The world of food is full of many wonders. The nature of honey is certainly one of them. Every food item spoils over a certain period and becomes inedible. People would get sick eating them. But the case of honey in that aspect is very astounding one. Honey, unlike almost all other foods, doesn’t spoil over time. There is even a sample of perfect honey discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb, dating back three millenniums before. Very few other foods, like salt or sugar, can claim such a long shelf-life although the aforementioned items cannot be considered edible food. What more, the longevity even gives honey some medicinal properties as well.
So how is honey able to keep itself fresh over time? The answer lies in its chemical mechanism. There are a number of factors that account for its specialty.
Honey is derived by the bees from plant nectar. It is basically a sugar, although it is of different type from others. All the sugars are hygroscopic, meaning they don’t have much water content in their natural state. Due to the lack of moisture, it is hard for bacteria and other microorganisms to thrive in honey. That is, there is no room for any outside agents that can spoil it.
Another feature of honey is its acidity. The pH value of honey falls between 3 and 4.5, which implies an extremely acidic environment. This alone can kill any organism that is likely to grow there.
These two features are not exclusive for honey. Molasses also have the same properties yet they would spoil eventually. If one would wonder then why does honey not spoil, that is where the role of bees come. Bees make honey by consuming the nectar and then vomiting them. They have an enzyme in their stomachs, named glucose oxidase. When they make honey, this enzyme gets mixed with the nectar, breaking it down into two products: gluconic acid, which is the reason for honey’s acidity, and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide, which is very much hostile to any organisms, gives the honey an extra layer of protection.
The last thing that contributes to honey’s long life is its storage itself. Being hygroscopic, it can absorb water if exposed to air. So keeping it sealed in a dry place can save honey from spoiling, in addition to all other features.
Even though it is safe to say that honey does not contain any harmful substance, it may occasionally have the inactive spores of Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium causing botulism. It poses no threat to healthy adults though infants can get sick from that.
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