Honey: an eternal super-food!

Honey is eternal, it never spoils! From ancient Sumerian civilizations, ancient Egypt and ancient Greece to today’s world, honey is a magical super-food! But it also has an almost unique quality: it never spoils; even thousands of years later it can be as good as it was the first day after being harvested.

So, if you come across a sealed jar of honey from the ancient times, all you have to do is dip your fingers inside and taste it! Just like you would with freshly harvested honey. No preparation needed for a thousand year-old honey, as it can be preserved in a fully edible form!

There are many factors that make honey eternal and so special. That comes without saying, of course, since you can’t have a food that never spoils without some magic behind its preparation.

Let’s take a journey to the amazing longevity of honey!

As we’ve seen in another blog post by Nectar DNA, raw honey consists mainly of two sugars, natural fructose and natural glucose. It also has a very small amount of water (moisture), less than 20%. This happens because, after the bees collect the material they make honey from, which is really high in moisture (between 60-80%), during the process of making the honey they flap their wings and dry out the nectar, bringing it to its low moisture levels.

For honey to spoil there has to be something inside of it that can actually go bad. But honey creates a really hostile environment for bacteria and microorganisms with its low moisture. Honey in its natural form is very low in moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. Another contributing factor to honey’s longevity is the acidity of it. It has a pH that falls between 3 and 4.5, which means almost anything that wants to grow there, dies.

But all the above on their own wouldn’t be enough for honey to essentially be eternal. There is another factor that makes honey to last indefinitely. Bees.

The magic of bees!

Bees are one of the most important creatures in our world. And their “product” is as magical as they are. In a bee’s stomach there is an enzyme called glucose oxidase. This enzyme helps protect against bacterial infection as it acts as a natural preservative. It mixes inside the nectar as the bees move the nectar from their mouths into a comb to make honey. Glucose oxidase then reacts with glucose, water and oxygen to form gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide is what protects against the bacteria and microorganisms.

This has been the reason behind honey’s use as medicinal remedy for many millennia, from as early as in the Sumerian civilization more than 5000 years ago, to the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks. The hydrogen peroxide in it blocks the growth of any microorganisms and thus prevents infection in wounds. Skin treatments, protection from eye diseases, ointments against wounds or burns were a few of the medicinal uses of honey since the ancient times. Honey was a natural bandage!

Talking about ancient Egypt, that’s were the biggest proof that honey doesn’t spoil comes from. Archaeologists have found in ancient Egyptian tombs sealed jars of honey that literally are thousands of years old but are still perfectly preserved. Honey is eternal if stored properly!

Store your honey properly for eternity

If honey is not sealed, then it absorbs moisture. That’s what is happening when it’s applied in wounds; honey is absorbing the water out of the wound, preventing it from being infected, while at the same time it’s letting off hydrogen peroxide.

Honey is still being used in a medicinal way today, in our well known lozenges or in “honey bandages” used in hospitals around the globe which are covered in honey to prevent infestation in wounds.

If you leave your honey out and in a humid environment or directly under the sun, then it will spoil. Honey should always be kept in a shaded, cool and dry place, in temperatures lower than 45oC. Also, you should always keep your honey jars closed tightly, since honey has the ability to absorb moisture (which affects its quality) as well as various smells from its surroundings. (see here for more information on how you should store your honey)

If your honey is sealed tightly and you don’t add water in it, then it won’t spoil for a long time, for many many decades (the truth is that honey won’t spoil for centuries or thousands of years, but since humans live… a lot less than that, some decades of safe storing seem enough!).

So, keep your honey tightly sealed and let your… descendants taste the same magic as you did hundreds of years before them!