Spoiler alert – honey never spoils! Coined “the nectar of the Gods” by ancient Greeks, honey has had a long and varied history — with some dating it back 10,000 years! In fact, modern archeologists have often found pots of honey thousands of years old in Egyptian tombs, still preserved and safe to eat. Which raises the question, what makes honey so durable?
Together in Perfect Harmony
According to Smithsonian Magazine, several factors work together in perfect harmony to allow this liquid gold to last forever. The first is honey’s chemical makeup — which is a super-saturated solution of sugar. Try saying that five times fast!
Sugars are hygroscopic, meaning they naturally contain very little water. And it’s precisely that low-moisture environment that prevents organisms from surviving long enough to grow and spoil the honey. Another thing this sweet syrup has going for it is that it’s extremely acidic (who knew?!) — with a pH that falls approximately between 3 and 4.5 (similar to an orange!). The acidity makes honey inhospitable to almost anything that wants to grow there.
But what’s honey without the bees? Enter the third note in this pitch-perfect harmony. Once bees have collected their fill of nectar, they fly back to their hive — and that’s where the magic happens. The bees pass the nectar from bee to bee until it turns to honey and is stored in wax honeycomb cells. Finally, they flap their wings to dry it out and make it stickier before sealing the cell with a wax lid to keep it clean.
As if their worker bee behavior wasn’t enough, bees also contribute to honey’s resilience thanks to an enzyme in their “honey stomachs” called glucose oxidase. When this enzyme mixes with the nectar to make honey, it breaks down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is just one more thing that contributes to honey’s long shelf-life.
Keep a Lid on It
The final key to honey’s longevity is in the seal. Because it’s hygroscopic, honey will draw moisture out of the air if left open in a humid environment, making it vulnerable to spoiling. So do as the honey bees do and keep your honey sealed tight. And if your honey crystallizes, fret not — crystallization doesn’t affect the quality or taste of the honey at all. But if you prefer your honey smooth, simply place the open jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve. Just make sure no water gets into the jar!
The Bee’s Knees
If all this talk about honey has you hankering for the sweet stuff, come visit your nearest Cheddar’s — we’ve got you covered! Our warm, pillowy Honey Butter Croissants are the bee’s knees, if we do say so ourselves. Or if you’re craving a little more spice with your sweet, order up some of our signature Chicken Tenders tossed in our house-made Honey Hot sauce — a match that’s meant to “bee!”