Why does raw honey crystallize?

Many people are so used to runny honey, they mistakenly believe that there is something wrong with crystallized honey. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Let’s establish some facts about honey crystallization.

  1. Raw honey crystallizes naturally over time. There is nothing wrong with honey that crystallizes and crystallization is not a sign that sugar has been added to honey or that the honey has spoiled.
  2. Raw honey may crystallize with small, fine crystals or with larger, grittier crystals.
  3. Occasionally crystallized honey may sink to the bottom of the jar with liquid honey remaining on top. This is because glucose tends to crystallize quite quickly, and the crystallized glucose will usually clump together and separate from the other natural sugars. In honeys with more glucose, crystallization occurs throughout the honey so this separation is less likely to occur. 
  4. Crystallized honey is a lighter colour than liquid honey because crystallized glucose (one of the naturally occurring sugars in honey) is naturally white.

Now why does raw honey crystallize? The answer is related to the specific natural composition of raw honey as well as the conditions under which it is stored.

  1. Glucose-fructose-water ratio. Honey is a supersaturated solution of naturally occurring sugars in a small amount of water (less than 20% per cent). Within the warm environment of the hive, the sugar-water balance is stable and crystallization is slow to occur. However when honey is removed from this warm environment into a cooler one, the overabundance of glucose and fructose dissolved in very little water becomes unstable, resulting in crystallization. Glucose is less soluble in water than fructose, so the higher the glucose content of the honey, the faster crystallization occurs. Honey with a higher fructose content crystallizes quite slowly and can stay largely liquid for years. Honey with a low moisture content will crystallize firmly, while honey with a higher moisture content will have a softer texture.
  2. Storage temperature. Honey only remains in a stable, liquid form while it is in a warm environment, similar to temperatures within a hive (around 35°C). Honey tends to crystallize at lower temperatures (around 10°C- 15°C). Gently warming honey up to around 35°C will dissolve the glucose crystals and make the honey more liquid for some time, but raw honey will tend to crystallize again.
  3. Presence of catalysts. The last factor impacting the crystallization of honey is the presence of minute particles which act as nuclei or seeds for crystallization. Raw honey contains these catalysts in the form of tiny bits of wax, pollen, propolis and air bubbles, which encourage crystallization. In contrast, processed honey is much less likely to crystallize since it has been filtered and heated to remove these natural, beneficial components.

We hope this helps answer your questions about crystallized honey.