Can Honey Go Bad?

Honey can last pretty much forever.
Honey can last pretty much forever. / Wojtek Skora/iStock via Getty Images

Virtually every food has a shelf life. For produce, it can be days. For canned goods and other pantry items, it's typically months—if not years. But one food seems almost incapable of spoiling: honey. If you’ve ever found yourself reaching for a bottle you’ve had since the VHS era and wondered if it could go bad, the answer is: probably not. Here’s why.

According to Simplemost, honey is mostly sugar and water, a ratio that’s usually 80/20 in favor of sugar. Because sugar is hygroscopic and can dehydrate bacteria, drawing water out of it, it’s incredibly difficult for anything harmful to thrive or reproduce in the liquid. Honey is also very dense, which starves bacteria of the oxygen it needs to flourish.

Finally, honey is also highly acidic. All of this renders it incredibly inhospitable to bacteria.

These qualities are attributable in large part to how bees collect nectar. While nectar is normally high in water, bees dry it out by flapping their wings. When they regurgitate the nectar into a comb, their stomach enzymes break the nectar down into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide—the same stuff you’d pour on a wound.

While honey is spoil-resistant, it’s not entirely spoil-proof. Raw honey stands the best chance of remaining fresh, but processed honey—which adds artificial sugars and other ingredients—might degrade more quickly.

Some people confuse crystallization for honey going “bad,” but that's not really accurate. It just means glucose is separating from the water. So long as you keep your honey in a sealed container, it will probably be consumed long before it loses its taste.

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