Honey lasts for a long time at room temperature. What is the shelf life of honey, and do you need to do anything to preserve it?
Honey is bacteria-resistant, so it is a very long-lasting food. Honey won't go bad unless it is exposed to moisture or mixed with other food.
Honey more or less lasts forever if you store it properly. It can still be good after decades and sometimes even a century or longer. It is so resistant to mold and bacteria that it has an unlimited shelf life.
While honey can stay good for many decades, it hardens over time. The honey becomes hard and crystally rather than liquid. You can gently heat the honey to make it liquid again.
I have some jars of honey in my basement that I have kept there for more than a decade, and they are still good. Anyone who stores food for emergencies should include honey. You don't have to do anything special to make honey last for a long time.
Can Honey Last for Centuries?
Yes, honey can last for centuries. People have opened centuries-old jars of honey and found that they were still good. It will even last thousands of years given the right conditions - archeologists have found honey in pots in ancient Egyptian tombs.
Best of all, you don't have to do anything to preserve the honey. It will last forever in the jar you buy it in.
Why Does Honey Last for So Long?
Honey is antibacterial, so it cannot normally rot. Honey also resists mold, and insects won't be able to reach it in a sealed jar. Honey resists most of the things that commonly spoil food.
Honey Contains Very Little Moisture
If it is not mixed with anything, honey hardly has any water in it. A jar of honey is both a dry and sugary environment, and bacteria cannot survive there. There is nothing for the bacteria to eat or drink, so there is no way for pure honey to spoil.
Honey is Acidic
Despite its sweet taste, honey is fairly acidic. It has a PH from 4.5 to as low as 3. Many bacteria that spoil other foods die when in an acidic, low PH environment.
Honey Contains Hydrogen Peroxide
When bees make honey, the chemical reactions create small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, an antiseptic. This provides a final layer of protection against any bacteria or mold that attempt to grow on honey. Some of honey's medicinal properties may come from the small amount of hydrogen peroxide it contains.
Is Honey the Only Food that Lasts Forever?
Honey has a reputation as being the only truly non-perishable food. Salt and sugar may also never spoil, at least not given the right conditions. Dry rice seems to last forever.
Molasses is often used as an example of a food that never spoils. However, molasses is merely long-lasting; it will spoil eventually. Mold will eventually get to molasses, even if it often lasts for a decade.
Honey Will Crystallize Over Time
Even if honey doesn't spoil, it does change and becomes hard and crystally. You can still use honey that has become crystallized, but you should melt it first. Crystallized honey is not spoiled and is perfectly safe to eat unless there is something else wrong with it.
All honey becomes crystallized over time, even if the honey is high-quality. Some people think this only happens to low-quality honey, but honey of any kind and purity will crystallize. Honey with a higher fructose to glucose ratio crystallizes slower, but it still becomes solid over time.
You can use honey in its crystallized state - it will still spread onto bread even if it is no longer liquid. If you want to make it liquid again, heat it gently by putting the jar of honey in hot water. If you heat it too much, that will destroy the enzymes in the honey and reduce its health benefits.
Why is Honey Antibacterial?
Honey is antibacterial because sugar kills bacteria. When bacteria come into contact with sugar, the sugar forces water out of the cells and destroys them. Salt is also antibacterial because it has the same effect.
Is Diluted Honey Still Antibacterial?
No. After honey is mixed with water, it loses its antibacterial properties. Diluted honey is good food for bacteria and yeast, so it has a limited shelf-life.
If you know what you are doing, you can intentionally make honey into an alcoholic drink. If you mix it with water and allow it to ferment, honey becomes mead. There is a bit more to it than mixing honey with water, but it is an easy way to make homemade alcohol.
You Should Protect Honey From Moisture
One of the most important things in food preservation is to protect your food from moisture. Food that normally doesn't go bad for a long time or never does will spoil fast if it mixes with water. If you leave the lid open on your honey in the kitchen, moisture might get in it.
You should also not intentionally mix honey with anything if you want to keep it for a long time. Once the honey has been mixed with something, it may become vulnerable to bacteria and mold.
Be careful not to contaminate your honey with other food. If you are making peanut butter and honey sandwiches, you could put peanut butter in your honey jar if you aren't careful.
Was Honey Ever Used as a Medicine?
Yes, honey has often been used as a medicine since ancient times, and it even still is. Ancient medical sources recommend using honey to treat wounds. This likely worked because of honey's antibacterial properties.
Is Honey Good For You?
Yes, honey has health benefits. While excessive sugar intake is a common cause of health problems, a small amount of sugar won't hurt you. While honey has nutrients in it (iron, zinc, potassium), it is healthy mostly because it is an antioxidant.
Antioxidants are foods that can protect you from oxidative stress, which can damage and kill your cells. There is no way to avoid oxidative stress entirely, so you can only minimize the strain it puts on your body by eating a diet that includes antioxidants.
Giving honey to an infant under a year old is not ok because it may lead to food poisoning. For children rather than infants, honey can stop their coughing and help them get a good night's sleep.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker