Raw Honey, the Superfood with a Super Duper Shelf Life

Honey has been a part of our diets for millennia, and for good reason. Not only is it delicious and incredibly beneficial for good health, but honey can also last nearly a lifetime. 

It's actually pretty amazing but without any help from scientists using chemicals, preservatives or smart technology, nature has mastered the art of making and keeping a product that has been used for food, medicine, and other practical applications since ancient times.

So how is this possible?  Well, according to experts, one of the primary reasons for the sustainability or raw honey is natural, or raw honey has an extremely low moisture content.  This is key because very few bacteria or microorganisms can live in a low-moisture environment. According to Amina Harris, Executive Director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at the University of California, Davis, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially."  This means the organisms never get a chance to spoil this precious commodity.

Another factor that contributes to honey's longevity is its high acidic level.  According to the National Honey Board, natural honey has an average pH of 3.9.  Here again, anything trying to make a home in such an environment will surely die.

Of course, we would be remiss not to mention bees since they do all the work to bring us this sweet treat.  As busy bees buzz around plants, their furiously flapping wings dry out the nectar (eliminating moisture).  Bees put the nectar into the combs by vomiting it there (this is kind of like making sausage, you really don't want to know how it's made). The enzyme in the bees' stomach, glucose oxidase, mixes with the nectar when it's regurgitated.  This combination further breaks down creating gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide (yet another component that makes it practically impossible for any organism to survive).

So all of this natural chemistry leads to a nearly perfect food...it not only tastes good but if stored properly, would keep through the apocalypse.  Which leads me to how to properly store your golden goodness.  Don't expose it to water.  If you do, it'll spoil soon enough.  Also, make sure your honey is well sealed and stored in a dry place.

There's the issue of crystallization.  When honey isn't filtered, it maintains some particles that can cause crystallization (it gets cloudy with sugary crystals, some even settling at the base of the jar). To the uninitiated, you may think your honey is spoiling, it's not. So it's still perfectly good to eat.  However, if you prefer your honey without the crystals (which by the way appear after some time, but frankly, it never lasts that long in my house), you can keep it in the freezer.  It won't actually freeze, because remember, there's almost no moisture, but it will slow crystallization.

Finally, although raw or natural honey is as close to the perfect food that you can find, however, it's perfect for everyone except babies.  That's because it can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum (about the only bacteria that can survive in raw honey's low moisture environment). There is no danger for adults or children over the age of one because the gastrointestinal tract is developed enough to deal with the spore.  But babies should not be given raw honey.