How to Care for Local Honey
When I spotted a posting on a community bulletin board announcing 'Locally Grown' honey a few years back, I quickly made a friend in Andre Kruglikov of Alameda, California, whose passion for bees is evidenced by a half dozen hives in his side yard.
As a hay fever sufferer who happens to love honey, I've long bought into the theory that honey harvested near to where you live is a remedy for allergies. Factor in a worldwide depletion of honey bees due to pesticides, invasive species, and colony collapse disorder and I'm all too interested in reversing the trend and making life good for Apis mellifica. It's reassuring to know that your neighbors - even in very un-rural places - are doing their part to keep bees healthy and happy.
Trends, science and mythology aside - we all love a bit of honey now and again, but how to keep that sweet amber from going off? You know, crystallizing. The good new is, honey is a hearty, near indestructible substance if cared for properly, and can be returned to its clear, slow moving, sticky self with a minimum of effort.
Here are some tips from my now seasoned honey farmer friend Andre on how to keep and care for your (hopefully local grown) honey.
Tip One - Crystallization
Do not refrigerate honey, before or after opening it. Putting honey in the refrigerator speeds crystallization.
It's debatable whether you can avoid it entirely but If you have surplus honey or aren't consuming it regularly, to delay crystallization, put the honey jar into your freezer. In the freezer, honey does not get hard - just very thick. As long as you have a clean spoon with a strong handle, you'll have no trouble getting it out of the jar.
Honey from the freezer is kind of chewy, almost like a soft candy, and tastes great. One of my kids tried with raisins, and loved it.
We usually do not freeze honey we keep for ourselves, but let it sit on the counter in the kitchen. (My wife likes the way it looks.)
Alas, all honeys eventually crystallize, some within days, others may take months. This is determined by the type of nectar that went into making the honey, or whether it was ripe when it was harvested. Bees cap honey when it is ripe, and I do not harvest uncapped honey. Another factor is how well the honey was filtered. Small particles e.g.) bits of wax, encourage crystallization.
Tip Two - Keep it clean
Even when crystallized, honey lasts a very long time, as long as one does not introduce impurities into it. Never use a wet or unclean spoon to get it out of the jar. Likewise, if bottling your own harvested honey, filtering the honey for particles and air bubbles will help ensure the purity - and reduce crystallization of the honey.
In addition to filtering honey, I usually let it sit in a bucket for a couple of days before bottling it. This allows an occasional particle that had escaped the filter as well as air bubbles that may have formed when the honey was pouring out of the extractor to rise to the top where I can scoop them out.
Tip Three - Reconstituting crytillized honey
Try as you may to stop it, honey will eventually crystallize. But crystallized honey is still honey. If you take a jar of crystallized honey and heat it up to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, it will get reconstituted, with no loss of flavor. If you heat it much over 110 degrees, it may change the flavor and color.
A simple trick for heating honey: put a pot of water on the stove and turn the heat on very low. Make sure that the jar lid is closed tightly - honey is hydrophilic - very good at absorbing moisture. Once the moisture content rises substantially above 16-18% - the point that bees declare it ready, and cap it with wax, the honey will go bad.
Use a trustworthy candy thermometer to ensure that the water does not get above 110 degrees. As the honey is heated, the air inside the jar will expand, so you may need to loosen the lid a bit to allow the air to escape. After some time, the honey will return to its original consistency, and stay that way, probably as long as it did before you had to reconstitute it.
Once the honey jar is out of the pot of water, loosen the lid to allow air to enter the jar as the jar's contents cool.
Resources: Where to look for local honey
So where can you find locally harvested honey? The Honey Locator from the non-profit National Honey Board provides resources for finding honey.
Local honey can be found in specialty food shops, "Mom and Pop" grocery stores as well as your neighborhood farmer's market. More and more urban homesteaders can be found selling their honey-goods at local stores and markets. Same goes for small farms and specialty bee keepers. Local Harvest is a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing resources about farmer' markets, including their locations.
Another good place to find local honey is at produce and farm stands that dot our rural roads and state highways.