While I was sorting out our jars of honey to take to the Fortismere Christmas Fair on Sunday I noticed that some our honey has started to set. Some people seem to have very strong preferences about whether they like set or runny honey and many people ask me about why honey goes through this process.
Nearly all honey will naturally set eventually. The time that it takes to set depends on which flowers the bees have been foraging on. Lime tree honey sets extremely slowly, whereas ivy and oil-seed-rape honey can set in the comb before the beekeeper has a chance to extract it.
Simply put, honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Nectar from different flowers contains different proportions of the two sugars. Setting of honey is caused by the crystallization of the glucose, so honey with a low proportion of glucose will set more slowly than one with a higher proportion.
There are a couple of other factors that will influence the crystallization speed. Low temperatures will speed up the setting process. Honey with plenty of pollen grains tends to set more quickly too. The reason is that the microscopic grains act as starters for the crystals to grow around. Commercial honey is often fine filtered at high temperatures in order to remove the pollen in order to slow down the setting rate and increase the shelf life of their honey – set honey apparently doesn’t sell so well! I’d suggest that the opposite is true as we often have people asking if we have any set honey…
The good news is that set honey is perfectly edible, and is another delicious way to enjoy honey! If you really must have runny honey, then you can stand the jar in a bowl of warm water, or warm it extremely gently in the oven. I’d never recommend using the microwave as you’ll end up with hot spots.
If you’d like to try some of our set honey, Lot #34 is available in our website shop
I’ll make a note in the descriptions of the other lots if they set too.
We’ve been making these for a a few years for our own use and for gifting. After much prodding from a friend we finally took the plunge and made a huge batch of beeswax wraps to sell.
They are the sustainable alternative to using plastic food wrap or plastic bags. We make them with organic cotton, beeswax from our own hives, pine tree resin and jojoba oil. The brilliant thing about them is that they can be used again and again, and when they finally collapse (we have some that are two years old and still going strong) they can be chopped up and composted – they also make terrific fire starters.
We use ours mainly for wrapping up after school snacks and sandwiches in lunch boxes. You just fold the wrap around the food and use the warmth of your hands to set the shape.
They are also great for covering bowls.
We’ve even made some huge ones suitable for wrapping a large loaf of bread.
When you’ve finished using one, you just rinse it with cool water (hot water would melt the beeswax) and some washing up soap, leave to dry overnight then it is ready to go again the next morning.
Over the spring and summer we take honey from our hives in very small batches whenever there is some ready. This allows us to really appreciate the variety of colours and tastes of honey that result from the different flowers that the bees forage on at different times of the year.
This is a shot of just a few of the different colours of honey that we’ve extracted this year. Naturally they all taste quite different too.
I’ve been particularly intrigued by the very dark honey at the bottom of the stack – it has a really delicious rich flavour. I know that Sweet Chestnut honey is very dark – There are a couple of small, newly planted Sweet Chestnut trees locally, but I wasn’t convinced that there had been enough flowers to yield much honey.
Today, cycling across Hampstead Heath, we discovered several huge Sweet Chestnut trees which are dripping in chestnuts – I think that these may well be the source of our fabulous dark honey.
We’ll enjoy the chestnuts and the honey – what wonderful creatures bees are, collecting the nectar and pollinating the flowers.
If you would like to try some of our dark honey we still have some jars in our on-line shop – it is Lot#33.