No expiry date: Three factors that contribute to honey’s eternal shelf life

Featured Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

Archaeological excavations of Egyptian tombs unveil unpredictable things. One of these were pots of unspoiled honey that are a thousand years old, revealing the product’s infinite shelf life.

Salt, sugar, and dry rice are raw commodities that can be kept raw forever. But unlike the aforementioned food, honey is something that can be preserved for a hundred years and be consumed as it is without any preparation.

There are several factors that contribute to this long life span. One is the chemical make-up of honey. Honey is sugar that is hygroscopic, which means it has a minimal amount of water, but can easily absorb moisture if exposed. If preserved in harsh conditions, bacteria or microorganisms won’t survive long in it. Without bacteria and microorganisms, honey stored in a jar will not be harmful or won’t get spoiled. Plus, since honey is highly acidic, and the acid wipes out any bacteria that can grow in it. 

Molasses, a byproduct of cane sugar, is also a hygroscopic food that is less acidic than honey. Although this can last long, molasses gets spoiled over time, unlike honey.

Their difference? This is where honey bees come in. About 60 to 80 percent of nectar is composed of water. Nectar is the first thing that bees collect to create honey. However, to create honey, bees flap their wings, removing the moisture in the nectar. 

Each honeybee has glucose oxidase, an enzyme found in their stomach. In the process of making honey, this enzyme blends with the nectar. This results in two byproducts called gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is what is responsible for killing any bacteria that can grow in honey. 

Because of this, honey has long been considered a remedy for wounds. In the past, ancient Egyptians used honey to treat skin and eye diseases. It was applied in wounds and burns and served as a “natural bandage.”

The seal or lid of the container or jar also contributes to honey’s interminable shelf life. Honey will remain unspoiled if properly sealed. With the lid kept intact and no moisture added in the jar, honey will be edible and unspoiled.

By securing the cap of honey’s jar and conserving the population of honeybees, future generations can continue to preserve, multiply, and enjoy this sweet treat.  

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