Can Honey Ferment?

Last Updated: 18.11.19

 

Honey can ferment if it contains over 19% moisture, and this process is usually done deliberately to obtain an alcoholic beverage called mead. Even if raw honey has antimicrobial properties as you can see in our recent post, this too can ferment to obtain alternative honey-based products. 

Known for its many properties, honey has been around for thousands of years, given that our ancestors were well aware of how beneficial it can be. There are many types of honey that you can find on the market, one of them being the raw alternative. This one contains a wide range of antioxidants that protect the body from cell damage and fight free radicals. 

Research has also shown that raw honey can help you get rid of unwanted fungus and bacteria, given that it naturally contains the antiseptic called hydrogen peroxide. While its effectiveness depends on multiple factors such as its quality and source, the fact remains that honey is much more than a folk remedy. 

This wonderful substance was also the original sweetener used by our ancestors, and one of the things that set it apart from other major sweeteners is the fact that it can be used right away, in its unprocessed state. Once it’s taken from the bees, you can start enjoying its many benefits. 

If every step along the process that brings honey into the kitchen jars is done right and the substance is in its pure form, it will not ferment. However, fermentation can be either deliberately or accidentally induced, and in the next lines, we’re going to see what this actually means. 

 

Raw honey

When we’re talking about its pure state, honey is, in fact, a highly concentrated sugar that contains very little water. This is one of the features that make it one of the few types of food naturally resistant to spoilage. In other words, honey doesn’t usually go bad, and that’s mainly because microorganisms and yeast require a certain degree of free water to thrive. 

This aspect has been known since ancient times, given that people would use honey during those days to dress wounds. If the product is carefully stored, honey can crystallize and get darker, but it will not ferment. When we’re talking about raw honey, it means that it has not been either heated nor treated in any way. 

This way, the natural beneficial properties and enzymes are left completely intact. Furthermore, the pollen found in raw honey is also very efficient, supporting the body and protecting it from allergies. The fermentation process can actually enhance all of these benefits, and in order for the honey to reach the right fermentation level, it needs to have a moisture level of at least 19%. 

As you can imagine, most honey contains less than this, so it needs some water to be added in order to start the process. 

 

 

Types of fermentations

There are situations in which the fermentation process can start unintentionally, which means that the product is going to be spoiled. One of these is if the honey is harvested before the right time, which means that the moisture level is too high. The same can happen if the product is not stored airtight, as this allows moisture to be absorbed, thus leading to fermentation. 

When too much moisture is present, the yeast spores that honey contains are taken out of their dormant state and start to digest the sugars, turning them into alcohol. In these cases, the honey foams visibly and begins to develop sours and unpleasant odors. When it happens, the product is no longer suitable for consumption and beekeepers usually feed it back to the bees. 

Besides the unintentional fermentation, there is also the intentional one which is, of course, how people produce alcoholic beverages. In fact, fermented honey might be the oldest one of them, since this is how mead is made. The process is not a very complicated one and to deliberately ferment honey you need to dissolve it into water with a certain amount of yeast. 

Just like wine or beer, the substance goes into the fermentation process which produces a tart honey wine that many people enjoy around the world. If you are familiar with Nordic and Celtic cultures, then you probably know that mead was deeply ingrained in their habits. 

In fact, some theories claim that the term honeymoon comes from ancient times when newlyweds were largely left alone for a month to drink mead and actually get to know each other. However, such claims are rejected by scholars, but this doesn’t mean that you cannot use it as a fun-fact at parties. 

 

Are beneficial organisms preserved during fermentation? 

Many people claim that one cannot use raw honey in this process because in its raw state honey has antibacterial agents. This leads to concerns that the mother culture responsible for fermentation would be killed. 

While it’s true that this great product does have antimicrobial properties, it kills microbes by suffocation which means that if it’s mixed with water it’s effectiveness is diminished. This way, it can become a good support for airborne organisms and yeasts in order to create the fermented product. 

If you want to test this theory on your own, all you need to do is to find a source of high-quality raw honey and then follow the necessary steps to start the fermentation process. We’ve been talking a lot about how to get it started, but there are times when you would like to stop it, so let’s see what needs to be done in such cases. 

If you have more honey than you can eat, then you should check it from time to time to see if it has crystallized and if it has developed any kind of white feathery patterns. If that’s the case, it may mean that it is starting to ferment and the quickest way to stop this is by refrigerating it. 

At the beginning of the process, the honey is still good to eat, but if you allow it to continue, then the product will change its taste. When it comes to raw honey, since it has not been pasteurized, it contains live yeast. 

It’s important to keep an eye on the crystallization process as well, given that the moisture content within the container increases making fermentation more likely to happen. If you want to reliquify the honey, you can do this by simply placing the jar of honey in hot water, and if you allow it to get to 160 degrees it will be pasteurized, but no longer raw. 

On the other hand, if you want to crystallize it then you can simply store it in the refrigerator since yeast cannot grow if the temperature around it is lower than 50 degrees. 

 

 

Mead

Now that we’ve covered all the major aspects involving honey and its fermentation process, we can take a moment to see what mead has to offer since this drink has been around and quite popular, we might add, for most of our known history. 

In its simple form, mead is made of honey and water and, just like wine, it can be either sweet or dry, depending on the amount of honey used in the process. For example, when five gallons of mead are produced at a time, you need to use 9 to 12 pounds of honey to get a dry beverage and from 16 to 22 pounds for sweet mead. 

Besides the basic type of mead that includes water and honey, there are many other versions that include other ingredients as well. In fact, given its highly diverse ancestry, mead can be produced in a wide range of styles, and there is also an entire vocabulary used to describe the various types of beverages obtained. 

For example, mead that has apples added during its fermentation is known as a cyser, while if you add grapes it can be called pyment. Of course, other fruits can be used as well, depending on your taste and in this case the drink is called a melomel. 

Those who enjoy trying all kinds of flavors might be very happy to know that mead can also be made with spices, and if you want to try this version out you need to look for a beverage called metheglin. You can also go for the rose petal alternative that is also known as rhodomel. 

 

 

 

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