Does honey go bad? The short answer is; it doesn’t!
The long answer, keep reading because, in today’s article, I’m going to explain why this is the case. However, there are rare cases where honey might go bad if it is contaminated, stored incorrectly, contains toxic compounds, or if it’s adulterated. But this doesn’t take away the fact that It’s one of the few foods that doesn’t spoil.
With proper storage, you can keep it for decades. The only drawback is when you keep for long, there will be slight changes in aroma, flavor texture, and appearance.
Due to its ability to store for long, honey is one of the best-selling products in most farmers’ markets around the world. Besides, honey is famous for its numerous uses such as healing burns, preventing cancer, managing diabetes, and dressing wounds and ulcers among others.
So, what are the exact chemical composition of this superfood that makes it last almost forever?
Let’s find out:
Why Honey Doesn’t Spoil
Presence of enzymes that suppress bacterial growth
As the bees manufacture honey, they secrete glucose oxidase, an enzyme that helps preserve it. And as it ripens, the glucose oxidase produces hydrogen peroxide (a compound) and also converts the sugar into gluconic acid.
The hydrogen peroxide acts as an antibacterial agent that prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause spoilage.
In addition to hydrogen peroxide, there are other compounds such as bee peptides, flavonoids, methylglyoxal, and polyphenols that enhance the antimicrobial properties of hydrogen peroxide.
High Sugar Levels
Honey contains high sugar levels of about 30% glucose and 40 % fructose. These sugars prevent the growth of microbes such as fungi and bacteria.
Moreover, the high sugar content raises the osmotic pressure that forces water to flow out of the microbe’s cells. Also, honey is somewhat dense hence oxygen can’t dissolve in it. All this helps stop the growth and reproduction of microbes.
What’s more, is that this product has low water activity and the water molecules interact with the sugars to reduce the chances of microorganism’s growth. Hence no chances of fermentation or breakdown take place.
The process of honey-making involves the collection of nectar from plants by the worker bees. This nectar is a water solution consisting of proteins, sugars, and other compounds.
Once the worker bees have collected the nectar from the plants, they store it in their stomachs and head to the hives. Here, the worker bees vomit the nectar solution and leave it to the other bees in the hive.
The house bees then re-drink the nectar and store it in the stomach. Inside the stomach, the nectar is broken down further.
They continue with the process of vomiting and re-drinking the nectar and storing it in the stomach until the nectar is fully broken down into glucose and fructose. After which, the bees deposit the nectar into the honeycomb.
Nectar can be about 70% water so; the next thing is for the house bees is to reduce the water levels by evaporation to approximately 17%. Therefore, for approximately 1 to 3 days, the bees keep fanning the honeycombs with their wings for faster evaporation. The water content of approximately 17% is low enough not to encourage fungal or bacterial growth.
In addition to this, most bacteria and molds don’t survive in water activity below 0.75. This product has a water activity of about 0.6 so, there is no chance for any mold or bacteria to grow and cause spoilage.
Pro Tip: Water activity/free water is the measure of the amount of water in a substance that is available for microbial growth.
Acidic/ Low pH
Honey has a low Ph (approximately 3.4 to 6.1). The acidity results from several acids like gluconic acid (dominant) produced during honey ripening.
The presence of gluconic acid leads to the production of hydrogen peroxide and this inhibits bacterial growth. Other than these two acids, there are others like; citric and formic acid that further boosts the antibacterial properties in honey.
For bacteria such as Streptococcus, C. diphtheria, Salmonella, and E. coli, the acid levels are certainly too harsh for them and this hampers their growth.
Q: How long can you keep honey?
A: It can store for decades or longer if properly stored. However, honey products have an expiry date of around 2 years.
Q: Can you get food poisoning from honey/ Is raw honey dangerous?
A: Since it doesn’t go through a pasteurization process, raw honey can hold some spores of Clostridium botulinum. This is a bacterium that is harmful to pregnant people, children, and babies. In rare cases, this product can lead to botulism poisoning which may result in paralysis.
Q: What’s the difference between raw and pure honey?
A: Raw honey is gotten straight from the hives and is available as either unfiltered or filtered forms. On the other hand, pure honey is available in a pasteurized form and doesn’t contain any added ingredients. Also, there is regular honey which is pasteurized and may contain added sugars.
To summarize, it’s evident that honey is characterized by unique chemical composition that guarantees its storage. These components include;
- Enzymes that kill bacteria
- High sugar levels that make bacterial survivability impossible
- Low moisture levels
- Low or acidic PH
And lastly, it helps if you can store your honey properly free from contaminants.
Do you have any thoughts on this? Let’s know in the comments.