When it comes to shelf life, honey wins the award for longevity. According to the National Honey Board, honey that has been properly stored and sealed can last for decades or even centuries. But the honey that is purchased in stores today usually has about a two-year shelf life. The chemical makeup of honey makes it virtually impossible for bacteria to sneak inside honey and cause it to go bad.
Honey is a popular natural remedy for everything from cuts and burns to coughs and skin rashes. Honey comes in three main forms including raw, organic, and processed. Keep reading to learn about the properties of honey, the benefits of honey, popular medicinal effects of honey, and a breakdown of the differences between raw, organic, and processed honey.
According to the science-based website Smithsonian.com, honey’s longevity can be attributed to its chemical makeup. The basic properties of honey are as follows:
Sugar: Honey is mostly made up of sugar, which means it contains little to no water. Without water, bacteria cannot survive inside honey and thus cannot cause it to spoil. Honey essentially eliminates any bacteria that may attempt to shorten its shelf life. Honey kills the bacteria before the bacteria can attack and destroy the honey.
Acid: Another reason bacteria have trouble living inside honey is its acidity. Honey has a high level of acid that kills any bacteria that might attempt to grow inside the honey or the honey jar.
Hydrogen peroxide: Honey’s hydrogen peroxide content comes from bees. An enzyme found in bees’ stomachs called glucose oxidase mixes with the nectar that bees use to make honey. When the glucose oxidase and the nectar mix, the nectar breaks down into acid and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide, a long trusted antiseptic, is another reason that bacteria find it so difficult to survive in honey.
Honey has become popular for its sweetness and healing properties, but it has some nutritional value to offer as well. While honey contains little to no fat, fiber, or protein, it does contain small amounts of vitamins and nutrients including folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Honey also contains antioxidants, which help to rid the body of dangerous cells that cause damage, aging, and even illnesses like cancer. A study published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicines has shown that antioxidants in honey play a role in lowering blood pressure and preventing cardiovascular disease.
Medicinal Honey Uses
Honey has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries and continues to be used today. Honey’s chemical make-up causes it to act as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, making it ideal for treating and soothing wounds like cuts and burns. Common ailments treated by medicinal honey include:
- Disinfecting cuts and scrapes
- Healing burns
- Relieving allergies
- Inducing sleep
- Soothing sore throats
- Treating skin conditions like psoriasis
- Treating cough in children
Types of Honey
Honey is readily available at most grocery stores and online. Many farmers markets sell honey as well. The types of honey available will vary by store but many offer options such as raw honey and organic honey in addition to processed honey. Following are the key differences between these different types of honey.
Raw honey is best described as honey in its most pure form. It is basically honey straight from the beehive. It has not been pasteurized, filtered, or altered in any way, and it has no added ingredients. It is taken from the beehive and bottled or stored in jars where it is then sold for consumption.
Organic honey and raw honey are often confused as being one and the same. They are, however, different and are held to distinct standards and requirements. According to the USDA’s website, standard practices are being developed in regards to organic honey. But there are already some rules in place—no pesticides or dangerous chemical sprays are allowed near the bees or any other flowers or plants growing near the honeycomb. There is no rule stating that the honey, once organically made, cannot be pasteurized or processed in any way. So while honey can be made organically, organic honey isn’t necessarily direct from the hive the way that raw honey is.
Processed honey has been through the pasteurization process. This means that is has undergone heat treatment to extend the shelf life of the honey. Processed honey has most likely had its bee pollen removed. Bee pollen has been studied for its medicinal effects and may offer health benefits to individuals who consume it in the form of raw honey. Processed honey may also have artificial sweeteners added to it. Artificial sweeteners may have dangerous effects on the body and, according to Harvard Health, may even be addictive.