Last Updated on July 18, 2021
At what temperature does raw honey lose its benefits? In this article, we take a look at the natural raw honey temperature range. Does heating honey destroy its properties? We will look at the effect of temperature on honey’s properties, and what temperature kills enzymes in the honey. The short answer is heating honey much above body temperature is bad. The long answer follows now.
What Is Honey?
Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution comprising 80-83% dissolved sugars – mainly glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Depending on the flower species the bees visited we can find all sorts of other weird and wonderful sugars. An example is the Protea plants which produce a xylose honey.
The vast majority of the remainder of the honey is water. There are a few salts, enzymes, and phytochemicals that make up the remainder of the honey composition.
You will note I put this before enzymes in the honey. Most articles on honey do not make this first distinction, and this creates confusion. Nectar in flowers is as diverse as flowers themselves. There are approximately 369 000 species of flowering plants. Plants are going extinct faster than new species are described, so it is sadly safe to say that number is pretty accurate.
Each plant has its own unique tool kit of phytochemical tricks. In general, most nectar will include a few special chemicals added by the plant. These are termed phytochemicals – chemicals from plants. Phytochemicals include natural colours, flavours, medicinally active compounds and enzymes. There are even poisons in certain nectars.
As we have stated earlier, there are a lot of species of plants. The list of phytochemicals that are contributed by these plants is even more gigantic. In most cases, plants actually want the best for their pollinators, so many of these phytochemicals actually help the bees. When we consume honey, these chemicals help us too.
Enzymes In Honey
There are three main enzymes added to raw honey by the bees. Invertase is an enzyme which splits sucrose into glucose and fructose. Amylase/diastase breaks down starch-like polysaccharides into glucose. Glucose oxidase will react with glucose and oxygen to produce peroxide and gluconolactone.
There are many other enzymes which are found in smaller concentrations. Of these Catalase. Catalase converts hydrogen peroxide to oxygen and water. In other words, catalase works directly against glucose oxidase.
If bees were injured in the process of extracting honey, sometimes you will also pick up traces of the enzymes in stings. This is more common with honey from African bees as the bees are just a little more ratty than European bees.
At What Temperature Does Raw Honey Lose Its Benefits?
Generally, the brood temperature in a beehive will be approximately 95° F. Honey itself should not be exposed to temperatures above 98°F. Generally honey will be quite a bit cooler than the brood nest in the 75° F to 85° F range. On warmer days, or in tropical environments this temperature can rise higher.
Hence to answer the question at what temperature does raw honey lose its benefits: As the temperature in honey is increased above 98°F, certain families of chemicals become damaged and certain toxic chemicals will form. However, the lower the temperature of the honey, the better.
What temperature kills enzymes in honey? Enzymes are complex proteins. Heating an enzyme will increase its rate of reaction up to a point. Above this maximum temperature, the enzyme will break apart and become inactive.
Once an enzyme has been inactivated by heat it will never repair itself. This is similar to boiling an egg. Eggs contain a lot of protein – it is easy to boil an egg. It is impossible to unboil an egg.
A rule of thumb is that temperatures above 98-100° F will begin to degrade the sensitive bee derived enzymes in honey. At this temperature point, many of the benefits of honey begin to be destroyed.
Does heating honey destroy its phytomedicinal properties? There are millions of chemicals of plant origin that can end up in honey. Some will be killed by heat easily. Others will require brutal heating to be destroyed.
There are very few chemicals of plant origin that are killed by low temperature. A general rule is to keep honey in a cool, dark place and it will maintain its medicinal properties for longer.
Hydroxymethylfurfaral (HMF) is a degradation product that forms in honey when you heat it. HMF is formed through the Maillard reaction. In this reaction, amino acids and honey react to form this dark chemical.
Raw honey temperatures in a beehive tend to not be too high in temperate parts of the world. In the tropics, raw honey temperatures can be a bit higher and consequently, HMF in tropical honey tends to be higher.
HMF is an excellent indicator of heat damage and many commercial honey producers will have their raw honey tested. This chemical forms in low pH honey. The higher the temperature, the faster it forms. HMF is dark in colour.
HMF is a nasty chemical and basically ticks all the bad chemical boxes. It damages organs, irritates membranes and is a mutagen ( IE can cause cancer). That said, a nice honey glaze on a pork roast goes dark brown because of the HMF that forms. And it tastes great. All things in moderation.
As Beekeepers How Can We Protect Our Honey?
There are many things we can do as beekeepers to keep our honey safe while it is still in the beehive.
Hives that are well ventilated in summer are cooler, and the honey is not overheated. Read more about hive ventilation here.
In warmer times of the year, placing the hives in an area where they are shaded during peak heat helps.
If natural shade is not available, screens and shade netting can be used to effect a reduced hive temperature.
Supers can be painted white, as this colour absorbs less heat than other colours.
If there is a strong honey flow, and temperatures are high, extract honey regularly and remove it to a cooler storage area.
When I consult in tropical climates I always advise this. Commercial buyers pay less money for tropical honey based on the high HMF levels caused by natural heat in the environment.
We have managed to increase the grade of honey by up to two grades by careful heat management from hive to honey house.
In summary, raw honey temperature should ideally be kept at room temperature 60-70 °F. Heating honey destroys some of its properties. Enzymes are particularly sensitive to higher temperatures. Some of the floral notes and other medicinal chemicals of plant origin will also be destroyed by heat.
We hope you found this article helpful and if you want to help your friends reduce HMF in their honey, and keep all those natural medicines active, please share widely.
Learn more about: Protecting Beehives From Bears
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.