It’s one of the few products that has a very long shelf life, and will last practically forever if stored in the right conditions. In fact, when archaeologists were excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, they came across something totally unexpected amongst the findings – pots of honey that were thousands of years old and remarkably, still preserved. A major discovery and a significant testament to the everlasting shelf life of honey.
Another recent find was unearthed in Georgia where scientists examined honey over 5,000 years old and thought to be the world’s oldest honey.
There are not too many foods that keep for thousands of years, like honey, but the remarkable thing about honey is that it will remain preserved in a form that is completely edible. Imagine the archaeologist’s delight opening up a jar of several thousand years old honey, scooping up a spoonful and savouring it like it was made yesterday!
Why does honey last so long?
This is where it gets interesting! You wouldn’t expect to have a food source without an expiration date, without a whole lot of elements working in unison to create this wonder food.
To answer this question we need to know some of the background and what gives honey its unique properties. First and foremost, honey is a sugar, and while it’s not the same as the ordinary white sugar we have come to know as “white death” - it’s still a sugar.
Sugars are hygroscopic which simply means, in their natural state, they don’t contain much water, and very few bacteria can exist in this low moisture environment. In its natural form, honey is very low in moisture and due to this, bacteria and other organisms don’t ever get the chance to spoil the honey. Honey is also acidic with the pH anything between 3 and 4.5, and with this acid count, anything that tries to make its home in honey, is quickly killed off.
When you consider the complex and varied flavours of honey, you start to realise that even though it is classified as a sugar, it’s much more than that – it’s a gift from the bees. What could be more wondrous than an insect that performs a strange alchemy that transforms pollen and nectar into honey?
Here is a video showing how bees make honey.
Some interesting facts about honey
- It takes 12 bees a lifetime to make one teaspoon of honey.
- Bees in the 5th century were kept in large pottery jars which were known as ceramic beehives. The inside of these jars were “scored” to provide a rough surface for the bees to attach the combs.
- Greek mythology says that Zeus was raised on honey!
- In ancient Greece, honey was used by the Gods as the very first sweetener, making their sweets and delicacies very popular.
- The art of bee keeping (apiculture) started in early prehistoric times.
- Honey, along with grapes and olives formed the beginning of Greek gastronomy.
- Large quantities of honey were found in jars in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
- Studies show that honey is one of the easiest foods to digest.
How to store honey
We know that because of the high sugar content in honey, it prevents micro-organisms growing. In years gone by before we had glass and plastic, honey was stored in porous sealed jars and amassed in caves.
It has been said that the Babylonians actually buried their dead in honey and that Alexander the Great may have been embalmed in a coffin full of honey.
As in the Georgian discovery, honey will last virtually forever if you store it correctly.
It’s very simple. Find an airtight container (best to stay clear of metal containers as they can cause oxidisation). Keep your honey in a dry, cool place – a dark place in the pantry is perfect. Room temperatures can also help to preserve the life of honey and the ideal is between 70-80°F. If it drops below 65°F that is when it starts to crystalize. You will notice if you keep your honey in a cold place it can go thick, while warmer temperatures will change the appearance and make it easier to spread.
If you don’t store it properly, it can crystalize and lose colour and texture and the aroma and flavour may change – but that’s okay.
If your honey does crystalize, it is still edible and delicious to eat. You can put the open jar of honey in warm water stirring until the crystals dissolve. Or, you can still use crystalized honey in tea, on toast, and as a glaze for meat and vegetables, so don’t waste it.
Does honey go bad?
So this brings us to the question - could you eat 5,000 year old honey?
According to authoritative sources – if it’s been sealed and stored properly for that length of time – yes.
But there’s no need to go to these lengths to get your honey fix.
Manuka honey, with its unique properties, is found only in New Zealand and is available right here. All our honey is UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor rated) and each batch carries a UMF number, which makes it globally sought after.
To find out more about this ancient, natural, superfood click here: