If my honey has darkened, is it still safe to eat?

HoneyI stopped by my parent’s assisted living apartment on the way to work today. They were enjoying breakfast when I arrived, so I sat at the table and visited with them while they ate. I noticed that the honey packets in the center of the table had darkened and I was thinking about honey on my drive in to work today.

We often get calls when people discover their honey has darkened or crystallized. Improper storage of honey can cause this problem. Honey should be stored in a cool, dry area inside a tightly covered container. Over time the honey will darken and flavor will change but it will be safe to eat indefinitely. As it darkens, it may lose some flavor or become cloudy. As the honey becomes cloudy, you may even notice crystals in it. This will not make the honey unsafe as long as it has been stored properly. Honey stored in the refrigerator will crystallize more quickly.

If your honey has crystallized, you can place the container in warm water and stir the honey until the crystals dissolve. Resist the urge to use boiling hot water to melt crystals as this can damage the color and flavor of the honey. If your honey foams or smells like alcohol, discard it as it has spoiled.

Those darkened packets of honey at assisted living will be safe to eat for some time to come, but the dining room staff may want to look into another way to store their honey supply. This reminds me to go home and check my own jar of honey.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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76 thoughts on “If my honey has darkened, is it still safe to eat?

  1. Hello Liz,

    We have stored honey in 5 gallon plastic buckets for 40 years in a variety of temperature ranges in a garage.. We received it from someone else who had it for an undisclosed amount of time. I have checked it periodically. We decided to place it in new food grade plastic containers. It is dark and syrupy on the top and hard crystals below – some hard enough I used a clean chisel to break it up for transfer. It doesn’t smell like honey but don’t we detect a vinegar or alcohol order to it like you have mentioned in previous responses..What is your recommendation?

  2. My honey WALD HONIG is stored in a tin container for almost 2 yrs and now dark in colour. Is there any risk if honey is kept in a ‘tin’ container and still look good. The tin os not rusted
    Yoir kind advise most appreciated.
    Thank you.
    My email audreyngbee2@gmail.com

  3. Audrey, if the density of honey is within the safe range and likely your honey is, bacteria cannot grow in honey and thereby does not spoil. This basically gives it an indefinite shelf life. However, the fact that it is stored in tin may alter the flavor. Glass is the preferred storage container for honey.

  4. would like your comments, on my situation, 4-5 yrs ago started using raw unfiltered honey with green tea every morning, withing 20 minutes it jump started my day, gave me more positive attitude for day [for some others reading, it did not take away depression, just give more more positive thinking to deal with it] and jump start the day with energy that lasted all day long…..then honey brand was sold, and honey was no longer raw and unfiltered totally stopped working…..after a month I changed honey brands and was back in business again. for last six months, is still get positive attitude every day, but not energy boost I was use to getting, did my body change [get use to the energy boost, that I don’t feel it] or is it time to change honey brands again. My current source is from active bee keeper’s store, and I like to think it is still high quality honey. in your opinion what do you think may have changed to cause the difference of effects…………..

  5. Bruce, I don’t think that we are qualified to truly answer your question. There is some chance that your body is using the honey in a different way than previously. Fortunately you are still receiving the benefit of positivity. Honey doesn’t vary much in benefit from source to source beyond the local food sources for the bees (allergy benefits). Over all, honey contains 65 calories per tablespoon, 17 grams of carbohydrates and no significant amounts of fat or protein. Honey is made up of primarily simple sugars, fructose and glucose, and has low levels of water, disaccharides (maltose and sucrose), other carbohydrates, and various minerals, vitamins and enzymes. The benefits of honey are numerable. Besides having minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index; meaning its sugars can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion. By using honey, you are receiving all of these benefits even though you are not feeling the charge.

  6. I have honey that I bought years ago stored in my basement shelves. Now the honey has darkened and the plastic container has sucked in some. The temp. Where it was stored was cool but not always dark. Is it still good?

  7. Donna, honey has an indefinite shelf life if it has an safe density and pH. However, since your honey is stored in plastic, it may have taken on a plastic taste or small over time. Honey should not be stored long-term in plastic; glass is a better option. The plastic container may have sucked in due to moisture loss.

  8. I received a plastic bottle of honey from Florida that was delivered to me in Colorado. That was several years ago. The honey became very dark and after I used it yesterday morning I became nauseated and felt sick the rest of the day. Could it be the change in altitude and possibly that it was stored in plastic? By the way, I threw it out.

  9. Katharine, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. Honey has an indefinite life if stored properly. After prolonged storage, honey may darken in color and lose some of its flavor, but it will still be safe to consume if it has been stored properly. Store honey in a cool, dry area and keep tightly covered at all times. Glass is a better for storage than plastic. In my reassurance to you regarding honey, I am assuming that your gift was 100% honey rather than a fake honey, a combination of honey and sugar syrups.

  10. Dear….
    I have problem of constipation piles or fissures in rectum.
    Some one suggested me start honeh in warm water
    Or light liquer tea. I am doing it every morning. Will it heal my problem.

  11. AnswerLine is not qualified to answer your question. However, if you do a Google search, you will find any number of articles on the subject which you must read with discretion of credibility. Honey does have an amazing way of treating wounds and other skin conditions due to it’s ability to fight bacteria.

  12. I bought some leatherwood honey from Tasmania. It doesn’t taste like honey I usually buy. The color was light brown, not clear brown like usual. I can’t figure out if the honey has “gone bad” or if I just don’t care for leatherwood honey. Can you help me out?

  13. Kevin, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. Honey has an indefinite life as long as it is pure honey and has a density of measure of 18 with a refractometer. Leatherwood honey has a very unique flavor and smell; while many like it, you may not. According to the Leatherwood Honey website, the flavors and smells you should experience are this: Leatherwood honey is slightly liquid with uniform crystallisation, a smooth creamy texture and an ochre-yellow colour. The perfume is pungent and intense with notes of balsamic scents, which develops quickly into clean fresh notes of citrus fruits and white flowers with lightly spicy notes in its long finish. Overall, the sensation of eating this honey is very pleasurable: it is creamy, buttery, low in acidity and melts in the mouth’.

  14. I opened a 5 gallon bucket of honey expecting it to be crystallized and it was almost black but not crystalized. It was very smooth and no water or moisture at all. It was very sweet. I was so surprised because we have been carrying that bucket around with us for all our moves for probably 30 to 40 years. I guess I’ll try it with peanut butter and see. Thank you

  15. Alan, that is quite a story! If only that bucket of honey could talk! I’m totally trying to wrap my mind around a 5-gallon bucket of honey first and then it’s age–WOW! Totally blows me away! How was it with peanut butter?

  16. Hello, my friend has just given me a tin of honey very old, she may have had for 30 years. we opened and the top is dark and sweet liquid like. at the bottom is dark thick honey. Is this safe to use? The taste is ok for both.

  17. Hi Martha, As time goes by, some honey may separate as it begins to crystallize with the liquid coming to the top. Since you say that the taste is okay, the liquid layer can be stirred back into the rest of the honey. The honey is still perfectly edible. Occasionally, but rare, the liquid ferments and in that case, it is should be discarded. Thank you for contacting AnswerLine.

  18. Martha, it appears that you have two message with the same question. Reply has been made to your first.

  19. We are seniors from Canada and bought a large plastic container of wild clover honey from the Mennonites many years ago. We live in an apartment now and when we opened it today there is dark syrup on top and a lower area that is a little lighter but not crystalized. It tastes fine but is not really in a cool place. Can that honey recrystallize? Should we mix the two layers together or just eat it from the top down?

    Thanks so much from Canada

    Stay safe and healthy

    John 3:16

  20. Hi George, thanks for question. I’m not sure what you mean by recrystalize. If there is any crystallization and you mix the honey, the crystallization my grow. Rather it would probably be better to remove the crystallized portion and carefully heat it. If there is a lot of crystallization, I would only remove what you can use in the very near term as after being melted, the granules will disappear for a time but they will return eventually if the honey isn’t consumed quick enough. The process can be repeated but I would encourage avoiding as much heating as possible as reheating too often may cause the honey to spoil when it releases moisture and sours or ferments. This blog tells how to reheat: https://ucanr.edu/sites/Nutrition/?blogtag=Eric%20Mussen&blogasset=52582

  21. We harvested some honey in 2017 which was unusually dark and had a very strong taste, most of our friends did not like it so we had a number of jars left over. I got one out today and tasted of it, it is horrible, kind of a caster oil taste; still really dark but not crystallized. Is there anything it can be used for? Would appreciate any suggestions.

  22. Hi Sallie, As a general rule, the darker honey is, the stronger it will taste; the lighter it is, the milder it will taste. It should also be noted that doing things like overheating honey can cause it to turn darker and negatively affect the flavor. As it ages, particularly when not stored properly, it will also tend to darken and, of course, may crystallize. Further, there are generally three additional causes of off-flavor honey–fermentation, nectar source, and disease in the hive. Nectar source is usually the cause of strong flavored and dark colored honey. Nectar is laden with phytochemicals: flavanoids, phenols, and carotenoids–leading to different colors and differences in flavor. As along as the honey is not fermented or showing any signs of spoilage, it is safe to use in any of the ways one would use the honey. The use will depend upon your tolerance for the flavor as you cannot change it; the taste derived from the offending compound(s) will always be there. Dilution may be one option. Dilution works because some aromas or flavors are only unpleasant when they are too intense.

  23. Hi there! My grandma says that the older the honey is, the better it is. She says honey last forever and that the older it is, the more benefits it has for the body/system. She, like any other Chinese grandmas seem to have this holistic basic knowledge about diet and different food for certain cures. Is there a way to know if that belief is actually true or if it’s just unfounded superstition?

  24. Hi Jeanne, your grandmother is correct about honey lasting forever. It does darken with age but we have no knowledge or resources that suggest that with agining the health benefits increase. We, however, do not want to discount the possible holistic benefits that honey may provide. Raw honey contains an array of plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and antibacterial and antifungal agents that heal wounds, help with digestive and allergy issues, and more.

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