Honey crystallization, often referred to as granulation, is a natural phenomenon by which honey turns from a liquid to semi-solid state with granular composition. After being extracted from the honeycomb, honey tends to crystallize much faster than if it were in the wax cells.
Quite often honey crystallization is “misunderstood” by honey consumers. A number of them assume that honey crystallizes (granulates) due to poor quality, bad storage or because it is unnatural and adulterated. Actually, just the opposite holds true. If honey does not crystallize for a long time, except for those types of honey in which the natural crystallization process goes slower (acacia), that often is a clear indication for honey adulteration, dilution, etc.
Liquid honey usually is the best honey for sale, but quite often not the best honey to buy.
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Crystallization by no means changes the quality of honey. It only affects some external features, like change of color and texture. This is quite a natural process and if the honey in the honey jar in our kitchen has crystallized, it does not at all mean that it is spoilt and is no longer fit for consumption. It is good to know that crystallization is an attribute of pure natural honey.
Why does honey crystallize?
Simply put, honey is a highly concentrated sugar (carbohydrate) solution. Typically, it contains more than 70% carbohydrates and less than 20% water. It is obvious that in percentage terms, sugars are predominant. This means that water in honey contains much greater amount of sugars than it can naturally dissolve. The overabundance of sugars makes the solution unstable. Since everything in nature seeks balance, including honey, crystallization is an absolutely natural phenomenon which occurs when glucose separates from water, after which glucose remains in the form of crystals and the initial concentrated solution gets into a balanced state. Let us go into the subject a bit deeper, without complicating things.
What determines when and how honey will crystallize?
There are two main types of sugars in the carbohydrate composition of honey. These are fructose and glucose (the invert sugar in honey). The content of fructose and glucose is different depending on the type of honey. Generally, fructose ranges from 30 to 44%, and glucose from 25% to 40%. That gives us a major clue. The balance between those two basic monosaccharides in the composition of honey is the main reason for honey crystallization and determines whether a certain type of honey would crystallize faster or slower. As a matter of fact, glucose is the underlying cause of crystallization because of its lower solubility compared with that of fructose which remains in a liquid state due to its better solubility. When glucose crystallizes, it separates from water and turns into small crystals, as mentioned above.
Different types of honey crystallize at different rates (from 1-2 months to more than 2 years). Some types of honey crystallize completely, while others do not undergo such a steady process. For example, it can be observed how in a jar of honey there is a crystallized layer on the bottom, and another layer of liquid honey on the top. Different types of honey differ in the size of the crystals formed. Basically, the faster the honey crystallizes, the finer the crystals are.
Crystallized honey tends to set a paler color than when liquid.
Besides, there are a number of other factors, some more substantial than others, that could initiate, accelerate or slow down the process of crystallization. It is even possible, under certain conditions, that honey would crystallize several days after the extraction. Honey components, which include other carbohydrates besides glucose and fructose, as well as 300 other substances, like amino acids, proteins, minerals, acids, etc., may also affect the crystallization process. Furthermore, the whole process could be accelerated, if some dust, floral pollen, bits of wax or foreign crystals get into the honey. Basically, if you like honey in such a state and are eager to have it crystallized, you could considerably accelerate the process by adding a spoon of crystallized honey to the liquid honey.
Temperature, relative humidity and the type of packaging could also make a difference. In cases where considerable delay in crystallization is desired, as far as that is possible, it is the temperature that should be mainly considered. At room temperature, the crystallization process, depending on the type of honey, would start in several weeks, months, and very rarely in several days.
Cooler temperatures (below 10°C) are ideal for crystallization delay, whereas temperatures from 10°C to 21°C favor the process. Higher temperatures (21°C - 27°C) delay crystallization like the lower ones, but could affect negatively some of the valuable honey components (at long-term storage). Still higher temperatures successfully prevent crystallization, but irrevocably spoil (destroy) honey at long-term storage with no less success.
Both subzero and extreme temperatures affect honey negatively. It is interesting to mention the results of some studies which show that honey could remain in its liquid state for a considerable amount of time if kept at a temperature of 0°C for at least 5 weeks, and then stored at 14°C. That is referred to as a curious fact, which honeypedia.info does not guarantee to be a 100 % true, but does not deny it either.