Bees spend all summer gathering nectar so they can make honey to eat through the winter. In this sense, honey was designed to be stored.
This makes it one of the best emergency foods to store and, if stored properly, honey can last for thousands of years.
Does Honey Really Last Forever?
Yes, honey really can last forever. Archeologists have even unearthed jars of honey which are thousands of years old but still perfectly edible, like the honey found in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians or the 5,000-year old honey found in the country Georgia, which is believed to be the oldest honey in the world.
Why Honey Lasts Forever
Honey doesn’t go bad because it is naturally hygoscopic and acidic. Hygoscopic refers to the fact that honey has a very high concentration of sugar and only about 20% water.
The water tries to mix with the sugar to balance out the concentration. Because the sugar is so concentrated, osmotic pressure causes water to leach out of bacteria, which essentially makes their cells explode.
Further, honey has a very low pH of about 3.9, which means it is too acidic for most organisms to survive. There is also an enzyme in honey called glucose oxidase. This enzyme converts some of the sugars into hydrogen peroxide, which kills bacteria and also is why honey is sometimes used for treating wounds naturally.
Honey Might Go Bad IF:
There are some exceptions to the “honey will last forever” rule though. Your honey might go bad if:
- Low-quality honey: Some cheap brands of honey are diluted or have other ingredients added to them. Usually these ingredients are other sugars, so they don’t affect shelf life. However, some of those added ingredients might reduce the honey’s natural antibacterial properties.
- Plastic honey bottles deteriorate: While the honey might not go bad, it is possible for the container to deteriorate, especially if it is a low-quality plastic container. These eventually start to break down and form microscopic holes. After a few years, you might check on your honey storage to find it a sticky mess on the shelves.
- High humidity: Normally honey doesn’t contain enough water compared to sugar for bacteria to grow. In theory, if you put the honey somewhere very humid, it could absorb the moisture. If the water content of honey were to climb above 25% or so, bacteria might start to grow and survive.
- Insect spoilage: Some insects, especially ants, are particularly good at getting into honey jars. This honey is usually still safe to eat but not everyone is thrilled about the idea of eating insects.
How to Store Honey So It Lasts Forever
If you want honey to last forever in your food supply, you’ve got to make sure you store it in the right containers which are sturdy, won’t degrade, and have a tight seal.
Plastic Containers for Honey
Most plastic containers aren’t ideal for food storage because they can leach chemicals into your food or they might eventually deteriorate (read about food-safe plastics). However, plastic does have the benefit of being shatterproof, which means your honey stockpile is more likely to survive a natural disaster.
As a general rule, you can stockpile honey in plastic containers. However, do make sure they are a sturdy plastic. Plastic can crack if it falls so you’ll want to keep the plastic containers in a box or other layer of protection.
Jars for Storing Honey
Good-quality honey will come in a glass jar and, if undisturbed, could last forever in this jar. However, honey jars are prone to breaking, especially during natural disasters.
To keep large amounts of honey safe, I’d recommend getting some jar protectors. (Amazon link) You can also get jar boxes or crates from your local supermarket.
Prevent Ants from Getting into Honey
Honey is a magnet for many insects and don’t be surprised if ants manage to find their way into your honey storage. Ants are edible insects (as are most insects) but it is understandably a bit gross to eat honey with insects floating around in it.
To keep ants out of your honey storage:
- Avoid plastic jars: Those cheap plastic honey containers don’t have airtight lids and insects can easily get inside.
- Use mason jars: Mason jars have a more air-tight seal than standard twist jar lids.
- Put zip bags around the honey jars: If you don’t want to bother with mason jars, you can put zip baggies around the jars. Insects can still get through these bags but they will have a harder time finding the honey in the first place.
- Keep honey off floor and walls: You should never store food directly on the floor or walls. Ideally, put honey in a cabinet which is on legs so it’s harder for insects to get into.
- Use food-safe insect barriers: Diatomaceous earth repels ants. I’ve also heard that cream of tartar keeps ants away. Put a layer of it around the bottom of your honey jars to keep crawling insects out.
Is Crystalized Honey Safe to Eat?
Crystallization does not mean your honey has gone bad. Rather, crystallization is a natural process and almost inevitable if you store honey long enough. The good news is that it is easy to dissolve the crystals: just put the jar of honey in a container of warm water and they will dissolve back into the honey.
The crystals are actually just natural sugars in the honey which have separated from the water in the honey. Honeys which have higher amounts of certain sugars will crystalize faster than others.
You are also more likely to see crystallization in honey which hasn’t been processed (such as raw honey).
These unprocessed honeys contain more pollen and other natural particles from the bees; the sugar crystals bind to them and crystalize.