Here at Classic City Bee Company we get asked a lot of questions about bees and honey. People are inherently curious and even the most disinterested person will perk up when we recite one of the many mind-blowing facts about the honeybee or one of its amazing products. The more we learn about bees and honey, the more fascinating these topics become. And perhaps one of the most frequent questions we receive is some variation of "How long does honey last?" So I'd like to answer this question for anyone who is interested. How long does honey last?
That's it. End of answer. I could stop writing right now and this question would be completely answered. However, that's not my style.
Modern archaeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often uncovered pots of honey, thousands of years old and yet still completely edible. Remaining undisturbed for millennia, archaeologists have discovered that the sweet food endures unspoiled, a true testament to the miracles of the honeybee. In fact, many have even sampled the honey, often dated at more than 2,000 years old and have described it as tasting like regular honey you could buy from us today. However, if you do happen to come across a jar of ancient Egyptian honey I don't recommend eating any until you've examined the entire jar's contents. Oftentimes pots of honey were used to store and preserve mummified human remains. There are too many storied of archaeologists discovering this fact after consuming some of the honey left in the ancient vessels.
The answer to why honey has an eternal shelf life is as complex as honey's sweet and diverse flavor.
The chemical make-up of honey itself plays a major role in creating this unique quality. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. The very low moisture found in fresh honey makes it so very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive within it. Essentially for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. Because honey is such an inhospitable environment for microorganisms, bacteria can’t survive long enough to have a chance to spoil.
What isn't smothered to death by the lack of moisture is then killed of by honey's naturally acidic nature. With a pH level between 3 and 4.5 everything left alive in the honey which might spoil is quickly killed off. Finally, the enzymes introduced by the bees themselves are the magic ingredient and keep any additional bacteria from growing. For these reasons honey has been used for a variety of medical uses for thousands of years both internally for ailments, and externally for wounds.
Honey, by itself is eternal in nature, but the key to maintaining its never-ending shelf life is to keep honey sealed as much as possible. If left exposed in a humid environment like, say... Georgia, water from the air could be introduced into the honey which would then allow for bacteria to grow, and cause the honey to spoil. As long as you keep the lid on the jar when not in use, honey will last forever, although knowing how good it tastes, it probably won't. Who knows, maybe 2,000 years from now a futuristic archaeologist will have the pleasure of trying some of Classic City Bee Company's honey from a jar recovered from your pantry.