How To Soften Honey: Methods To Decrystallize Hard Honey

There’s no need to panic if you go to the pantry to get your jar of honey – and find that the golden, liquid honey you bought a few months ago has become hard and unusable.

It hasn’t spoiled. In fact, it’s still perfectly usable.

The honey has simply “crystallized,” in a completely natural process that hasn’t changed its flavor or aroma. The only difference between what you have and what you bought is that it’s now in a solid or semi-solid state.

Many people love to sprinkle crystallized honey onto their cereal or fruit, eat it as a snack, or blend it with soft honey to create spreadable “creamed honey.” Hard, crystallized honey is even sold in some European grocery stores right next to liquid honey.

But you want to convert it back to the gooey, liquid state it came in? That’s not a problem.

After we explain exactly what happened to your honey, we’ll look at several ways to soften – or, as most people call it – decrystallize hard honey.

Why Did This Happen to My Honey?

Why does honey crystallize? There’s no mystery; for most varieties of raw honey it’s as natural as hot water cooling off. It’s happens simply because of the physical and chemical properties of honey.

The soft, gooey liquid honey that beekeepers harvest is basically just a solution of water and sugars (mostly glucose and fructose), with a few other things mixed in. However, there’s not enough water in honey to keep all of its sugar dissolved permanently; scientists call that a “supersaturated” solution.

Over time, or with environmental stress like cold temperatures, some of the glucose begins falling out of the solution. It binds to any small particle it can find, and forms a crystal. More glucose molecules form more crystals, they join together, and poof! Your honey becomes hard, or as those scientists describe it, crystallized.

We deliberately mentioned raw honey at the start of this section, because it’s the type of honey most likely to crystallize rapidly. Remember those “small particles” we just mentioned? There are tons of them in honey that hasn’t been filtered and pasteurized to remove all of the pollen, bee glue (propolis) and beeswax contained in raw, unfiltered honey. They’re all small particles for glucose to crystalize on.

“Pure” honey, which has undergone heavy processing to increase its shelf life and make it look pretty on the shelf, takes much longer to become hard. It also doesn’t have all of the health benefits that the pollen, bee glue and beeswax in honey are responsible for, but hey, you can’t have everything.

There are two other reasons why your honey may have gotten hard before its time. Some varieties contain more glucose than others, so a bottle of clover honey (with a high percentage of glucose) will crystallize faster than a jar of tupelo honey (with more fructose than glucose). And honey crystallizes faster at cool temperatures, so if you’ve been keeping your container of honey in the fridge and not at room temperature, you’ve been asking for trouble all along.

So How Do I Soften My Honey?

There are several ways to decrystallize honey, including the time-honored use of a water bath. The one thing the methods all have in common: they’re all easy, and they’ll all reliquify your honey without damaging it.

Traditional Water Bath Method

For this method you’ll need to have your honey stored in a glass jar or bottle. If it’s in a plastic container, you’ll have to either transfer it into glass or use one of the other decrystallizing methods we’ll describe later. If you try this with a plastic bottle, the bottle will probably melt.

Put the glass container into a pot of water (about three-quarters of the honey container should be surrounded by water), and heat the water on the stove. Never go above medium heat on the stove; warm-to-hot water (140-150°) will turn the honey into liquid form, but “cooking” it in very hot or boiling water (160-220°) will damage the honey’s nutrients, texture and flavor. Stir the honey once every minute or two so it decrystallizes fully and evenly, and you’ll have beautiful liquid honey in 30 minutes or less.

Warm Water Method

Here’s a secret about the hot water that comes out of your kitchen faucet: it’s warm and not really hot. Sure, it feels hot, but most home water heaters are set between 115° and 140° so people don’t get scalded. That works perfectly for decrystallizing honey in a plastic bottle or jar, since 140° is the point at which plastic begins to melt. You can, of course, use this method for glass jars of honey as well.

Fill a bowl with “hot” water from your faucet, and put the bottle of honey into it so the water surrounds about three-quarters of the container. Stir the honey continuously (or at least until your wrist needs a rest), refill the bowl with fresh “hot” water when the bath cools down too much, and your hard honey will soften up over time.

Slow Cooker Method

Sous vide machines and slow cookers are great for heating honey so it will soften, since their temperatures are almost perfectly regulated.

Put your honey containers into a slow cooker filled with water, making sure the water level is only about three-quarters of the way up the honey jars. Leave the top off the cooker and set it at its lowest power setting, which will usually be around 120°. You can then just let the honey sit and decrystallize on its own, coming back to check on it occasionally. The process may take 6-8 hours, but this is the easiest way to soften honey.

Decrystallization Methods to Avoid

Some people swear by their microwave oven or dishwasher when they want to decrystallize honey. Those methods, however, are unreliable at best.

Microwaving honey, even if it’s in a glass jar (one common recommendation) or a microwave-safe dish (another one), will damage the honey. That’s because microwaving heats water molecules in the honey to the boiling point – which, as we’ve already mentioned, will destroy the quality of the honey and the beneficial enzymes in it.

The other suggestion you’ll hear is “just put a watertight honey jar in the top rack of a dishwasher.” The wash cycle, however, often hits temperatures which will damage the honey. It could even show you – much too late – that the jar wasn’t as watertight as you thought. And cleaning honey out of a dishwasher isn’t something you want to try.

Stick to the tried-and-true methods; they’ll soften your honey to its beautiful liquid consistency with no fuss and definitely no muss.

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