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The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-science-behind-honeys-eternal-shelf-life-1218690/

smithsonianmag.com

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life
A slew of factors—its acidity, its lack of water and the presence of hydrogen peroxide—work in perfect harmony, allowing the sticky treat to last forever

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Honey In The Pyramids

Honey In The Pyramids

Egyptian tombs excavated by modern archaeologists unearthed preserved pots of honey, which were thousands of years old, and yet unspoiled.

Pure honey, a hygroscopic food, remains preserved in a ready-to-eat form, and is medicinal in nature, unlike other resilient foods like dried rice or salt.

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Honey: The Eternal Food

  • Part of the magic is that honey, which is basically a kind of sugar, has a negligible amount of moisture that does not let any bacteria or microorganisms spoil it.
  • Honey is also acidic, which does not let things survive in it.
  • Other hygroscopic sugars like molasses have a similar chemical makeup, and yet honey does not spoil(if not left out in the open for long) but molasses does.

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Bees And Their Natural Preservatives

The reason for honey’s eternal life when kept sealed, are bees.

Their wings dry out the moisture in the nectar and their stomach have an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which helps in making a natural preservative called hydrogen peroxide.

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Honey As An Ancient Medicine

The Sumerian clay tablets have a record of the medicinal properties of honey, and the ancient Egyptians used it for medicinal purposes regularly, from skin ointments to any eye diseases.

Even modern medicine has started using honey-covered bandages that are used in hospitals.

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Farm Honey And Supermarket Honey

Honey bought from the supermarket is processed and does not change its properties, as it does not have any particulates.

The honey from the farm has pollen, enzymes and other particulates, which can make it crystallized, but still unspoiled.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Where honey comes from

Where honey comes from
  • Honey is made by bees. Bees eat nectar, a sugar-rich liquid that is produced by flowers.
  • The bee stores most of the nectar in their "honey stomach." At the hive, bees reg...

Why honey doesn’t spoil

  • Acidity. Most bacteria prefer neutral growing conditions. The enzymes bees use to break down the sugar in nectar make it more acidic and less appealing for bacterial growth.
  • Sugar content. Honey has a lot of sugar, but only 18% water, which is not sufficient for most bacteria to grow. Honey has so much sugar that it's hygroscopic - which is the ability to absorb moisture out of the air. When honey is exposed to humidity, more water is added, and when the water content rises above 25%, bacteria will eventually be able to grow. That is why the container of honey should be closed.
  • Antimicrobial compounds. Hydrogen peroxide is produced as a byproduct of some of the enzymes used by bees to digest more complex sugars. Some honey types also contain antimicrobial compounds such as defensin-1, an antibiotic produced by bees.

Combined, these three properties mean honey is very stable as long as it's not exposed to outside moisture or humidity.

The oldest honey

Until 2003, the oldest collected, preserved samples of honey are about 3,000 years old. It was discovered inside ancient Egyptian pyramids.

In 2003, archeologists found honey samples from Georgia that dated back 4,700 - 5,500 years.

Understanding how long food lasts

Understanding how long food lasts

Should humanity face a nuclear apocalypse of worldwide war, we need to understand which foods might be safe for survivors to eat, and how long the foods will last.

To understand this, we ne...

Why foods go bad

Most foods spoil because of the growth of microbes. Preserving food is an attempt to limit microbial growth. Food can be preserved by drying, salting, chilling, or storing in air-tight containers.

  • Drying is the most effective because microbial growth is inhibited.
  • Salting is effective because it removes moisture, creating an environment where microbes cannot survive.
  • Sugar coating can prevent bacterial cells from functioning correctly.
  • Storing in air-tight containers is less effective because there are probably a lot of microbes on the food before you put it in the container. Some microbes are anaerobic, meaning they don't need oxygen.

Food preservatives

Preservatives are used in foods to extend their shelf lives. One of McDonald's Big Mac in Iceland is an example of a long-lasting processed food. It has been on display since 2009, in a glass box. Preservatives that has been discontinued by McDonald's are:

  • calcium propionate that prevents mold growth on bread.
  • sorbic acid that also inhibits mold from cheese
  • sodium benzoate, which inhibits the growth of bacteria in the Big Mac special sauce.

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The Most Coveted Honey

The Most Coveted  Honey

Manuka honey from New Zealand is the world’s most coveted honey. It’s supposedly unique healing properties make it a high-demand consumable in the elite circles. It is derived from the nectar of a ...

Manuka Honey History

  • The honey bees species (Apis mellifera) that are necessary for commercial honey production are not native ones of New Zealand but arrived in 1839 due to an English beekeeper, Mary Bumby.
  • She managed to bring the skeps (woven baskets) of honey bees in a six-month voyage from England, paving the way for the bees to start working on the manuka bushes.
  • The honey did not gain popularity until 1980, when Dr. Peter Molan confirmed the unique antibacterial properties of the nectar, along with the already known healing properties. A series of quantifiable tests proved that manuka honey can kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

International Sweet Sensation

By 1991, manuka honey was marketed in the U.S. which was going through a health and fitness resurgence, gaining massive adoption and cult status. It also gained traction as a versatile and healthier sugar substitute.