How to Soften Honey
Honey is one of those amazing foods that can enhance so many dishes, both sweet and savory. It is also the only food that generally never goes bad, making it an ideal souvenir from your travels, or the kind of product you can explore in all of its various styles and flavors. But it's always so disappointing when you reach for a jar of the sticky, sweet, magical stuff to find hardened or crystallized honey. Never fear, that honey is totally salvageable and ready to be used in any number of healthy honey recipes!
Why does honey harden or crystallize?
Whether you're using raw honey or processed honey, it's always such a frustration to start a recipe and find that all you have in your larder are jars of crystallized or hardened honey. But this crystallization is completely natural. Since honey is made up of glucose, fructose and water, the sugars can precipitate out of the honey and form crystals. These crystals are completely safe to eat, but you may not enjoy the texture. The ratio of glucose to fructose can affect how the honey crystallizes. Honeys that are higher in fructose tend to crystallize at a slower rate than those with a higher percentage of glucose.
How can you soften honey?
It's easy to soften honey if you follow some simple guidance. First and foremost, if possible, only soften the amount of honey you need in the moment. Honey can re-crystallize after softening, and remelting it over and over can affect the delicate flavors. If your honey is too hard to scoop out what you need, you can use one of these methods to soften it. When you think enough of it has returned to its original, pourable state, just stop and remove what you need and let the remaining honey stay hardened.
Hot Water Bath Method
One of the easiest and fastest methods to soften honey, which can be done with either glass or plastic jars, is to place the container of honey in a heatproof bowl or other heatproof vessel, and add water from a recently boiled kettle, filling the vessel until at least halfway to three-quarters of the way up the sides of the honey container. Let it sit, stirring occasionally, until the honey has softened. You can also transfer the amount of honey you need to a small bowl and place it in a larger bowl of hot water; just be careful not to let water splash into the honey.
This method is only safe for microwave-safe containers, so be sure to transfer the honey you need out of the original packaging before nuking. Zap your honey in 15- to 20-second increments, stirring between each one, until you have liquid honey.
Sous Vide Method
Using a sous vide style of warming is great for remelting a container of honey completely, as long as you're not in a rush. Set the temperature of your sous vide machine or circulating hot water bath to 110°F, submerge your container or put as much honey as you need in a vacuum-sealed bag or zip-top bag, and let it hang out in the water bath until fully liquified.
Want to let nature take its course? If you have a windowsill that gets a lot of direct sunlight, just put your container of honey in the light, and let it hang out for a few days letting the sun re-liquify your honey.
How can you prevent honey from hardening?
There is no way to definitively prevent honey from hardening, and the less processed your honey, the faster it will crystallize. But honey stored in colder temperatures will harden faster, so if you have a warmer place in your kitchen or pantry, that is the best place to store honey to slow down the crystallization process.
Is it safe to use hardened honey?
The good news is that hardened honey is absolutely safe to eat as long as you don't see any visible mold or smell any off scents. Honey itself cannot go bad, but if you accidentally introduce contaminants, for example if you scoop honey out with a dirty spoon or knife, or water gets in, your honey may get moldy or even ferment. If you see mold, or smell anything strange, throw the honey away.
Honey comes in all sorts of styles and flavors, from intense woody flavors like buckwheat, to mild floral notes like clover or honeysuckle. There is a honey for every style of cooking, and if you store your honey properly, you can stock up on any number of jars or bottles without worry. Even the most solidly hardened honey can be softened back up into delicious usability! Some of our favorite and surprising ways to use that golden elixir? With vegetables! Sweet ways to get more veggies in your diet are all just a spoonful away. Check out our 16 Honey-Glazed Vegetable recipes!