Is Fermented Honey Safe to Eat?
Honey has a well-deserved reputation for staying fresh seemingly indefinitely. Its high sugar content and low moisture inhibits microbial growth, allowing it to last months to years without spoiling. However, honey can eventually ferment if certain conditions encourage yeasts and bacteria to break down its sugars. This fermentation produces carbon dioxide gas and alcohol, creating bubbles and a sour taste. So is it still safe to eat honey after fermentation sets in? Here is an overview of the risks, signs, and uses for fermented honey.
How Honey Ferments
All honey contains dormant yeasts introduced from pollen, bees, equipment, and the environment. These yeasts cannot multiply in ripened honey with less than 18% moisture content. However, diluted honey with excess moisture provides an environment for yeast growth and activity. As yeasts metabolize the glucose and fructose in honey, they produce ethanol, carbon dioxide, organic acids, and aromatic compounds. The activity causes carbonation, alcohol content, sourness, and froth. The extent of fermentation depends on the type of yeast, moisture level, and other factors. Light or moderate fermentation alters honey’s flavor and texture while extensive activity can make it unpalatable.
Is it Safe to Eat?
While undesirable, light to moderate fermentation alone does not make honey unsafe to eat. Fermented honey contains only trace amounts of alcohol, usually less than 5%. The microbes typically involved are not hazardous food poisoning types like Salmonella or E. coli. However, babies should not eat fermented honey due to infant botulism risks from Clostridium spores, which fermentation may activate. The main risks of eating fermented honey involve:
- Quality issues – Texture and flavor become less appealing. Carbonation, alcohol, acidity, and froth detract from honey’s normal attributes.
- Masked spoilage – Bubbles and carbonation can seem like benign fermentation but may actually stem from dangerous fungal or bacterial contamination. So fermentation can disguise other spoilage.
- Allergic reaction – Fermented honey may contain higher concentrations of pollen, yeast, or mold allergens.
- Laxative effect – Some yeasts produce compounds that can have a mild laxative effect if eaten in large amounts.
So for most people, ingesting small amounts of fermented honey is likely safe, though not necessarily tasty. However, it provides an opportunity to exercise caution and assess the honey’s condition more closely before consuming.
Signs of Fermented Honey
Typical signs that honey has started fermenting:
- Bubbles or froth – Carbon dioxide gas produced by yeasts creates carbonation.
- Increased viscosity – Yeast activity thickens honey.
- Alcohol smell – Ethanol and aromatic compounds give a brewed scent.
- Vinegar notes – Acetic conversions create sourness.
- Pressure in containers – Gas accumulation may push on lids.
- Cloudiness – Yeast growth causes turbidity.
- Soft set – Carbonation inhibits crystallization.
- Metallic sheen – CO2 brings acidity lowering pH.
The more pronounced these traits, the further fermentation has progressed. Mild cases may just slightly tingle on the tongue while extensive fermentation makes honey unpalatable.
Ways to Use Fermented Honey
Though not ideal, fermented honey has some applications:
- Mead making – Added yeast cuts fermentation time for meads and braggots.
- Cooking – Acidity and froth matter less when honey is cooked or baked.
- Vinegar production – Encourage acetic acid conversions to yield honey vinegar.
- Alcohol fortification – Blend into liquors and beers for light sweetening.
- Polish production – The acidity works for furniture wax recipes.
- Compost starter – The yeasts aid kick-starting decomposition.
- Bee feeds – Bees tolerate sourness and fermented honey’s nutritional value.
While imperfect for straight eating, fermented honey can still have value for certain preparations without going to waste.
Beekeepers should process honey promptly after harvest to prevent fermentation:
- Remove uncapped frames – Unsealed nectar has too much moisture.
- Extract quickly – Do not let supers sit wet.
- Filter finely – Remove yeasts and particles.
- Settle completely – Allow full separation of moisture.
- Test moisture content – Confirm it is below 18% water.
- Dry down with fans – Useblowers to actively lower moisture.
- Store in cool area – Optimum is around 60°F to inhibit microbes.
With conscientious processing, honey fermentation remains a minimal issue.
The takeaway on fermented honey is monitor for quality and practice moderation. While not outright dangerous, fermented honey provides minimal appeal or benefits beyond specialty applications. Preventing the conditions that allow yeasts to proliferate keeps honey in its prime condition to enjoy as nature intended.