"HELP my honey is crystallizing! What's happening?"
To explain this phenomenon, let's first understand what constitutes honey?
Honey is nectar from flowers that have been broken down by the bees and wing-fanned till the excess water content is evaporated - leaving you with a nutritious and supersaturated solution of sugars. Honey typically contains more than 70% sugars and less than 20% water for normal apis mellifera honey (this ratio doesn't apply to stingless bee honey).
So why does honey crystallise?
Well, honey is made from nectar, which bees process first by infusing it with special enzymes. One of these enzymes is called glucose oxidase, and it helps to remove the water content from the honey. Hence the resulting honey contains more sugar (mostly glucose and fructose) than its low water content can naturally hold, which makes it unstable. Over time, the sugar will start to precipitate out of the solution, causing the water to separate from the sugars and crystallize.
Some factors affect the crystallisation process:
Unfiltered honey (also known as raw honey) may crystallize faster than filtered honey. This is because the crystals can form on pollen or beeswax or any other small particles within the unfiltered honey solution, which will lead to other crystals forming.
Honey is composed of two major sugars - glucose and fructose. The percentage of each will determine how quickly honey will crystallize. Glucose itself is less soluble than fructose, so honeys with more glucose will crystallize more quickly. On the other hand, honeys with more fructose will crystallize more slowly because fructose is more water soluble. For examples honeys from clover, lavender and rapeseed, have a higher glucose to fructose ratio. Hence they tend to crystallize faster than other types of honey. On the other hand, acacia and tupelo honeys have a higher fructose to glucose content, so they will crystallize slowly than other honeys.
Honey that is held at high or low temperatures will crystallize more slowly, or not at all - although we wouldn't suggest keeping honey at high temperatures as that destroys a lot of beneficial enzymes and probiotics. For honey to crystallise, the most ideal temperature is 14°C or 57°F. Many honeys that you find in supermarkets do not crystallise because they undergo pasteurisation which a treatment of high heat - plus a process of ultra-filtration which removes beneficial pollen.
So is crystallised honey edible?
Yes it still is edible, in fact it could be easier to spread. Actually creamed honey is in fact a form of crystallised honey. It is made by controlling the crystallisation process so that the crystals formed are of a very small size, giving the resulting honey a smoother texture.
How can I make crystallised honey liquid again?
It's easy, simply place your crystallised honey in a warm water bath of around 40°C or 100°F for around 15 minutes or more, until the honey liquefies again. You will want to ensure that the warm water covers as much of the jar as possible.
Is crystallised honey real? or fake? I'm confused!
Ok so here's the slightly tricky bit. Crystallised honey is an indication of real raw honey - but only for honey produced by the Italian species of honeybees known as Apis Mellifera. However it isn't an indication of raw honey for stingless bee honey like ours, produced by a completely different species - in our case the Tetragonula Biroi variety. This is because our stingless bees produce honey that has a naturally higher water content, and hence will not face the same circumstance of a supersaturated mixture.
In conclusion, the crystallisation of honey indicates that it is raw and less processed, but it's more for normal honeybee honeys and not stingless bee honeys. Whether your honey is truly pure or not depends on the beekeepers and who is farming the honey. You can read up more about common adulteration process in this article.