We are still months away from the 2014 honey harvest and there are a few bottles of honey left from 2013…but they have all started to crystallize. Most people know that you can re-liquify crystallized honey with warm water. I figured if warm water works, hot water will work better. I boiled a kettle of water then I placed a bottle of honey into a bowl with the hot water. The bottle, made of plastic, became… more plastic. It morphed from a classic beeline shape into a shorter amorphous round blob (see picture of bottles shown on edge). I can’t imagine that this improved the honey’s taste. Don’t do it.
This got me thinking. What is the best way to re-liquify honey? I did what most people do in a situation like this – I went to the Internet with questions. And I found a lot of really bad answers.
The first bad answer I found was from none other than the National Honey Board:
If your honey crystallizes, simply place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve. Or, place the honey in a microwave-safe container with the lid off and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until the crystals dissolve. Be careful not to boil or scorch the honey.
If you have tried the first suggestion, you know that you’ll need to reheat the warm water a dozen times or more because honey has a low thermal conductivity – that means that it takes a long time for the warmed to reach the center of the bottle of honey. If you Google Re-liquify crystallized honey, you can discover many stories from people that followed the advice of using microwave ovens. Microwave ovens are notoriously uneven in their heating. Warning the reader to “be careful not to boil or scorch the honey” is like warning users of charcoal grills to be careful when adding gasoline to poorly lit fires – don’t do it.
There were other ideas for re-liquifying honey on the Internet. All just as bad:
- Put the honey in the oven with the oven light on. I doubt if this actually works until one minute after somebody absentmindedly turns the oven on for a pizza. After five minutes, that same person discovers a sticky, smoking mistake.
- Run the honey through a dishwasher cycle in the top rack. This may work for many dishwashers but mine heats the water to some temperature above 110 °F. That might be OK if you are using glass bottles and don’t mind darker, pasteurized honey.
- Place the honey in a 110°F chicken egg incubator. This sounded like a great idea until I imagined bottles of honey nestled with objects that recently emerged from a chicken’s bottom.
- Grossest suggestion: drop the honey bottles into your hot tub. Just be sure to wash off the oily scum that will coat the bottles from the perfumed, sweaty bodies of last weekend’s pool party.
Not everything on the Internet is bogus however. I found a really clear explanation of honey crystallization from my friend Khalil Hamdan. Everything he writes is clear and logical.
If you don’t know exactly what temperature you are heating the honey then you risk destroying its beneficial properties. You might get rid of crystals but you can also end up darkening the honey, changing the taste, and destroying the helpful enzymes in honey. Why is that important? That topic will be covered in a future post.
So what is a good solution for preserving the raw nature of honey when re-liquifying it? Just like good BBQ: keep the temperature low and heat it slow (long). There are several ways to do this:
- Put your bottles in a yogurt maker. They hold the temperature at 112 °F.
- My choice is the heated water bath of my Sous Vide cooker (see picture & Wikipedia). I put my bottles (glass and plastic) into the Sous Vide programmed to 110°F and in a few hours they are clear as a bell and I know that the water never deviated more than a degree from 110°F. You might balk at spending $300 for a Sous Vide but then you would be missing out on beef short ribs cooked medium rare (exactly 134°F) that melt in your mouth. Yes, you heard that right – pink yet the collagen of this tough piece of meat is transformed into velvety gelatin. Or a ribeye steak that is medium rare everywhere (not just in the center). You can even Pasteurize your own eggs.
- If you have neither yogurt maker or sous vide water oven, you can put the bottles into warm water but use as large a pot as possible and expect to change the water often and use a thermometer.
- And perhaps you are trying to sell honey that crystallizes rapidly and need to re-liquify more than a couple bottles. In that case, you need a real honey warmer. Here are three designs:
What are your ideas for restoring honey?