Long before sugar found its way into all of the foods we eat, honey was the sweetener of choice for much of the developed world. Honey has long been popular as a natural, tasty source of sugar, and raw honey has seen a resurgence in popularity as consumers have moved towards organic products.
Raw honey is also popular among Preppers because it lasts seemingly forever. That’s an important quality when stockpiling food supplies for an emergency cache or bug out bag.
But does raw honey really last forever? We will look at whether you can really stash raw honey and then leave it for decades, or whether you’ll eventually need to replace it.
What is Raw Honey?
Before we dive into the shelf life of raw honey, we have to talk about what exactly makes honey “raw.”
Most of the honey you buy at the grocery store probably isn’t raw. The honey that comes in familiar bear-shaped containers is typically processed and pasteurized, and often contains additives to extend its shelf life.
Raw honey is the stuff that comes straight from the hive. Honey producers scrape the honey off combs within the hive and pour it through a basic filter to remove solids. And that’s it – there’s no pasteurization and nothing added.
Because there’s only light filtering and no pasteurization, raw honey often contains a lot of pollen. This should be visible in your honey, and it serves as a marker that you’re getting the raw stuff rather than an impostor. Raw honey also contains a number of vitamins and enzymes, although there’s no scientific proof that raw honey is better for you than processed honey.
In general, honey is made up of around 80% sugar which inhibits the growth or many types of bacteria and fungi. Despite containing some water (around 17-18%), the chemistry of honey prevents moisture buildup, further depriving bacteria and fungi of critical water to support their growth. Raw honey has not been treated, and therefore the honey protects itself just as nature intended!
How Long Does Raw Honey Last?
If stored properly, raw honey will last for decades or even centuries.
Yes, you heard that right – you can buy raw honey once, put it in your emergency food kit, and then never have to replace it.
The key phrase here, though, is “if stored properly.” Honey should always be stored in an airtight container, away from heat and light. Most farmers markets and grocery stores sell raw honey in airtight containers, so all you really need to do is not open it before storage.
Keep in mind that some containers of raw honey will come marked with expiration dates. You can ignore those – they’re largely there because consumers are used to seeing expiration dates on food products. Raw honey that is stamped with a “best buy” or other date will last indefinitely.
Honey will also continue to remain edible for years after you open the container, if you re-seal it after. Just make sure that you don’t drop any food particles into your honey if you plan on re-sealing it – bacteria can take advantage of contaminants and cause spoilage.
Quick storage tips:
- Use a glass container instead of plastic. Plastic is more porous than glass and can allow more moisture into the honey than glass. More moisture = more crystallization.
- If you want to prevent crystallization, consider storing in a room temperature area. Honey stored in a cold basement or unheated mudroom will crystallize faster. When the temperature of the honey approaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit, crystallization will accelerate.
Raw Honey Changes Over Time
Just because honey lasts forever doesn’t mean it will look exactly the same 20 years from now. Over time, raw honey undergoes some changes that can affect its appearance. These changes are completely normal, and proof that your honey was never pasteurized. Importantly, changes in appearance don’t affect the taste or shelf life of your honey at all.
The most common changes are shifts in color and crystallization. Often, raw honey will take on a darker color than what you saw initially as it sits over time. This color can become quite dark the more your honey is exposed to light.
Crystallization is also natural, and your honey is perfectly fine to eat in its crystallized form. If you don’t like the honey crystals, you can easily reverse the crystallization process by putting your jar of raw honey in a bowl of warm water for an hour or so.
Raw Honey Lasts Forever!
Raw honey is one of only a few foods that truly lasts forever. With a shelf life of decades to centuries, you can safely put raw honey in your emergency food cache and then never have to replace it. Even if your honey changes color or crystallizes, it’s still good to eat and the flavor won’t change at all.
If you can’t find a suitable source of raw honey – also consider freeze dried honey as an alternative for prepping purposes!