What is honey?
Nectar, produced by plants, is a watery mixture of plant sugars, mainly fructose and glucose in varying proportions according to the plant source. This watery nectar does not keep for long so inside the bee hive, the bees evaporate off much of the water turning the nectar into honey so it can be stored for a rainy day. The honey then contains about 80% plant sugars and 20% water together with the aroma of the nectar which gives each honey its unique and characteristic flavour.
What is crystallised honey?
Whilst the honey is in the hive, the bees keep it warm so the glucose will stay in solution keeping the honey liquid. When it has been removed from the warmth of the hive the glucose will gradually start to form crystals or granules. This process can happen very quickly to create very small crystals making the honey set or it can happen very slowly to create large crystals making the honey crunchy.
Crystallisation or granulation is a natural process which does not affect the quality of honey. It will soon melt in tea or on hot toast anyway! If you need runny honey, it can simply be restored to its liquid state by gently warming it which reverses the process. This is best done by leaving the sealed jar in hot (not boiling) water. Honey stored in an air tight container will last, theoretically, forever.
What's the difference between clear runny and set honey?
Nothing, besides the way it looks - it is exactly the same honey! Set honey can be made runny again as already explained.
Set honey is made by speeding up the crystallisation process by breaking up crystals that have just begun to grow and distributing the resulting smaller crystals throughout the honey. Simply stirring or whipping the partially crystallised honey achieves this.
The majority of customers demand clear, runny honey so supermarkets demand honey that will not crystallise. This leads to supermarket honey being pressure filtered and heated to prevent crystallisation and will always lose some of its flavour and aroma in the process. The honey from beekeepers does not go through this process so it will be superior in every way to that available in supermarkets.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey, like raw milk, has not been pasteurised to sterilise it. For this reason doctors advise honey should not be fed to infants under 12 months old.