It is more or less universally known that honey does not spoil. It keeps forever and is rather amazing when it comes to its properties. But is this actually true?
I love honey and usually have a jar or two kicking around. 99% of the time, this is raw unpasteurized honey since I like to get as many of its health benefits as I can and try to avoid processed foods in any way, shape or form (plus I just like the taste and texture of raw honey the best). Like the majority of people, I believed that it simply cannot spoil. And I’ve never had a problem storing it. That is, until one fine day I reached for a recently purchased and barely used jar and found it has changed its appearance. Instead of a smooth, creamy solid I would usually spread on toast, I was looking at something that was frothy and smelled a little funny. I had never seen anything like it before and was quite stumped by it. Which leads us to today’s Google search: can honey spoil?
The simple answer is no. Or at least not really. Because of honey’s low moisture content and high acidity, bacteria cannot survive in it, so it can’t spoil in the sense that it would harm you if you ingest it. However, its taste and texture can alter in some cases. Most people know that liquid honey will crystallize over time, which is an easy fix that only requires a bit of heat. What most people (myself included) don’t know is that under certain conditions, it can actually ferment. That’s right: fermented honey is a thing.
While bacteria can’t survive in honey, yeast can, and it is found in all pollen. This is why honey is pasteurized: not to remove the bacteria but to remove the yeast. Raw honey retains the yeast found in pollen but in most cases, these yeast cells can’t reproduce because the moisture content is too low. So they just kind of hang out there, take naps, and don’t get out much. In some cases, however, conditions exist that allow the yeast cells to reproduce, which leads to fermentation. This happens when the moisture content in honey is higher than 17-18%, yeast spores are present, and the temperature is above 10 degrees Celsius.
So what do you do if you like raw honey but prefer it did not start producing alcohol? Store it in a cool place. That way, even if the moisture content is high enough for the yeast to reproduce, the temperature will be too low and the yeast will remain dormant.
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