Honey is magic. Besides its delicious taste, it’s pretty much the only food that does not spoil while in an edible state. But why, exactly, doesn’t honey go bad?
Honey has a lot of pretty incredible properties. It’s been used and investigated for medicinal properties for a long time, especially as a treatment for open wounds. Herodotus reported that the Babylonians buried their dead in honey, and Alexander the Great may have been embalmed in a coffin full of honey.
Honey has been called the only food that truly lasts forever, thanks to its magical chemistry and the handiwork of bees. The nectar from flowers mixes with enzymes inside the bees that extract it, which changes the nectar’s composition and breaks it down into simple sugars that are deposited into honeycombs. Fanning action from the bees’ wings and the enzymes from their stomachs create a liquid that is both highly acidic and low in moisture—truly inhospitable digs for bacterial growth. Honey’s pH is between 3 and 4.5 (or, more precisely, 3.26-4.48), which also kills off anything trying to make a home in honey.
And there are a few factors behind honey’s low moisture content, including: bees, storage, crystallization.
The processing and sealing of honey also adds to its indefinite shelf life. Despite being low in moisture, honey’s sugars are hygroscopic, which means that they take in moisture from the air. When the heated and strained honey is sealed properly, moisture cannot be absorbed, and the honey stays the same forever. The oldest jar of the sweet stuff ever found is believed to be 5500 years old.
However, honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum. This isn’t harmful to adults and children over one year old, whose gastrointestinal tract is developed enough to deal with the spores. But children under one are at risk for infant botulism, so honey is not for your infant.