickly honey degrades. A few hours in a hot car in summer will do less damage than months spent in an environment over 90°F (32°C).
Here are some general guidelines for how long honey can maintain quality based on the temperature:
– Under 75°F (24°C): Can last for years without significant deterioration. Enzymes remain intact.
– 75-95°F (24-35°C): Noticeable changes in 6-12 months. Crystallization accelerates.
– 95-115°F (35-46°C): Degradation occurs within 2-3 months. darkened color, thicker texture.
– Over 115°F (Over 46°C): Quality decline within weeks. Rapid loss of aroma, burnt flavor.
Keep in mind these timelines assume constant exposure at these temperatures. Fluctuating conditions will slow the rate of quality loss compared to honey stored at a sustained elevated heat.
Regardless, honey is best kept under 75°F (24°C) whenever possible. Refrigeration can extend the shelf life significantly.
Does Honey Need to Be Refrigerated to Prevent Spoilage?
Refrigeration can help extend the shelf life of honey by slowing down the speed of crystallization and deterioration. However, it is not strictly necessary.
Storing honey at room temperature around 70°F (21°C) will maintain quality for many months or even years. The key is keeping it in a cool, dark cupboard away from excess heat, light, and moisture.
Some reasons refrigeration can help prolong freshness include:
– Lower Temperature: Fridge temps 35-40°F (2-4°C) prevent degradation by heat.
– Consistent Conditions: The stable environment deters texture and moisture changes.
– Extended Shelf Life: Refrigeration can maintain color, enzymes, and antioxidants for longer.
– Moisture Control: The sealed fridge prevents absorption of external moisture that can thin honey.
However, there are also some downsides to refrigeration:
– Accelerated Crystallization: The cold can cause honey to solidify and crystallize faster.
– Difficult to Spread: Thickened chilled honey can be hard to pour or scoop.
– Impact on Flavor: Cooling mutes the aroma and reduces the taste intensity.
– Condensation: Moisture can collect on opened honey leading to dilution.
So while refrigeration can prolong shelf life in hot conditions, it is not a must. Storing in an airtight container in a cool, dry place is fine for shorter term storage under a year.
What Are Signs of Spoiled Honey?
How can you tell if honey has gone bad from heat exposure versus normal crystallization? Here are the main signs:
– Change in Texture: From liquid to thick, partially solid, granulated, or crystallized. Separation of solids from liquid may occur.
– Difference in Color: Darkening from light golden to a deeper amber, brown, or opaque shade.
– Fermentation: Bubbles or froth on the surface. An alcohol odor.
– Cloudiness: Increased opacity rather than clear and translucent.
– Mold Growth: Visible mold spores, fuzz, or white film.
– Off Aromas: Loss of floral sweetness and fruity notes. Strong fermented, spoiled, or burnt smell.
– Unpleasant Tastes: Chemical, bitter, metallic, acidic, or sharp bite. Soapy or fake honey flavor.
– Decreased Viscosity: Honey turns from thick and sticky to thin and runny.
Any of these changes indicate honey is no longer fresh and has been compromised. While not harmful, deteriorated honey has diminished quality and appeal.
Can Spoiled Honey Make You Sick?
While spoiled honey may not taste great or have the same nutritional content, it is generally not dangerous or toxic to consume.
Thanks to honey’s low moisture content and lack of protein, bacteria, yeasts, and molds have a hard time multiplying. This means deteriorated honey is unlikely to harbor harmful levels of pathogens.
However, there are some rare instances where contaminated honey could cause illness:
– Infant Botulism: Spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria are harmless to adults but can colonize infant intestines and produce toxin.
– Allergic Reaction: Fermented honey can contain histamine and cause reaction in those with sensitivity.
– Toxins: Mycotoxins from mold growth are uncommon but possible in severely spoiled honey.
So while contaminated honey won’t make most people sick, it’s still best to discard it once it shows signs of spoilage. The quality degradation means it won’t have the same nutrition or taste anyway.
How to Stop Crystallization
A common sign of honey ‘going bad’ is natural crystallization. This process causes honey to turn from liquid to thick or partially solid.
Crystallization does not mean honey is spoiled, it is just a natural result of glucose sugars in honey separating from water. It occurs faster at cooler temperatures.
Here are some tips to decrystallize hardened honey or slow down crystallization:
– Slow Warming: Place the honey jar in warm water and gently heat. Do not exceed 115°F (46°C).
– Hot Water Bath: Submerge a sealed honey jar in hot water for 5-10 minutes. Take care not to overheat or crack the jar.
– Microwave: Heat 5-10 seconds at a time, stirring between intervals. Do not boil or scorch honey.
– Gentle Stirring: Use a clean utensil to stir thickened honey until it returns to liquid state.
– Room Temperature Storage: Keep honey around 70°F (21°C) rather than fridge temps to slow solidification.
– Air-Tight Container: Prevent moisture loss that contributes to crystallization by using an airtight jar.
Proper storage is key for maximizing honey’s shelf life in the heat. Let’s look at some tips for that next.
How to Store Honey to Prevent Spoilage
Follow these guidelines to keep honey fresh by protecting it from high temperatures:
– Cool Area: Store honey at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Keep away from heat sources like ovens, dishwashers, etc.
– Airtight Container: Keep honey in an airtight glass, plastic, or ceramic jar with a tight fitting lid to prevent moisture absorption.
– Dark Storage: Exposure to light accelerates deterioration. Store honey in a dark cupboard or opaque container.
– No Metal: Do not store honey in metal containers. Acidic honey can react with metals and lead to off flavors.
– Raw is Best: Seek minimally processed, raw honey. It retains more nutrients and enzymatic activity to maintain quality.
– No Added Moisture: Never add water to honey. Excess moisture promotes fermentation and spoilage.
– Rotate Stock: Follow FIFO (first in, first out) and use older honey before freshly purchased jars.
With proper precautions, honey can avoid degradation for many months, even in hot environments. Refrigeration and cool storage help honey retain stable quality and freshness in summer heat.
Honey is known for its incredibly long shelf life under typical storage conditions. But when subjected to high heat over time, honey can start to degrade in quality, losing nutritional value, altering texture, and developing unpleasant flavors.
Temperatures above 95°F (35°C) accelerate the breakdown of enzymes, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds in honey. Prolonged exposure to heat above 115°F (46°C) will lead to substantial darkening, thickening, and decline in quality within weeks or months.
Signs your honey has been heat damaged include changes in aroma, taste, appearance, and texture. While spoiled honey does not pose much risk for foodborne illness, it has diminished appeal.
Storing honey in a cool, dark place in an airtight container can maintain quality for many months, even without refrigeration. But refrigerating honey or keeping it below 75°F (24°C) is best to maximize shelf life in hot conditions.
With proper precautions to avoid prolonged heat exposure, honey can sweeten your foods for a very long time before going bad.