Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Heating and Freezing Honey

Heating Honey:

In the previous post we looked at why honey crystallizes. Since it's a natural for the sugars in honey to crystallize over time, what's the best method to re-liquefy it?

The answer is to use heat, but the question is how much?

The melting point of crystallized honey is between 40 and 50 °C (104 and 122 °F). Too much heat will destroy the nutritional elements of honey. Heating up to 37 °C (98.6 °F) causes loss of nearly 200 components, some of which are antibacterial. Heating to 40 °C (104 °F) reduces enzymes.

Many commercial beekeepers invest in heated honey storage tanks. With the constant heat the honey never gets a chance to form crystals. These tanks are always kept around 125 degrees F. (More on this later when I learn more about them…)

With our small time operation with no heated tank (not yet at least) we keep all our honey in glass jars. Using glass makes it easier to heat the honey up. In previous years we kept our honey in food grade plastic containers but then it crystallized in those containers and then had to be scooped out into jars and then heated to liquefy. So now we're skipping the plastic entirely.

All family members and even a few friends save and wash all their glass pickle, relish, jam jars, etc., for us to use. We don't put all our honey in "for sale" jars until we need them. That way we don't have to buy boxes and boxes of for sale jars all at once. When ready, we heat the jars to liquefy the honey and then pour into the for sale jars as needed and label them.

[Photo - Last year's plastic pails.  We still use them but the jars are used first.]

We use a pressure cooker to heat the honey in a hot bath. This is the marketing manager's (Dad's) job. He and Mom boil water in their pressure cooker. Then they turn off the heat and set the honey jars inside the hot water. The pressure cooker has a wire base which keeps the jars from sitting directly on the metal bottom. They leave the jars for a couple hours and the heat works to slowly melt the crystals.

The key is to not let the temperature get above 40°C (104 °F). At 50 °C (122 °F) honey will caramelize.

Pasteurized honey available in grocery stores has been heated at 161 °F (71.7 °C) or higher. Cooking at this heat destroys yeast cells, reduces enzymes, darkens the colour and changes the taste and smell of the honey.

Freezing Honey:

Below 5 °C, the honey will not crystallize and the original texture and flavour are preserved indefinitely.

Honey will not freeze solid. Instead, as the temperatures become colder it becomes thicker (think of the saying like Molasses in January…). While appearing or even feeling solid, it will continue to flow at very slow rates.

My preference is to scoop the crystallized honey straight from the jar and into my hot tea. In my opinion that's the best way to melt it.

(Many thanks to those experts who contribute to Wikepedia where this info came from)