It is not unusual for raw honey to crystallize, or turn hard. We’re going to show you how to decrystallize honey without destroying the health benefits of raw honey. Last year, our first year beekeeping, our honey crystallized about six months after we harvested it from the hives. Most of our honey was gone by then so only about a quart was left and it wasn’t a big deal to scoop the hardened honey out and mix into warm tea. But this year, our honey crystalized after about a month of being extracted from our bee hives! We noticed it first in the clear glass pint and quart size canning jars. About two months after we harvested honey this year, our 5 gallon buckets full of honey were crystallized and solid. How and why did this happen so quickly? We were baffled! So of course I started doing some research…..
Why does honey crystallize?
We knew from experience of using honey for many years that honey will start to crystallize the older it gets. We also knew honey would start to crystallize when it was cold. But our newly extracted honey was neither old nor cold. It was stored in the large pantry in our mud room which stays just slightly cooler than the main part of our house that we try to keep around 70 degrees with the help of our wood stove.
Then we came across this helpful article explaining why honey crystallizes. This was such a fascinating read! We figured out that our honey crystallized so quickly for two reasons. First, there’s a handy chart in the article showing the crystallization rates of different types of honey. Our honey is primarily alfalfa honey since we’re surrounded by hundreds of acres of alfalfa. Alfalfa honey is listed as having a rapid crystallization rate. So that makes sense why last year our honey crystallized after about six months.
But why did it start to crystallize after about a month this year? The article states, “The time it will take the honey to crystallize depends mostly on the ratio of fructose to glucose, the glucose to water ratio…..The higher the glucose and the lower the water content of honey, the faster the crystallization.” We had quite a dry year last year, much drier than the year before. Some of the alfalfa fields around us are irrigated, but even then the irrigation pipes don’t water the whole field at once. The fields are watered one section at a time. So while this irrigation water helped supplement the lack of rainfall we were getting, the alfalfa still had less moisture than the year before when we had a lot more rain. No wonder our honey crystallized so fast this year!
How to decrystallize honey
Using crystallized honey to sweeten my herbal tea is no big deal. I just scoop out some of the hardened honey on a spoon and stir into my warm cup of tea. The honey melts and mixes into my tea. But try spreading crystallized honey on a piece of bread- it’s impossible! Well, it is possible but it basically tears up the bread as you try to spread the hardened crystallized honey.
When I want to use honey to sweeten a recipe like our pumpkin bread, I need a larger quantity than just a little spoonful. Trying to scoop a cup of hard, crystallized honey out of a five gallon bucket is tough work. It even started bending our kitchen spoons we were using! We then had to switch over to trying to scoop the hard crystallized honey out with an ice cream scooper. What a big mess!
We decided to try scooping the hard crystallized honey from the big buckets into pint size glass canning jars to warm up and decrystallize. When we extracted honey in the fall, we filled quite a few pint and quart size glass canning jars with honey but most of them were given away to friends and family as gifts. Our personal honey supply was poured into several 5lb buckets and some 5 gallon buckets.
To liquefy crystallized honey, you need to warm it up. But the key is to not heat it up too hot so you don’t kill off the beneficial nutrients in the honey that make raw honey so good for you! We read a couple articles that said make sure not to heat the honey over 104 degrees F. To warm our honey and decrystallize it, we place the pint size glass canning jars full of honey in a stainless steel pot and fill the pot with water. Then we sit the pot on a trivet on our wood stove. You could easily put the pot on a standard kitchen stove top and turn the heat on a low simmer.
The idea is to warm the water up in the pot that will then in turn warm up the honey. You don’t want the water to boil since that will be too hot and will overheat the honey and kill the beneficial nutrients in the honey. We like to use our wood stove to cook food so warming our crystallized honey on the wood stove seemed like the easiest thing for us to do. We never leave the pot of warming honey on the wood stove when we are not home but only use this method when we are home and can keep an eye on it. Usually the low simmering water heats and decrystallizes the honey after sitting on the wood stove for a few hours.
But how do we decrystallize large buckets of honey?
We racked our brains trying to come up with ideas for how to decrystallize big buckets of crystallized honey without having to scoop it out one pint at a time. Our first idea was to sit the buckets of cyrstallized honey in the bath tub and fill it with hot water. The problem with this idea is that the water would cool off and not maintain a steady warmth like the pot of water on the wood stove or kitchen stove top.
Then my husband found this great idea for a warming blanket for a 5 gallon bucket. It is specifically made to fit a 5 gallon bucket for the purpose of warming crystallized honey. This warming blanket would work great for us, but it also is a bit spendy for our needs right now. If we were big commercial bee keepers this investment wouldn’t be a big deal. But at this time our beekeeping adventures are primarily hobbyist and mainly for our own personal honey use and gifting to family and friends.
Our answer came when I realized that my big canning pots would be wide enough to hold the buckets of crystallized honey! I tried it first with a 5lb honey bucket which fit perfectly into my smaller canning pot. I used the same method as we did when decrystallizing honey in glass canning jars. I sat the bucket down in the canning pot, filled the pot with water, and sat it on the stove top to warm up. I used our long turkey thermometer like this one to stick down in the water in the pot to gauge the heat of the water since it was difficult to tell how hot it was (with a smaller pot of water and glass canning jars inside I can see if the water is getting too hot by seeing if bubbles are forming in the pan)
Once we learned how to decrystallize honey, it was just a matter of slowly working through over 100lbs of hard, crystallized honey to warm it up and return it to the golden goodness that drips easily off a spoon. One thing we learned when decrystallizing honey is that if you don’t decrystallize the whole container and instead leave some hard honey in there, as the honey sits it will start to crystallize again (and more quickly too!) When warming up large containers or buckets, this seems to happen a bit more often since the honey won’t all warm up at the same heat at the same time. What I find helpful is to stir the honey a couple times while it is warming. This helps to create a more even warming pattern in the honey to make sure it all warms up and decrystallizes.
Have you had to decrystallize honey? Do you have any tips to share?