Anyone’s who had a jar or bottle of honey in their pantry or kitchen cabinets is familiar with what happens when it’s left there too long. The honey crystallizes, turning from a gooey liquid into a semi-solid (or solid) crunchy mass of sugar.
Conventional wisdom says that the “right” way to decrystallize honey is to put a glass jar of honey into a warm water bath on the stove, and stir it until the crystallized sugar re-dissolves – and the “wrong” way to do it is to heat up the honey in the microwave.
That conventional wisdom is half-right; you should never decrystallize honey in the microwave. As for the glass jar part, that’s the easiest way to do things – but not the only way. You can still restore crystallized honey if it’s in a plastic container or one of those ubiquitous honey bee squeeze bottles.
Here’s what you need to know.
Why Can’t You Decrystallize Honey In The Microwave?
You should never put honey in a microwave-safe container and put it into the microwave oven to restore it to its original liquid state. In fact, microwaving honey just to warm it up isn’t a good idea, either.
The temperatures in a microwave oven are harder to control so the honey will be heated unevenly, meaning you won’t necessarily “get your honey back” in its original condition. Honey that’s been decrystallized in the microwave will usually start crystallizing again relatively quickly, sometimes even before you can put it back in the pantry or cabinet.
Just as importantly, the microwaves generated by the oven do as much damage to honey as when it’s subjected to high heat. Microwaves cause the water inside the honey to boil, drastically changing the taste and texture of the honey just like the heat from boiling water would.
That’s not all; microwaves essentially destroy most of the beneficial enzymes and vitamins responsible for much of the honey’s health and nutritional benefits. It won’t really be honey anymore, just a sweetener.
There are much better options.
Decrystallizing Honey in a Plastic Bottle
There’s one simple reason why you can’t put plastic honey containers into a traditional warm water bath: once temperatures inside the pot of water reach 140° or so, the plastic will start to melt. That’s obviously counter-productive and not what we’re looking for. A stove-top water bath is only suitable for heating honey in glass containers.
Here are the ways to liquefy crystallized honey while it’s still in a plastic honey bottle.
A Different Type of Hot Water Bath
The hot water from your kitchen faucet usually isn’t hot enough to do any damage to your honey – or to a plastic honey jar. Most home water heaters are set between 120-140°, so the water will be warm enough for heating honey and restoring it to liquid form, without harming the honey or melting the plastic.
Simply fill a bowl with hot water from your faucet, put the plastic container into it, and stir the honey. The process may require several repetitions, since the water will cool down quickly and will have to be replaced with “new” hot water. But be patient and it will do the trick.
Using a Slow Cooker
The beauty of crockpots and slow cookers is that they can be set to stay at low temperatures, with their lowest setting usually around 115-120 degrees. That low temperature lets you decrystallize honey in either glass or plastic jars of honey.
All you have to do is put the jar of honey into an uncovered slow cooker partially filled with water (make sure the water level isn’t high enough to spill into the honey), and set the cooker on “low.” In 6-8 hours, depending on how crystallized the honey is, you’ll have liquid honey again. And in most cases you won’t even have to stir it; you can turn on the cooker and let the heat do its work, just checking every once in a while to see if it’s done.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to use a thermometer the first time you use this method, to double-check that the water doesn’t get too hot. If you happen to have a sous vide cooker, it will let you decrystallize honey even more easily since the temperature will stay exactly where you set it.
One final note: if you search Google, you may see people suggesting you use the top rack of your dishwasher to decrystallize honey that’s in a waterproof plastic container. This is far from foolproof, since many dishwashers reach higher-than-optimal temperatures, and any “waterproof” container that really isn’t will leave you with a gooey mess to clean up afterward.
Why Does Honey Crystallize, Anyway?
Things would be a lot easier if you could just do something to prevent honey from crystallizing in the first place. Sorry to break the news, but honey crystallizes naturally.
Even when a beekeeper harvests it from the beehive, honey is basically a supersaturated sugar-water solution, meaning there’s too much sugar for the amount of water it contains. Over time, some of that sugar (the glucose, not the fructose) “falls out” of solution and forms crystals by binding to any tiny pieces of solid material it can find. Those crystals grow in size, and the honey eventually solidifies.
This crystallization of honey happens most rapidly in raw honey, which hasn’t been filtered and pasteurized to remove the bee glue (propolis), pollen and beeswax naturally contained in honey. The ultra-smooth honey you usually see on grocery store shelves won’t have those healthy inclusions – so it won’t form crystals as quickly. It won’t be as good for you, either.
You can also slow down crystallization by sticking with varieties of honey that are high in fructose and lower in sucrose; the less sucrose they have, the longer it will take for the sucrose to separate from the honey and form crystals. Tupelo and acacia honey are well-known to crystallize extremely slowly because of their lower glucose content. Storing honey at room temperature will also slow crystallization, since temperatures below 50° (especially temperatures in a refrigerator) will jump-start the process.
Of course, you don’t have to decrystallize your honey. It’s delicious in recipes, eaten on toast or muffins, sprinkled into yogurt or cereal, or eaten as a snack. One other yummy alternative: whipping the crystals together with liquid honey to create “creamed honey.” Creaming creates a perfect consistency for spreading, and keeps the honey stable so it won’t crystallize further.