Honey processing

Nature’s Golden Treat. The sight of the golden stream running from the extractor spigot for the very first time is the most wondrous sight for newbie beekeepers. The culmination of months or maybe years of working bees to produce the first crop of this wonderful product successfully has to be a sense of pride and wonder. Then to dip a finger and taste the sweetness and flavour truly is a moment to savour, but is just a first step in the processing and care necessary to maintain a quality product.
Honey has a property where bacteria will not live in it, which tempts some to forget it is a food product and does not treat it in a proper fashion. The hygiene of honey processing should be of the highest standard throughout the whole process, clean surfaces, stainless steel equipment, and kept as clean as possible. Never pack honey in used containers unless they have been sterilised.

There are a number of different ways to produce the results of the bees hard work, liquid, cut comb, granulated, creamed honey and a variety of flavourings, even fruit and nuts. How about Garlic honey?

Let us discuss them and some of the points likely to cause problems.

four rows of a variety of honey jars
Honey show jars

Liquid Honey.
Straight from the comb via the extractor, newly run honey will be a light liquid, at room temperature slow to run out and filter. It’s running speed can be improved by gentle heat, too much can damage the natural enzymes and also the flavour, some of which are very subtle. A simple way of doing this is to wrap a low voltage heater cable around the extractor, too high a voltage and there is the danger of burning the contents. It is advisable to fine filter when leaving the extractor as granulation starts on any solid particles remaining in the honey, granulation being the crystallisation and hardening to a solid lump. It stands to reason that filtering will delay granulation for some time, but ultimately good honey at the correct water content etc. will granulate. I tell my customers it’s a sign of good honey.

Water content is important, to store honey successfully requires carefully monitoring the state of the honey when taken from the hive. The general guide is that nothing more than 10% uncapped honey should be extracted for storage. Uncapped honey is ‘green’ and because of the excess water content it will ferment in storage, and fermenting honey has a foul taste. The ideal treatment for uncapped honey at the end of the season, extract it and feed it back to the bees in a hive top feeder.

We take off honey approximately 3 times per season, this is to take advantage of the subtle colour shifts and the tremendous flavour variances. Early run honey, in our area, produces a light yellow runny honey with a mild taste. Later in the season, it darkens and the flavour is more intense, while late summer early fall, will produce a darker honey which granulates very quickly, but turns a beautiful white on creaming.

Cut Comb Honey.

cutting comb honey
Cut Comb Honey

There is an art to cut comb honey, but even newbie keepers can, with a slight change in equipment produce it. All it takes is a change of foundation in the honey super frames, these can be interspersed with regular honey frames and withdrawn when fully capped. The ideal time to add the cut comb frames is during or just before the main flow, then ‘frequently’ check the frames and when capped remove and replace with either more cut comb or regular honey frames. The idea of checking frequently is to prevent too much ‘traffic’ over the cappings which would darken or make them ‘dirty’ looking.

Capped frames can be stored for processing at a later date. Books will often say to freeze the frames overnight to kill wax moth larvae. My answer is, there shouldn’t be a wax moth in new frames of cut comb foundation. Your choice, I personally have never had to do it and haven’t had a wax moth problem.

You can cut the comb with a sharp knife, transferring it to the packing containers, after allowing it to drain on a ‘cooling rack’ for a short while. One problem with trying to pack by hand is getting the correct size, if you pack different sizes, then your customers might object. A better idea would be to use a cut comb cutter, available from Equipment Sales on this site, you’ll also find suitable containers there as well.

Cut comb honey cells eaten with a silver spoon from an attractive comb honey container has to be the most impressive taste, absolute heaven. You should try it,  just once.

creamed honey in pail
Creamed honey

Creamed Honey.
It might be better to call this ‘European Creamed Honey’ as I have never seen properly creamed honey here in North America. The creamed honey I was raised on as a child is buttery soft, no gritty feel on your tongue, and it will stay soft indefinitely, unlike the style produced locally which is hard as a rock and gritty to the tongue, it would be possible to break concrete with it.

It is a relatively simple procedure to produce good creamed honey, patience is a good asset! You start with a 50-70lbs pail of clear fine filtered honey, a late run in the summer will produce a better quality creaming, it’s all to do with the sugar content, Aster honey is ideal. Temperature is not critical, but certainly, a cooler temp is necessary. Once the pail has lost it’s filtering heat, add a small jar of creamed honey as a seed. If you’re not fortunate enough to have a good seed, then take a jar of granulated and mash it in a mortar and pestle, or similar, until the contents are smooth and soft and grit free, add this to the pail.

This is where the patience is necessary. Twice per day, morning and evening, take a ‘creamer’, a mixer plate on a long handle, and working to the bottom of the pail gently turn over the honey, trying hard not to incorporate air into the contents. It is important to mix right to the bottom, otherwise, pockets will ‘granulate’ causing areas of hard crystals which do not re-mix easily. Eventually, it becomes more difficult to push the mixer to the bottom of the pail, approximately 3 weeks, at which time the pail can be put on one side as ‘done’.

Creamed honey is the basis for a number of treats. Add fruit of almost any type, apple flavour is a little ‘weak’, lemon and orange or ‘strong’ flavours are good choices to overcome the honey flavour, water or excess liquid should be avoided to prevent fermentation. Nuts can make for interesting flavours, the sweet and sharp tastes are delightful. Some food flavourings can be added, even spices like cinnamon and creamed honey is the start of Cinnamon Honey Butter. Experiment!

Honey properties.
Honey has a number of useful properties apart from tasting good. It is bacteria resistant, bugs will not live in it, so it adds a useful treatment for wounds and scalds. Cuts, abrasions and scalds can be covered in honey, it prevents bacteria from entering and healing is encouraged, a further advantage the cut edge does not dry out helping to prevent scarring and easy removal of any dressing. So a good covering of honey before adding the dressing is all that’s needed.

Pasteurising is not encouraged. This is a practice, by the packers of supermarket honey, to help prevent granulation on the market shelf. Basically, it is a heating process which damages some of the enzymes, which are good for you, plus it damages the subtle flavours, also the healing properties are not as good. Best to use ‘raw’ honey from a local source.

If you have a problem with hard granulation then a gentle heat will change creamed and granulated honey back to liquid, just stand the jar in a bowl of hot water and wait a while, it is possible to ‘do’ the same thing in a Microwave oven, just use a very low temp setting

Finally, I did mention ‘Garlic honey’ earlier in this FAQ! Not as strange as it sounds, makes a delightful baste for meats, either in the oven or BBQ. Take a jar and fill with cleaned garlic cloves.  Now fill the jar with regular liquid honey, seal and put aside for approx 1 month. The garlic cloves make for a good high blood pressure treatment and the honey can be used for basting during cooking, if you find it to be too strong then dilute with, plain honey.