Why Does Honey Crystallize? (It’s A Good Thing!)

Updated on November 23rd, 2021

Over time, honey crystallizes or granulates, transforming from a thick, viscous liquid into a solid, gritty mass. Crystallization is a natural process that does not alter the elemental composition of the honey.

Honey crystallizes as its unusually high level of dissolved glucose separates from water (i.e., granulates). Primary factors influencing the crystallization of honey are its:

  • Proportions of fructose, glucose, and water,
  • Amount of particulate matter such as pollen,
  • Method of processing, and
  • Storage temperature and duration.

Crystallization is not a sign of spoiling. On the contrary, crystallization indicates that honey is natural and unadulterated.

A popular, spreadable form of honey called creamed honey is granulated honey produced by controlling the crystallization process.

This article answers why does honey crystallize and why you should like crystallized honey.

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Chemical Composition Of Honey

Bees gather sweet liquid plant nectar and store it in a “honey stomach,” which mixes the nectar with bacteria and enzymes.

Enzymes change the nectar’s chemical makeup, and complex sugar (sucrose) breaks down into simple sugars (glucose and fructose).

The mixed nectar is stored in wax combs cells where bees evaporate water content down to about 17% and increase the total dissolved sugar content (mainly fructose and glucose) to about 80%.

The remaining components of honey are other sugars, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes.

This level of dissolved sugar in liquid honey is much higher than would typically exist at that temperature. Thus, honey is a supersaturated solution.

What Is Honey Crystallization?

Supersaturated solutions are unstable due to the high concentration of its dissolved components. These components are naturally prone to precipitating out of the solution (separating from water) and forming crystals.

Honey crystallization occurs when sugar (glucose) precipitates out of solution forming sugar crystals. Preliminary crystals become attachment points for more glucose. Thus, these crystals serve as nuclei (starters or “seeds”) for further crystallization.

Honey’s appearance turns cloudy in the initial stages of crystallization. Eventually, as more crystals form, liquid honey becomes a semi-solid, gritty mass.

While crystallization changes the form and appearance of honey, the chemical composition remains the same.

How Long Does It Take Raw Honey To Crystallize?

The rate at which honey crystallizes is determined chiefly by several factors.

Honey Crystallizes Based On Its Ratio Of Fructose To Glucose

The ratios of several honey components influence honey crystallization, as shown in the following table[1]

Influencing factorNo CrystiallizationFast Crystallization
Glucose-to-water (G/W) ratio< 1.70> 2.16
Fructose-to-glucose (F/G) ratio> 1.33< 1.11
(Glucose-Water)/Fructose ratio ((G/W)/F)<0.30>>0.49
% glucose< 27.70>35.00

Of all the factors in the table, most people focus on F/G as the primary consideration.

On average, honey is about 31% glucose and 38% fructose. The actual ratio depends on the type of nectar used by the bees. Fructose can range from 30% to 45%, while glucose ranges from 24% to 40%.[2]

For example, tupelo honey has fructose concentration at the high end of the range resulting in a fructose-to-glucose ratio (F/G) of about 1.50:1.00. With its very low proportion of glucose, tupelo honey can take a long time to exhibit any signs of crystallization.

Clover honey’s F/G, by comparison, is about 1.09:1.00.[3]

Other kinds of honey with high F/G are sage, acacia, sourwood, and locust honey, while goldenrod, sunflower, dandelion, and lavender honey have low ratios.[4][5][6]

Note: In addition to its impact on crystallization, the F/G affects the sweetness of honey. Fructose is twice as sweet as glucose.

Other Particles (Such As Pollen) Hasten Crystallization

Raw honey is not processed with high heat and heavy filtration. Unlike heavily processed and filtered honey, raw honey is strained to remove larger particles but still contains minute traces of pollen, dust, bee parts, wax, yeast, and some sugar crystals.

Glucose attaches to this particulate matter and separates out of the water, forming crystals. In addition, these glucose granules provide additional nuclei (or “seed”) for attachment, accelerating the process.

Processing Methods Affect The Rate Of Crystallization

Large honey producers pasteurize honey despite its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. The high heat of thermal pasteurization dissolves any seed crystals removing them as potential nuclei.

In addition, processed honey is ultrafiltered, removing pollen and other minute particles.

This processing significantly retards crystallization.

See our article What Is Raw Honey?, which discusses honey processing in more detail, including its adverse effects.

Raw honey may completely granulate in a relatively short period. However, consumers prefer honey in liquid form, and many seem to think that crystallized honey has gone bad. So, large producers make sure the supermarket shelves showcase easily pourable, processed honey.

While some consumers relish liquid honey, some appreciate the ability to spread crystallized honey.

Naturally granulated honey typically has large crystals creating a very gritty texture. However, you can produce smaller granules and smoother textured honey called creamed honey by controlling crystallization.

Creamed honey goes by many names, including spun honey and whipped honey.

See our article What Is Creamed Honey? for more information.

Honey Crystallizes Due to Storage Temperature And Duration

Storage temperature (and the duration of storage at a particular temperature) affect the viscosity of honey.

What is Viscosity?

Princeton University defines viscosity as “is a measure of a fluid’s resistance to flow. It describes the internal friction of a moving fluid. A fluid with large viscosity resists motion because its molecular makeup gives it a lot of internal friction. A fluid with low viscosity flows easily because its molecular makeup results in very little friction when it is in motion.”

Viscosity is an important property of honey, particularly during storage. The lower the temperature, the higher the viscosity. As viscosity increases, molecular mobility is inhibited, and reaction rates decrease.1

The following table shows how storage temperatures affect crystallization due to changes in viscosity.[7]

TemperatureAffect on Crystallization
< 39°F (4°C) Low tendency to crystallize due to high viscosity (resistance to movement)
41° - 45°F (5° - 7°C) Primary crystals form
57°F (14°C) Ideal constant temperature for crystallization growth
>86°F (30°C) Crystals melt at high temperature

Is Crystallized Honey Bad?

Crystallized honey is NOT bad. Honey granulation is an indication that your honey is raw with all its great attributes and ingredients intact. Crystallized honey is honey as the bees made it in a different form.

Granulate honey retains the properties, flavor, and aroma of liquid honey. However, the color will be lighter due to the no longer dissolved white sugar granules.

It is safe to eat crystallized honey.

Enjoy crystallized honey in your tea. Spread some on an English muffin with a bit of peanut butter. Yummy!

Crystallized honey spread on a toasted English muffin

However, there is one caveat.

As glucose separates from water, the moisture content of the honey will increase. With additional moisture, the yeast present in raw honey may start breaking down sugar, causing fermentation.

Storing crystallized honey at room temperature for a short period (up to 3 months), the risk of fermentation is relatively low. Keeping honey below 50°F (10°C) reduces that risk as yeast is inactive at that temperature.

How Do You Prevent Honey From Crystallizing?

As we’ve seen, cold temperatures and warm temperatures slow crystallization.

For cold temperatures, you might consider placing honey in the refrigerator or even the freezer but we do not recommend that. While this may impede granulation, it will also increase viscosity. Increased viscosity makes honey harder to pour, defeating the purpose of having liquid honey.

Therefore, keeping liquid honey at room temperature is the best way to keep the pace of crystallization slower than your pace of consumption. Avoid keeping honey in chilly cupboards or pantries.

Another option to prevent crystallization is to choose honey with a higher F/G. For example, consider tupelo, sage, or acacia honey.

Store honey in tightly sealed glass containers. Plastic containers are more porous and may allow small amounts of moisture and microscopic particulate to enter the honey, increasing the risk of crystallization.

I recently saw an article on Cook’s Illustrated that suggests preventing crystallization by adding light corn syrup to honey. Please don’t do that! There is nothing wrong with crystallized honey.

How To Decrystallize Honey

The best way to decrystallize honey is to increase its temperature above 86°F (30°C) for a short time.

Place a glass container of crystallized honey in warm to hot water and let it sit. Depending on the size of the container, it may take up to 30 minutes to decrystallize.

If you apply heat on the range, monitor the temperature carefully. Avoid going over 104°F (40°C). Excessive heat can degrade the aroma, flavor, and other components of your honey. (Heating honey is another reason to avoid plastic containers.)

It is possible to decrystallize honey in a microwave. However, it is challenging (if not impossible) to avoid overheating honey in the microwave.

Backyard Beekeeping And Crystallized Honey

Backyard beekeeping is a small operation. Honey extracted by hobbyists is generally raw and may crystallize rapidly. The odds are low that a backyard beekeeper is producing monofloral honey that is very slow to granulate.

If you sell or give away honey, you may need to explain about crystallization, so otherwise uninformed recipients know what to expect. You do not want people thinking you gave them spoiled honey.

Conclusion

Crystallization is a natural process in honey that results from its high concentration of unstable sugar molecules. The crystallization rate is influenced by several factors, including how the honey is processed, the ratios of various components, and storage temperature.

Crystallization indicates that honey is pure. Although the appearance may be off-putting to some consumers accustomed to liquid honey, it is safe to eat crystallized honey.

You can reverse crystallization by warming honey modestly for a short time.


[1] Bhesh Bhandari, Bruce D’Arcy & Camilla Kelly (1999) Rheology and crystallization kinetics of honey: Present status, International Journal of Food Properties, 2:3, 217-226, DOI: 10.1080/10942919909524606

[2] Ajibola A, Chamunorwa JP, Erlwanger KH. Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012;9:61. Published 2012 Jun 20. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-61

[3] Schayek JI, Kern M. US honeys varying in glucose and fructose content elicit similar glycemic indexes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Aug;106(8):1260-2. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2006.05.003. PMID: 16863724.

[4] COMPOSITION OF AMERICAN HONEYS By Jonathan W. White, Jr., Mary L. Riethof, Mary H. Subers, and Irene Kushnir, Eastern Utilization Research and Development Division, Agricultural Research Service, Philadelphia, Pa. Technical Bulletin No. 1261

[5] Lavender Honey – a honey for health benefitsat Healthy With Honey

[6] Sonia Amariei, Liliana Norocel, Laura Agripina Scripcă, An innovative method for preventing honey crystallization,

Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies,Volume 66, 2020, 102481, ISSN 1466-8564, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ifset.2020.102481

[7] Adapted from Fact Sheet – CrystallizationbyQSI – A Tentamus Company

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