Honey has been consumed by human beings for thousands of years. It was considered a sacred food by the Egyptians and was first recorded in prehistoric cave paintings over eight thousand years ago. However, pasteurizing honey is a much more recent process. Pasteurizing honey is a process designed to prolong its liquid shelf-life. This came about because of the consumerist nature of food culture, and the growing demand for honey. People prefer to buy liquid honey over crystalized, and so, pasteurizing honey became a way to prolong the monetized value of this liquid gold product. But what exactly is pasteurizing honey?
Pasteurizing honey is a heating process designed to prevent crystallization and fermentation. It is done to prolong the liquid shelf-life of honey and decrease the waste while simultaneously increasing the profit of this product. The disadvantage to this process is that it robs the honey of its nutritional value by depleting the enzymes found in its raw form.
There are some debates as to whether pasteurizing honey is even necessary. This is because the heating process kills a lot of its nutritional value, and people are not sure of the advantages. With products such as cows’ milk, pasteurizing is necessary to kill many of the bacteria found that are harmful for human consumption. Yet, when it comes to pasteurizing honey, the disadvantages seem to outweigh the advantages. Read more to find out why this is and what you can do to ensure you get the most out of your honey.
Is all honey pasteurized?
Most honey that you will find in a supermarket will be pasteurized. This is because the process of pasteurization slows down the honey from crystallizing, making it last longer in your cupboard at home. Furthermore, some raw forms of honey contain spores that produce a bacterium called clostridium botulinum. This can, in some cases, cause food poisoning and so some believe the pasteurization of honey will prevent this risk.
With this in mind, it is important to note that the pasteurization of honey has much more to do with its liquid shelf-life and little to do with the safety of consumption.
Us humans started to create artificial beehives to produce honey for our consumption around two thousand years ago. This was to make honey more accessible, on a much larger scale. We created something called a ‘skep’ which is made from clay and woven grass. However, to retrieve the honey, the entire hive would have to be destroyed. This method was inhumane and so is no longer used to create honey for our consumption.
Box hives were created in the mid-1800s so that we could retrieve honey from the bees in a friendly and humane way, which no longer included destroying them all. These boxes are filled with removable frames so that beekeepers can harvest the produce without causing too much disruption to the hive.
Since the invention of box hives, there has been widespread awareness of bees and the important role they play within our ecosystems. This way of harvesting honey is still used today and is the most efficient and friendly way of mass-producing honey.
As the demand for honey started to grow, so did the demand for a longer liquid shelf-life. Therefore, honey started to be pasteurized. Pasteurization prevents the honey from crystallizing. Crystallization is when the honey becomes hard and no longer pourable. Many people will not buy honey in this state. For sales purposes and consumer benefits, keeping the honey in a liquid-like consistency for longer generates less waste and more profit.
The downside of pasteurizing is that it kills most of the nutrients found in honey. This essentially makes eating honey redundant, as we no longer are reaping the benefits from the natural enzymes. If your honey is clear/translucent, the health benefits of eating it are minimal.
If you buy your honey from a local beekeeper as opposed to in a supermarket, you are much more likely to receive honey of a much higher nutritional value than the mass-produced version. Supporting your local beekeeper is better for the Earth and your health. This is always the best way to go when purchasing your honey products.
If you do not live in an area where a local beekeeper is working, then consider shopping for your honey at farmers’ markets or in local stores. You can check the labels of your products and see the process it took for that honey to reach the shelf. It makes so much more sense for you to buy honey that will bring you more health benefits too.
How do you pasteurize honey?
To pasteurize honey, you will need to complete five steps before the sixth and final step, which is bottling the honey. These steps include preheating, straining, filtration, heating, and cooling.
1&2. Preheating and Straining
The first two steps of the pasteurization process are usually combined. The raw honey is strained by using either a machine or is done manually using small bags. This is to remove any large remanence of beeswax that is left from the retrieval process. The honey is also preheated to a temperature of up to 104° Fahrenheit.
The third step is where the honey is filtered to a much finer degree so that any smaller pieces of beeswax and debris are removed. During this process, the honey is maintained at a temperature of 104° F and no higher, to ensure the remaining beeswax does not melt into the final result.
The honey is then heated further for a time of 30-40 minutes. There is some debate on how high the temperature should be heated to during this stage. This is because of the important need to protect the enzymes and flavor in the honey, and the higher the temperature, the more nutrients are destroyed. The agreed-upon temperature here is 150° F for a time of 20 minutes. However, this is under debate among the honey-making industry and so can vary, respectively.
The honey is then cooled quickly after the heating process to lock in the left-over nutrients before packaging.
These steps are followed largely by factories producing pasteurized honey for consumption. They use large machines to complete these steps and the final product is a translucent liquid-like consistency with a golden tinge. The honey is then dispensed into glass jars or bottles, before being shipped off to various supermarkets for sale.
If you are looking to pasteurize more locally sourced honey or are thinking of becoming a beekeeper, then you will need to purchase your own equipment to heat your honey. The process of heating smaller amounts of honey is much less intricate. You can even do this using a saucepan and your stove at home.
You can follow this guide here for a DIY pasteurization of honey at home.
Does pasteurizing honey prevent botulism?
Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium produced by botulinum spores. These spores can be found in honey. They produce toxins in food and can lead to botulism if consumed. Botulism is a dangerous form of food poisoning and requires immediate medical attention. It is a particular risk with infants as it can, in some cases, be fatal.
Although these spores are found in honey, honey is not a hospitable environment for them to produce clostridium botulinum. You need to recognize that the spores found in honey are not the actual bacteria themselves. They produce the bacteria, but only in the right conditions. It is the bacteria that then creates toxins and botulism.
However, there is a complication here. These spores can survive in extreme conditions such as high temperatures. They produce toxins when exposed to lower oxygen levels and temperatures. For healthy adults, if you consume a botulism spore, and not the bacteria itself, then it will pass through your system and you will be unharmed.
Yet, for newborns and young infants, consuming botulinum spores can be dangerous. This is because their intestines are not yet fully developed. If these spores are consumed, then there is a chance Clostridium botulinum can grow in their gut and create the toxins that lead to botulism. This can be fatal for infants.
Pasteurizing honey is high enough in temperature to kill toxins and bacteria. But it will not kill the bacteria spores. This is because the temperature to which honey is heated in the pasteurizing process is not high enough to kill them. To do any damage to these spores, they need to be boiled at 250°F or higher, and honey is pasteurized at only 150°F.
The upside to this is that botulism is incredibly rare. Especially in honey, where there is such an inhospitable environment for bacteria to grow. The spores can survive, but they cannot produce bacteria. With this knowledge, it can be argued that pasteurizing honey, to reduce the risk of botulism, is quite redundant.
If honey is unlikely to contain bacteria in it anyway, and the pasteurization process does not kill the spores, then why do we pasteurize honey?
New-time parents need to recognize that both raw honey and pasteurized honey are a risk to give to a small child. Although bacteria cannot grow in the environment of honey, there may be spores in there that will thrive in an underdeveloped intestine which can lead to botulism. It is not worth taking the risk with infants, even when the honey has been through this heating process.
How long does pasteurized honey last?
Honey will never go bad. However, it will crystalize. The time frame of the crystallization process varies significantly depending on the type of honey you have. For example, some honey can crystalize in a matter of days, whereas for others it is a matter of months. Pasteurization can help to slow this process down, but the variants impacting this time frame are much larger than just pasteurizing alone.
Honey is a preservative that will last for thousands and thousands of years if stored correctly. If the honey does not come into an environment with cold temperatures, then it will keep its liquid consistency for much longer. Additionally, even when the honey has crystalized, it is still ok for consumption. If your honey has crystallized in your pantry or cupboard, you can heat it to around 60°F and it will melt back into its liquid form.
Honey will ferment and taste sour if you allow moisture into it. If your honey has fermented, then it is not safe to consume. This is the case for both raw and pasteurized honey. It will need to be thrown away if this has happened to your honey. It is not safe to eat in this state. Pasteurization will not prevent this as this is dependent on how you store your honey.
The pasteurization process will help honey to stay in its liquid form for longer. Though it cannot be identified for exactly how long as this process differs for different types of honey. The estimate of the liquid life of honey before crystallization is around six months. However, if you store your honey properly, crystallization will not happen for a much longer period, if at all.
What are the main disadvantages of pasteurizing honey?
Honey is a raw and natural pot of gold nutrients. It is rich in antioxidants and is a great sugar substitute. You can put it in your drinks and your food, and its sweet and thick consistency makes it one of the most enjoyable foods accessible to us. To reap the full benefits from its magic, it is recommended to have one spoon in the morning and one in the evening.
However, if honey is pasteurized, the benefits of this food are depleted significantly. This is the biggest disadvantage of pasteurizing honey, and it outweighs any of the advantages by far. As mentioned above, the reasons for pasteurizing honey are quite unclear. It seems to take away much more than it adds.
When comparing raw honey with pasteurized honey, it is important to do your research. This article on MedicalNewsToday is a good place for you to start. It weighs up the benefits of both and explains that there is not enough evidence to suggest either side of the argument is solid in their views.
Yet, many people still believe that eating raw honey has many more benefits for you than pasteurized honey. When looking for your honey in the store, unless it has the words ‘raw’ on the label, it will be pasteurized. Sometimes labels will say ‘pure’ which is not to be confused. This honey has still been pasteurized.
If you are looking to buy raw honey, then finding a local farmers’ market/beekeeper is the best place to start with. Supermarkets will more than likely not stock raw honey, as they get their produce from mass-produced factories, which all pasteurize the honey.
Without proper storage and without pasteurization preventing it, raw honey may crystalize faster. This may happen in just a few months of storage. You can boil a pot of water and place the jar inside. Be sure not to allow the water to get inside the honey, as this will contaminate it and make it ferment. This is the best way to reverse the crystallization process, as it does not kill any of the enzymes. Microwaving honey is not recommended.
Does pasteurized honey still crystallize?
Pasteurized honey can still crystallize. The pasteurization process unfortunately does not make the honey completely immune to this happening. However, it does mean that the honey is less susceptible to crystallization. And so, if you are to store the honey in a cool and dry place, your honey will last for a very long time.
Even though pasteurization can prevent this process, it is still heavily dependent on the type of honey you have. As written above, some honey can crystallize in just a matter of days, and with others it takes months. With mass-produced honey, bee farms will ensure the pollen being used to make the honey is not more susceptible to crystallizing.
With smaller and local beekeepers, this may be more of a trial-and-error process for them. However, with good research, local beekeepers can know the best types of flowers to plant for their bees to pollinate. This gives raw honey a better chance and stays in liquid form for longer, without the need for pasteurization.
Considering the variables involved with how long honey will stay in its liquid form, for many this means that pasteurizing is not necessarily as significant as some may believe. Although it helps to prolong honey’s liquid-like consistency, other components impact this greater than just pasteurizing alone. This is why it is perfectly fine to purchase raw honey, and just understand how to store it, and where it came from if you do not want it to crystallize.
If you are a new beekeeper, a honey enthusiast, or simply curious about this process, then I hope now you have learned all there is to know about this process and why we do it to our honey.