Why doesn’t honey go bad?

Thanks to all the hardworking bees collecting nectars, making nearly one million tonnes of honey produced worldwide every year. We enjoy the honey on our pancakes or use it to remedy our cold and cough, reduce diarrhea duration, and prevent acid reflux. Honey can attract and retain moisture, and it has long been used as a beauty treatment. It was even part of Cleopatra’s daily beauty ritual. But aside from all these uses of honey, there is one distinctive characteristic that it has. Believe it or not, it does not spoil or go bad!

When modern archeologists excavate ancient Egyptian tombs, they unexpectedly found pots of honey, thousands of years old, but still preserved. Over the years, it was found out that honey is a testament to an eternal shelf-life. (click here for more details)

There are a few other foods that have longevity in their raw state: salt, sugar, and dried rice. But what is unique about honey is it can remain preserved in a completely edible form. Moreover, honey’s eternal shelf-life lends it to other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such an exceptional food?

Honey is filled with incredible properties. Since ancient times, it has established its integrity in treating wounds and healing sicknesses. Besides, it was used to preserve not just other foods but humans as well. According to Herodotus, the Babylonians buried their dead in honey, and Alexander the Great may have been embalmed in a coffin full of honey. (click here for more details)

If you have found a 5, 500-year-old honey, would you eat it? Archeologists found this oldest honey in ceramic jars in the tomb of a noblewoman in Georgia, not far from Tbilisi. (click here for more details)

Let’s get a taste of its exceptional component.

As the song by The Archies says. “Sugar, oh honey, honey…” Honey is about 76 percent sugar, 18 percent water, and 6 percent other ingredients.

Sugar makes up the main characteristic of honey (sweetness), and water makes it in liquid form. Other components that are found in small quantities causes differences in the various types of honey. These also influence the differences in color, aroma, and taste. It may not be the same as the regular granulated sugar as they are hygroscopic – they don’t contain much water in their natural state. And very few bacteria and microorganisms can live in the resulting low-moisture environment.

Sugar in honey comes in three kinds. It has fruit sugar (fructose), which is about 41%, grape sugar (glucose), which has about 34%, and ordinary sugar (sucrose), which is between 1 and 2%. However, the ratio is dependent on which source it came from, i.e., flower pasture, and to some extent on enzyme invertase, which breaks down regular sugar in grape and fruit. This enzyme is located in the flower from which the bees collect nectar, but it is also present in the body of the bees. It also contains other ingredients such as minerals, proteins, acids, and undetermined matter. (click here for more details)

Minerals contained by honey is about 3.68 %. Although it might not be a large amount compared to sugar, it raises the value of honey for human consumption. Minerals like calcium, chlorine, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium are usually contained in honey, especially the dark types.

Despite its sweet taste, honey is naturally acidic. It has a 3-4.5 pH that can kill off almost anything that wants to grow there, said Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at the University of California. Therefore organisms and bacteria would unlikely survive inside of honey.

The unique process of honey-making by the bees makes the honey an eternal product. Bees remove the moisture by flapping their wings to dry out the nectar. Also, one crucial factor is the chemical makeup of a bee’s stomach. Bees contain glucose oxidase enzyme in their stomachs. When they regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar and breaks down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This hydrogen peroxide act prevents the growth of bacteria and other organisms that might cause spoilage.

For this reason, honey has been used as a medicinal remedy, especially for wounds because it rejects any bacterial growth, which is a perfect barrier against infection.