We are frequently asked what the most important food items are to store. The most important foods to store for emergencies will vary from person to person depending on many factors. If I could only store a couple of items in my food storage, honey would be at the very top of my list.
Why is honey such an important food to include in food storage? Honey has valuable characteristics including:
- An indefinite shelf life
- Vitamins, minerals, and a variety of important nutrients
- Antibacterial and anti-fungal properties
Honey contains naturally flavored complex sugars as well as trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids along with a variety of flavonoids and phenolic acids, which act as antioxidants.
Honey is an all-natural sweetener with 17 grams of carbohydrates and 64 calories per tablespoon.
Raw unpasteurized honey has natural antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. It is an effective tool to use as a salve in the treatment wounds and burns; healing infection, promoting new cell growth and reducing inflammation. It is an effective treatment for some ulcers.
Honey may be used to treat microbial infections, including those resistant to drugs such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA).
Honey is effective in the treatment of sore throats and coughs. Our family doctor advised us that in studies he had recently read, honey was more effective at quieting coughs than over-the-counter cough medicine. Cough and sore throat symptoms can be treated with lemon and honey in hot water.
Local raw honey is effectively used to treat seasonal allergy symptoms and boost the overall immune system.
Honey is an ideal longer-term food storage option and will remain in great condition indefinitely, when stored appropriately. According to National Geographic pots of honey were found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back over 3,000 years. Amazingly, after 3000 years the honey was still edible. The incredibly long shelf-life is attributed to hydrogen peroxide, acidity and lack of water.
It is possible for honey to remain stable for decades or even centuries. That means that the honey I store has the potential to out-survive me. I would say that makes honey an optimal food storage item.
As honey ages, it may undergo physical and chemical changes which result in darker honey, a decline in aroma and flavor, and crystallization. Honey remains edible through the entire aging process.
The best results are achieved when honey is stored appropriately in quality, food-grade containers. Commercial, filtered liquid honey will last the longest in storage. But remember, raw honey has the highest levels of nutrition and medicinal properties.
Honey has an indefinite shelf life due to its natural resistance to microbial growth.
Honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores which may cause infant botulism. Honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age. This is a rare, but serious disease which affects the nervous system. Adults and children over one year are not affected by the spores in honey.
Advantages in Baking
Honey may take up less storage space than other sugars. When substituting honey for granulated sugar in cooking you only need half of the amount. Honey has a high fructose content which gives it more sweetening power than granulated sugar.
Honey is hygroscopic and attracts moisture to the bread or dessert, a valuable trait in baking. A little bit of honey can turn plain old stored wheat into a tasty meal.
Crystallization is a natural process and does not affect the quality of the honey. Simply warm the honey and it will return to its original liquid form. Do not allow the honey to boil as it will change both color and flavor.
Methods to re-liquefy honey:
- Place a jar of honey in large container of hot water until crystals have dissolved.
- Place honey in an uncovered microwave-safe container and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until crystals dissolve.
- Place a jar of honey in a warm place.
Honey is Heavy
One cup of honey weighs a whopping 12 ounces, which is 50 percent heavier than water. One gallon of honey weighs about 12 pounds. A 5-gallon bucket weighs 60 pounds, which makes it quite challenging to handle.
For most storage plans, we recommend storing honey in smaller containers.
Glass containers do not react with honey to change or alter original quality. The honey we harvest from our bees is stored in pint or quart-sized canning jars. Dark or non-transparent containers protect honey from light. Lined, food-grade #10 cans can work for storing honey.
Do not remove oxygen. Honey is slightly acidic. It will cause rust in metal containers or on metal lids.
Honey is often purchased in thin plastic containers. While this may be fine for shorter term storage, some plastic is not ideal for longer-term storage of honey because plastic is permeable and may allow for the absorption of surrounding smells. The plastic will break down over time compromising the honey inside.
Food grade plastic buckets are an acceptable choice for storing honey. Be sure to store the buckets off of concrete and away from chemicals. A five-gallon bucket is not our first choice due to the weight of the bucket and difficulty in rotating. However, the trade-off is that buckets enable you to store a lot of honey in a small space.
Five-gallon metal cans are also used to store honey. We had one metal can of honey, which was 30-35 years old when we noticed that the honey began to eat a hole in the bottom seam of the can.
The small lid on the top made it challenging to use so it just sat in storage. We hauled it through seven moves and finally decided it was time to use it.
The honey had crystallized and turned quite dark. It had a deep, robust flavor which was delightful. The process to transfer they honey to smaller containers took several days as it had to be slowly heated and poured from the can.
We lost about three quarts in the process. We left the mostly empty can of honey out for our bees to clean up in an attempt not to let any go to waste.
Honey is a fantastic sweetener to include in your short-term, as well as your longer-term food storage. It is a healthier alternative to granulated sugar or corn syrup.
We recommend storing 60 pounds of honey per person for a one-year supply. The color and flavor of honey varies depending on the nectar source. Now go and experiment with the subtle flavor differences and stock up on this delightful food of the gods.