Why does honey crystallize?

Honey is an exceptional product, as famous for its sweet and delicious taste as for its health benefits. If it is naturally good, whether it is liquid or creamy, its crystallization on the other hand displeases the general public. Indeed, the crystallized honey is hard in mouth. It is therefore less easy and less pleasant to taste. However, crystallization is a completely natural phenomenon, reversible and does not alter the taste or the quality of the honey. But then why does this sweet substance crystallize? Let’s see how this natural process works.

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What is honey?

Honey is a naturally sweet substance that is produced by bees from the nectar of the flowers and plants they forage. It is also derived from secretions and excretions deposited by insects on plants and flowers. Honey is not made by chance by bees, it is the food for bee larvae. It is also their food reserve in case of intense cold.

Honey is mainly made up of carbohydrates (i.e. carbohydrates) and water. It is also rich in trace elements such as copper, sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese and many others. It is also composed of proteins and protids. It is also rich in enzymes since bees transform honey with their digestive enzymes. We find alpha-amylase, catalase, glucose-oxidase and vitamin B. But the proportions of these components can vary according to the honeys. It depends on thefloral origin. This depends on the flowers used by the bees and the soil in which they are grown.

As for the nutritional values of honey, there are about 300 calories per 100 grams with about 82 grams of carbohydrates, 0.3 grams of protein, over 50 milligrams of potassium, and 5 milligrams of sodium.

Why does honey crystallize?

The crystallization of honey depends on the content of three elements that influence this process of honey: water, fructose and glucose. Glucose is the sugar that crystallizes more quickly. It is thus the content of glucose in the crystallized honey which will determine the speed of crystallization. However, it is fructose that has the greatest sweetening power. So the sweeter a honey is, the less quickly it will crystallize. On the other hand, the faster a honey crystallizes, the higher its glucose content will be. The rapeseed honeybeing very rich in glucoses, it crystallizes very quickly.
But other factors are involved in the phenomenon and in the speed of crystallization. First of all, if there are too many impurities such as pollen or wax, there can be rapid crystallization which can spread throughout the pot.

The amount of water also plays a role. When the honey has a very low moisture content, the honey can crystallize much more and faster. However, when the water content is less than 15% of the honey composition, the honey will have difficulty crystallizing and this will result in a creamy honey. With the cold, the molecules of glucoses stick between them, which avoids the transformation into crystals.

The temperature also has a very important role in the crystallization of honey. When the temperature is high, the sugars become more soluble and the honey may de-crystallize or not crystallize. When the temperature is very low on the other hand, the propagation of crystallization is reduced and the honey becomes creamy. It is around 14 degrees that the phenomenon of crystallization is the most present and the most rapid. The speed of crystallization is very high. Therefore, it is ideal to store honey in an environment above 20 degrees or below 10 degrees. A lower temperature will preserve all the qualities of the crystallized or liquid honey.

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Why do honeys not crystallize in the same way?

Not all honeys will crystallize in the same way. We find very fine to coarse crystallizations and more or less fast. All honeys can crystallize, except acacia honey, if it is totally pure. It can take a few weeks for most honeys, it can be very fast as for the rapeseed honey but it can take more than a year for apple honey.

The type of crystallization of honey also depends on the floral origin of the honeys. The type of crystallization cannot be influenced. The sunflower honey will crystallize in a very fine way. It is said to be a rather creamy honey. Other honeys such as chestnut honey will crystallize with large crystals. Finally, the crystallization can be viscous. It is the case of the honey of heather.

Which honeys are preferred by consumers?

Consumers do not like crystallization. They prefer easy-to-spread honey to crystallized honey, which is liquid and tasty and does not crystallize too much. It is thus the creamy honey which is part of the most consumed honeys. But liquid honey from flower mixtures is also very popular with consumers, especially for its relatively lower price.

The liquid acacia honey is on the other hand the honey resulting from only one flower the most consumed by the French, although it is rather expensive. Unlike rapeseed honey which crystallizes very quickly, acacia honey does not crystallize at all. It is notably because of its great health benefits that it is consumed. It promotes the proper functioning of the intestinal flora, helps digestion by stabilizing gastric secretions.

Can crystallization be controlled?

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In order to avoid that the crystallization is too present and too fast and to make a honey more appreciable from the point of view of the consumers, one can control the process of crystallization, especially within the framework of the honeys with fast crystallization such as the rapeseed honey. This control can be done during the mechanical fractionation of the crystals and during the seeding of the honey. First of all, honey producers must make sure that the honey stays below fifteen degrees. Ideally, the honey should be controlled at 14 degrees. The honey must be filtered at the honey house, fractionated during a mechanical or manual stirring, and then it must be inoculated with a micro-organism, the inoculum. Thanks to these different methods, it is possible to obtain a satisfactory honey from the point of view of the consumers. it is creamy honey and not crystallized honey.

The quality of honey

There are mainly two criteria to determine the quality of a honey . The first criterion is the water content. This criterion allows to guarantee the conservation of the honey. Because if the honey is too wet it risks to ferment and to degrade the honey in an irreversible way.

The second criterion to determine the quality of honey is the HMF, which is the amount of hydroxylmethylfurfural present in the honey. HMF is produced by the degradation of fructose due to increased temperature. This criterion allows to measure the ageing of honey. If the HMF content is too high, there is no danger to consumers, but the quality of the honey will be impaired. In France, the HMF content per kilogram is limited to 40 milligrams.

Defects of crystallization

We find three anomalies resulting from the crystallization process. There is phase separation, tree crystallization and mottling. it is important to understand that crystallized honey is not synonymous with a defect. It is more a sign of quality and naturalness.

The phase separation is serious because it makes the honey unsuitable for consumption (except if the honey is heated) because it risks to ferment too quickly. This phenomenon is due to an imbalance between water and sugars. This happens when the moisture content exceeds 17%. The honey eventually collapses because its structure is not stable, like a sand castle that is too wet.

Tree crystallization is similar to phase separation but it is not the same thing at all. This is the result of overheating or recrystallization. This anomaly is notably due to the desire of the consumers to absolutely want a liquid honey, which forces the producers to try to liquefy the honey to the maximum to avoid the crystallization. However, this risks to denature the honey and to remove its benefits from the enzymes. When overheated, the enzymes disappear.

Mottling in the honey, on the other hand, is quite normal. They are the result of crystallization. It does not mean that the quality of the honey has been altered.

To conclude, if you do not like crystallized honey, it is possible to liquefy it by putting it a few minutes in a water bath without moving the 37°C which would have an impact on the trace elements, vitamins and minerals. Another advice avoided to put it in the microwave it would lose all its faculties.

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