Fermenting honey

Discussion in 'Products of the Hive' started by efmesch, Sep 11, 2012.

  1. efmesch

    efmesch Active Member

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    Does anyone have experience with problems of fermenting honey?
    A few specific questions:
    1.Is there any floral source you know of that produces honey more prone to ferment?
    2. Can anything be done to stop fermenting in its early stages?
    3. What methods do you recommend to prevent fermentation?
    4. (and most important) What can you do with honey that has started to ferment (other than turn it into mead)? Is there any way to "return it" to its pre-fermentation status?
  2. Iddee

    Iddee New Member

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    1.. I don't know.

    2.. Refrigerate

    3.. Reduce water content or refrigerate.

    4.. Feed it back to the bees. They will return it to pure honey with low water content.

  3. ApisBees

    ApisBees Active Member

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    Efmesch some of this you will already know but for the sake of other reading this thread we will examine honey and fermentation.

    Raw honey if the moisture content is below 17% it is considered a saturated sugar solution and even though there are yeast spores in it, they cannot reproduce (grow).
    In general if the frames of honey are caped to between 2/3 to ¾ before extraction the honey will have a moisture content below 17 % (ripe) and should not ferment. But it can and dose, why ?

    Ripe Honey Fermentation is tied to the crystallization of honey . Honey that is pasteurized has been heated to 160 Deg F for 4 to5 minutes to kill the yeast spores so the honey can have a higher moisture content with out the fear of fermenting. It also aids in reducing the rate of crystallization of the honey by dissolving any crystals in the honey.
    Honey crystallize since it is an over-saturated sugar solution. Honey is made up of four different sugars. Fructose, Glucose, Maltose and Sucrose. The two principal sugars in honey are fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (grape sugar). The content of fructose and glucose in honey varies from one type of honey to the other. Generally, the fructose ranges from 30- 44 % and glucose from 25- 40 %. The balance of these two major sugars is the main reason that leads to crystallization of honey, and the relative percentage of each determines whether it crystallizes rapidly or slowly. What crystallizes is the glucose, due to its lower solubility. Fructose is more soluble in water than glucose and will remain fluid. When the crystals are formed in the liquid glucose part of the honey the water that is less than 17% is released from the glucose and surrounds the crystals. As the crystallization progresses and more glucose crystallizes, those crystals spread throughout the honey. The honey is still stable and will last for thousands of years.

    Here is where the problem of fermentation begins. If the excess water that is given off during the crystallization process dose not stay suspended around the glucose crystals the water will be absorbed by the other sugars. There moisture content in the other sugars will rise to a point where they are no longer a saturated sugar and will allow the yeasts to grow and fermentation to begin.
    Ways in which the other sugars are allowed to absorb the excess water.
    1 You have honey in a container and it crystallizes and then warms up enough to melt or soften some if the crystals, other crystals being denser settle to the bottom of the container allowing the water to rise and be absorbed by other sugars.
    2 You have honey in a container and it crystallizes and then you dig some of the crystallized honey out of the container, leaving a well in the surface. The other liquid sugars and water around the glucose crystals will seep into the hole you left and the liquid sugars will absorb the excess water.
    3 Honey is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture readily If the honey is not stored in a closed container, the moisture could rise. Honey at 16.8% water will absorb moisture if the relative humidity of the air is above 55%, and loose moisture if below.
    A set or equilibrium values
    RH of air % -------------- 50,----- 55,----- 60, ----- 65, ----- 70, ----- 75,----- 80
    % of water in honey --15.9,--- 16.8,--- 18.3,---- 20.9,---- 24.2,--- 28.3,--- 33.1

    To be safe if you don’t have a refractometer to test that your honey is below 17% moisture make sure the combs on average are ¾ capped before extracting.
    (17% moisture is the industry standard for raw unpasteurized honey and is considered a stable saturated honey solution.)
    Honey is affected by the seasonal weather in the fall when the weather gets cooler the honey is subjected to temperatures that promote crystallization around 10-15 ºC (50- 60 ºF). The next spring and summer the honey warms to the storage air temp but not high enough to melt all the crystals.
    Honey resists crystallization best when stored at higher temperatures, over 25 ºC (77 ºF) To dissolve crystals a temperature of 40 ºC (104 ºF) is needed, but keeping honey at that temperature for prolonged times will damage the honey. Try to store honey where the temp is more constant and protecting against warm times of the year.
    Be aware of the relative humidity if storing honey open to the air for prolonged periods.
  4. efmesch

    efmesch Active Member

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    Apis----WOW! That's what I call a thoroughly researched answer. I confess, I hadn't been expecting such a thorough treatment of the topic.
    I'll give you the background to my questions.
    Yesterday afternoon, my grandson (approaching the conclusion of his second year in beeekeeping) called me in a state of panic. He had the feeling that many of the bottled honey containers he prepared, smelled funny and seemed to him to have an off taste.
    The honey had been extracted, in mid-to-late-summer heat, from frames that were fully capped, in hives placed near cotton fields. He hadn't checked the water content of his honey but had assumed it must have been OK. (Take note that Israel has no rain in the summer--we're bone dry from about April till late Sept.). The honey
    appeared to him to have a tiny amount of bubbles rising in the containers. The bottles of honey themselves were clear, with no crystallization at all.
    Not having seen the honey, and based on his descriptions, I raised the possibility of fermentation and promised to place his concerns before the experts of the forum. The level of panicc increased.
    This afternoon, he came to visit me and brought some of his cotton-honey for me to see, smell, taste and examine for water content.
    See--it looked good and clear but there were some (very few) tiny bubbles at the surface.
    Smell--It didn't smell like any honey I'm familiar with, but didn't smell alcoholic.
    Taste__It was a good, light honey, which if I tried hard to taste a hint of fermentation, I could say "maybe?".
    Water content--my refractometer of one sample gave me a reading of 20% water--not what I would have hoped for. Another sample gave a reading of 17% water--that was nice.
    My opinion was that the honey might be at the very initial stage of fermenation but was definitely marketable. I assumed the smell and flavor to be that of cotton honey, something I'm not familiar with.
    From me, he went to take advice from the leading honey inspector of the country who recommended that he sell the honey anyway===and doing so would not be the wrong thing to do. The honey was fine. But he added that cotton honey does have a tendency to ferment and becauase of that, it should always be mixed with honeys from other flower sources.
    Panic button released.
    But the next concern he expressed was of the masses of bees killed by the spraying of the cotton. He has decided not to place his hives near cotton in the future.
    There's always something new to learn in beekeeping.
  5. bamabww

    bamabww Active Member

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    I'm late replying but my local contact, a beekeeper of 50 years, agrees with the inspector. he said cotton honey would ferment quicker and crystallize quicker than almost any other type. Last year I had a similar problem with my second crop of honey, taken off in July after cotton blooming had passed. It smelled different than the late May early June honey. At that time there was a 12 + acre cotton patch less than a mile from my hives. This year they planted corn in that field and I didn't have that problem.