Don't overheat your honey

Heating honey is surprisingly controversial. If you delve into the topic on the internet, you’ll find all sorts of claims, some more accurate than others. While it’s true that overheating honey can kill off the enzymes and antioxidants that make it so beneficial, claims that heated honey is actually poisonous have yet to be proven. Some people believe that heating changes the taste of honey as well – although this is obviously subjective and difficult to prove.

Put simply, it’s generally best to avoid heating honey to a high temperature or for a long time if you value its potential health benefits. But heating isn’t going to harm you, and you can safely ignore many of the wilder claims about honey and heat.

Here’s our guide to heat, honey, and harm.

Beneficial bacteria and harmful heat

Honey is known for it’s natural health and healing properties. It has been used as a home remedy for coughs and colds for centuries, and more recently, many of the benefits have been borne out in scientific studies. Naturally occurring antioxidants in honey have antibacterial and healing properties, which is why manuka honey is used for wound dressing in many hospitals.

Heating honey to high temperatures – generally above 45-50°C – eliminates these benefits by killing the bacteria, enzymes, and antioxidants that make honey so powerful. Heating honey – whether at home in the cooking process, or by commercial producers – seems like a huge waste of an incredible natural product. If you’re paying top dollar for high UMF or raw honey, heating at home seems particularly unhelpful.

Food safety, crystallisation, and pasteurisation

In New Zealand and around the world, many commercial producers heat their honey during the pasteurisation process. This process may involve heating the honey to high temperatures for a long time, or flash heating in an attempt to retain beneficial bacteria.

Contrary to popular belief, pasteurisation isn’t done for food safety reasons – honey is shelf-stable and acidic, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Most pasteurisation is done in order to make the texture of the honey more palatable for consumers. Raw, unpasteurised honey will naturally crystallise on the shelf, but heating breaks the crystals down and helps keep it smooth and spreadable. Crystallised honey is actually fine to eat, and can be melted slightly by placing the jar in the hot water cupboard or in a bowl of warm water.

If you’re keen to reap the benefits of honey, look for raw, unpasteurised honey, rather than the supermarket stuff.

Cooking with honey

Overheating honey can also affect its flavour. Many people claim that heat strips out the subtle, multi-layered flavours of raw honey, making it simply sweet and one-dimensional. Although this is a matter of opinion, it’s certainly worth considering, especially if you cook with honey.

Honey is a common ingredient in baking, marinades, and glazes for meat. It’s also used to sweeten tea and make home remedies – who doesn’t love a honey, lemon and ginger drink when they have a cold? But using honey for high-heat cooking is likely to kill off any benefits. If you’re just looking to add sweetness, this is not a problem, but if you choose honey for its health properties, it’s not worth using in this context.

The good news is, your tea and hot toddies are still good to go. Just wait a few minutes before stirring in your spoonful of honey, so the water in your cup isn’t at boiling point, and you should be fine.

Want to learn more about heating your honey? Talk to the honey experts at Ecrotek for advice.