Honey processing

Uncapping and spinning

To spin out your honey, you will need an extractor and there are various options to consider before purchasing one. Click here for further information. Honey extractors

  1. After you’ve spun out your honey, you need to filter it to remove fragments of wax and other hive debris. To do so, run the honey out of the extractor into a settling tank via the tap at the bottom of the extractor. As you are running it out, you can coarse filter it. If the honey is runny enough, you can fine filter it at the same time using double filters you can buy for this purpose. 

2. Leave your honey in the settling tank for about 48 hours to allow tiny air bubbles to rise to surface. If you leave the honey in the settling tank for less than 48 hours, the process may not have completed but any longer, the honey may start to set. 

3. If your honey is of a more viscous kind, it may be too thick to easily pass through a fine filter. If so, you can warm-up the honey to a maximum temperature of 40c for about four hours before fine filtering. You can do this by placing a gentle heat source (no more than about 60 watts) under the settling tank.

4. If your honey is runny enough to fine filter straight away, you can bottle it without heating it in any way. There is no legal definition, but this is what is meant by raw honey. This type of honey is likely to granulate very quickly in the jar.

Set honey

After you have poured out most of your honey from the settling tank, you will be left with some honey at the bottom which contains a lot of air bubbles and some debris. You can process this separately with the view to producing set honey as demonstrated by Louise in the video. You can collect these residues from multiple settlings in a food grade container. To this you can add other honey and honey that has already granulated. 

Moisture content in honey

Ideally, honey should contain less than 17.8% water. If the moisture content is higher than 20%, it may ferment due to the presence of yeasts in the honey. 

Honey is hygroscopic and if it is not carefully stored in a sealed container it will absorb moisture from the air.

The internationally recognised standard is that honey should have a moisture content of less than 20%. (23% for Heather honey in the UK). With a high degree of accuracy, Beekeepers must ensure moisture levels in their honey is within the legal limits.

The best way to ensure your honey is ready to harvest is by only spinning out capped honey. Some beekeepers use a refractometer to check the moisture content in their honey is within legal tolerances. Here is a link to UK honey legislation.

HMF in honey

HMF or HDMF stands for Hydroxymethylfurfural. It is an organic compound formed by a reaction of sugars in an acidic substance during heat treatment. The reaction naturally occurs in many food products that contain sugar and have a low pH value.

Many different parameters influence the formation speed of HMF including temperature. An increase in temperature by 10°C (18°F) causes the reaction rate to increase by about 5 times.

When HMF is measured in honey it is used as a marker to show the raw, uncooked nature of the product as well as showing that the honey has not been stored for a prolonged period. Freshly extracted honey displays HMF levels lower than 5 mg/kg.

The European Union’s Honey Directive makes the distinction between honey from non-tropical origins with a limit of 40 mg/kg and tropical origins with a maximum limit of 80 mg/kg.

Honey with a HMF value higher than those limits is known as industrial honey (Baker’s honey in the UK) and cannot be sold for direct consumption. The use of heat in honey processing is sometimes unavoidable but to preserve the quality and character of your product the heat used should be as gentle as possible.

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