The Right Way to Store Honey to Keep It at Peak Freshness

Honey can actually last decades—but only if you store it correctly. Learn whether you should refrigerate honey, what do when it crystallizes, and more essential storage tips.

jar of honey and wood stick
Photo: Chepko / Getty Images

Whether you enjoy it stirred into tea, dissolved for a glaze, or simply spread on toast, honey is one of the most versatile pantry staples. The best part? It's also one of the most shelf-stable. Despite its longevity, there are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind when it comes to storing this sweet stuff and keeping it tasting its very best.

How Long Honey Lasts

Thanks to its high concentration of sugars, honey is one of the most stable natural foods. "Honey is the only food that never spoils and is always safe to eat," says Frank Mortimer, Cornell University master beekeeper and author of Bee People And The Bugs They Love. It can have an almost indefinite shelf life, lasting decades or longer if it's stored properly. It may crystallize and the quality might not be as good as when you first purchased it, but the honey will still be safe to consume.

Although it doesn't have an expiration date, many honey producers put a "best by" date of about two years on the label of their honey to encourage consumers to use the product while it's at its best. Similarly, the Food and Drug Administration recommends using honey within a year of buying it to assure quality.

How to Store Honey

Always keep your honey in a glass, airtight container. Otherwise, the hygroscopic (water-loving) sugars in the honey will absorb moisture from the air, leading to the growth of undesirable yeasts. "Plastic is known to be permeable to water vapor, gas, and odors," says Dawn Combs, an ethnobotanist, beekeeper, and author of Sweet Remedies. "This means that when you store honey in plastic, it may lose moisture—or worse, gain it." On the other hand, glass has a proper seal that keeps honey at the right liquid to sugar ratio to remain shelf-stable instead of fermenting.

Raw Honey

That said, various types of honey will benefit from specific storage spots. Raw honey is best stored in a dark area that ranges from 65 to 75 degrees, such as in a cupboard near a stove or oven. If you're trying to avoid crystallization of raw honey, try duplicating the hive environment—warm and dark—as much as possible. "Most recommend a cool storage environment because they fear that the honey will darken slightly otherwise," Combs says. "Cool storage is a fine choice, but be aware that crystallization will happen more rapidly in these situations."

Creamed Honey

European-style creamed honey is 100 percent honey that was produced by controlling the crystallization process. The product is known for having a creamy consistency and smooth spreadable texture. "You can put creamed honey in the refrigerator because it is already crystallized, so its texture will not change," Mortimer says. You don't need to refrigerate any other type of honey, including honeycomb.

Pasteurized Honey

Processed, or pasteurized, honey is treated at high temperatures to destroy sugar-tolerant yeasts and extend its shelf life. This type of honey should be stored in a warm, dark place or anywhere it won't be susceptible to crystallization.

Should You Refrigerate Honey?

It all comes down to what consistency you enjoy. "Some people enjoy the crystalized texture change that happens when honey is kept in the refrigerator," says Combs. "If that's the case for you, by all means, keep it cold." Otherwise, storing your honey in the cupboard, where it's dark and warm, will ensure it remains the liquid, pourable consistency that most people enjoy.

It's worth noting that the crystals, while perhaps visually unappealing, aren't hazardous for your health. "If your honey does crystallize, you can always re-liquefy it by placing the jar into a warm—not boiling—bowl of water," Mortimer says. If you go that route, 104 degrees is the ideal water temperature.

Can You Freeze Honey?

If for some reason you wanted to ensure the taste of a certain type of honey remains at its peak intensity, consider storing it in the freezer. This stops it from losing flavor and "getting darker or changing taste, which honey does with time," says Ted Dannard, founder of Savannah Bee Company.

Keep Honey Safe From Contamination

Even the most carefully stored honey can become contaminated and spoil. Make sure to use clean and dry utensils when dipping them into a honey container. "If honey smells fermented (like alcohol), has foam, or a pink slime on it, then throw it out," says Kimberly Baker, Ph.D., RD, LD, director of the Clemson Extension Food Systems and Safety Program Team.

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