Why Does Honey Crystallize?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: B.and E. Dudzinscy)

There’s just something about crystallized honey that tends to make people nervous. It’s the polar opposite of the runny, translucent honey found in a plastic bear on grocery store shelves. Instead, it’s solidified enough that you need to scrape it out of the jar with a heavy spoon; its texture is grainy and almost chewy. But this kind of honey is completely normal. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s even more delicious. It’s just a matter of understanding how exactly crystallization happened and then knowing what to do with it.

Crystallized Honey and Why It Happens

Honey is made up of about 70 percent sugar and less than 20 percent water. Crystallization is dependent on the ratio of the two principal sugars found inside: fructose and glucose. With far more sugar than the water can dissolve, honey is in a constant flux of states. When the glucose molecules separate from the water, they begin to form a crystal. Once one crystal has formed, crystals will continue to build on each other and grow. So the more glucose in the honey, the more it tends to crystallize. Crystallized honey is actually a sign that honey hasn’t been diluted or adulterated in any way. A few additional factors that cause honey to crystallize include the presence of pollen and cooler temperatures.

Crystals and Honey, Pearls and Oysters

The crystals can also build on any natural particles that are found in honey, specifically pollen. “I think of pollen like the grain of sand in an oyster, the nucleus on which the pearl grows. In a similar way, pollen forms the nucleus for crystallization, with the quantity and size of the pollen grains playing a critical role in the honey’s texture,” says Zeke Freeman, founder of Bee Raw.

“Crystallization of honey is a gift of nature,” Freeman says. It’s a sign that the honey you’re enjoying hasn’t been altered through pasteurization or filtering — it’s raw and natural. The process actually even helps preserve the quality and flavor of the honey.

Natural honeys crystallize differently depending on their composition. Some crystallize uniformly through the jar, while others will only partially crystallize, retaining a liquid portion at the top of the jar. The crystals can be big and gritty or fine and sandy. And even if you bought a jar that was completely liquid to begin with, some form of crystallization will happen over time.

Embrace the Crystals

While you can re-liquify crystallized honey, I think it’s something that should be embraced. Sure, it’s too thick to be drizzled over your yogurt, but it’s incredible spread over toast, English muffins, bagels, and biscuits. The crystals add crunch and texture that keep things interesting. It’s also great used in a glaze for meat. Or stir a bit into your tea or coffee — the solid spoonful will melt away and dissolve in seconds. Soon, you’ll realize that crystallized honey isn’t something to be feared, but rather something to be devoured.

Do you enjoy crystallized honey? What’s your favorite way to use it?