Does honey Go Bad? Why Raw Honey Never Expires

You could be forgiven for thinking that there is something magical about raw honey. But, does honey go bad?

Touted as a superfood, raw honey has a wide range of benefits for our health. Raw honey is a very complex substance, containing over 200 components. Research is ongoing, revealing exciting findings for our well-being and medical care.

Not only that, given the right conditions, raw honey never expires. This incredible fact has been backed up by Science and Archaeology. Historians were stunned to discover that raw honey found in ancient Egyptian tombs was still perfectly safe to eat!

Now that’s a pretty amazing shelf life.

honey frames with honey removed

Does Honey Go Bad?

But what about the modern pantry? Does honey go bad when kept in the average family home? You will be pleased to know that some honey really does keep indefinitely. However, there are important things to bear in mind.

The honey found in those ancient tombs was raw honey, not processed honey. Also, the Egyptians knew a thing or two about storing honey. So the question, ‘does honey expire?’ is not quite as easy as it seems. 

This article explains which honey stays fresh and why it doesn’t go bad. We also point out key things to watch out for when you are buying and storing honey.

Why Raw Honey Never Expires

Raw honey has a very high sugar content, at around 80 percent. The complex sugar in honey is made up of roughly 35% glucose with 40% fructose, plus a range of other minerals, vitamins. That means when it comes to honey vs sugar, there are some good reasons for choosing honey. The sugar in honey acts as a preservative. 

But the lack of water is important too.  With only 18 percent of water, there is not enough moisture for harmful microbes to multiply in. The low moisture content causes bacteria to dehydrate, stopping growth and reproduction. 

does honey go bad? not if it is raw honey

Honey is also acidic, with an average pH of 3.9. This is bad news for bacteria, especially E. coli, streptococcus and salmonella. But there are other compounds in raw honey with antimicrobial properties which act to kill germs

The antibacterial effect of honey is linked to a special enzyme called glucose oxidase which the bees add to the nectar when making honey. As the honey ripens in the hive, this substance converts the sugar into gluconic acid and creates a compound called hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is very effective in killing germs. However scientists now know that other compounds play a role too, including polyphenols, flavonoids and methylglyoxal (MGO).  MGO is the active ingredient in Mānuka honey.

The higher the level of MGO, the better the honey is at killing germs. Medical Mānuka has the highest MGO rating and is used to treat severe burns and wounds.

So, does honey go bad? Well, assuming it is genuine raw honey, the answer is no.

honey bee on manuka flower

Can honey go bad?

Sadly, there are a few reasons why honey can go bad. 

Honey can go bad if it is harvested too early, before the bees have had enough time to reduce the moisture level to below 18 percent. The bees really do know what they are doing. They only cap the honeycomb cells when the honey has been ripened enough.

Some unethical producers have been found to add sugar syrup to reduce their costs and bulk out their product. Any addition of water comes with the risk of introducing unwanted bacteria and other contaminants. This can also increase the moisture content to a level that will allow bacterial growth. That is why it’s so important to buy from reputable producers who only produce raw honey

Honey can also go bad if it is not stored correctly. Honey is hydrophilic. That means that it absorbs moisture. If the lid of your honey jar is not screwed on tight enough the honey will suck up water from the air, causing a rise in moisture levels. If the honey absorbs too much water its dehydrating properties will no longer stop bacterial growth.

Always try to store your raw honey in a cool location, away from direct sunlight. It is best to keep it in the container it came in. This will prevent any cross-contamination. If this is not possible, make sure to use a clean, glass jar with a tight lid. Always avoid storing honey in metal because it can oxidize. Using a clean spoon or knife will also help to prevent any germs getting into your honey.

So, does honey go bad? If it is genuine raw honey that hasn’t been harvested too early, is stored correctly and is kept just like nature intended, then your honey will never expire.

Does honey go bad? Not if stored correctly.

My honey has turned solid — has it gone bad?

Most raw honey will crystallise over time. This does not mean that it has gone bad. In fact, this is a great sign that your honey is raw and unpasteurised with all the goodness locked in. It is the traces of pollen in raw honey which cause it to crystallise. These are the very same things that make honey so good for you. 

If you prefer runny honey, simply warm your honey to dissolve the crystals. The easiest way is to place the jar of honey in a warm water bath and stir it gently. Just take care not to splash any water into your precious honey.

Of course raw honey is just as delicious and nutritious when crystallized and some people prefer their honey with a grainy texture. The colour and texture also differs widely between different raw honeys with a variety of reasons why some honey is liquid and some honey is solid.

Crystalised honey doesn't mean it has gone bad

Conclusion: Does Honey Go Bad?

Raw honey is a quite remarkable substance. It can stay fresh for decades or even centuries when stored properly. This ability is partly due to the honey’s high sugar content, low water and low pH value. But we are learning more all the time about how the specific enzymes and compounds in raw honey play a role in killing germs. All raw honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. But some raw honeys have unique compounds that make them particularly useful for fighting disease and killing germs. 

So, does honey go bad? Really that’s up to you. If you buy from a reputable producer and store your honey properly, it should never expire. But after reading all these wonderful things about honey you might have realised there is only one sensible answer to the question: How long does honey last? And that’s: Not very long at all, It’s just too good to resist!  

Mountain Valley Manuka Honey 500g
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