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The Shelf-Life of Honey Explained

I still field questions relating to how old honey can get before it spoils. A recent question was in regard to a sealed jar of honey that was six years old. Since there are still doubts in regard to honey and what the shelf-life of it is, it is worthwhile to explain this. It is utterly astounding when you think about it.

Of all the thousands of kinds of foods known to mankind, honey is the only food known that never spoils. Honey can crystallize and it can ferment, but it doesn’t spoil.

If honey crystallizes, sugars come out of suspension and the honey becomes thick and grainy. It is still edible. In fact, if it is gently heated and thoroughly stirred, the sugar can be re-dissolved into the honey. 

If honey ferments, it produces a product called mead. It is even difficult to make mead on purpose, and it requires a substantial amount of water to do it. I’ve easily made many kinds of wine, but have never been able to make mead successfully.

The issue with making mead and the reason honey has a basically unlimited shelf-life is that honey contains powerful antibiotics that kill microbes and yeasts. Pouring honey onto a compost pile can even slow down or prevent the compost from breaking down properly.

Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs, in pots made of clay, that was still edible after thousands of years. It was crystallized, but still edible after heating it to turn it back into a thick fluid. No other food can make that claim. In fact, most would have turned to dust long before then.

That is why I keep a small container of honey in my camping first-aid kit. Spreading honey over a wound and wrapping it helps prevent infection and allows the wound to heal faster.

The answer to the question I was given was then simple. After 6-years, the honey would still be quite safe to eat, particularly if it was in a sealed jar.

  • Did you know that honey lasts indefinitely and never spoils?

    • Yes
    • No

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Written by Rex Trulove

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