At What Temperature Does Honey Become Toxic?

According to Ayurveda, honey is one of the most powerful medicines. However, honey lovers should beware: it can become a harmful toxin if heated.

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In This Article

When the Heat is On…

According to Ayurveda, honey is one of the most powerful medicines. However, honey lovers should beware: it can become a harmful toxin if heated. Heating or cooking with honey is a major source of ama: indigestible substance. Ama is linked to the cause of most health issues.  

This article will answer the following questions: 

  • How does heating honey make it toxic? 
  • How much heat is needed to damage the honey? 
  • What happens to bees when fed heated honey? 
  • What does science say about heated honey? 
  • Do I need to store honey in the refrigerator? 

What Ayurveda Says about Heated Honey 

honey eaters beware plastic honey bear image

Ayurveda’s main text, Caraka Samhita, says, “There is nothing so severe as the ama (indigestible substance) caused by the improper intake of honey. Honey, if heated, can be fatal due to its association with poisons.”1 The text goes on to describe the medicinal properties of honey and its ability to act as a carrier or “yogavahi” agent that potentiates the properties of other foods or nutrients taken with honey.1 

Experts interpret this to mean that when honey is heated, its properties are changed and should be avoided. Fresh raw honey is a medicine, used most effectively to reduce kapha and congestion and, in small amounts, to balance vata

How Do Bees Handle Heated Honey? 

Many years ago, I read stories about how heated honey was toxic to bees. Beekeepers spray honey water on the hives to calm the bees before tending to the hive or harvesting honey. This is a regular practice and successful technique that de-stresses the hive, but, when pasteurized (heated) honey was used, all the bees died in the following days. If this is true and bees die when they consume heated honey, then how does heated honey affect humans? Let’s dig into the science. 

When honey is heated or cooked, the sugar and fructose in the honey change their chemical composition as a result of a browning effect called the Maillard Reaction. Heating or storing honey for long periods of time will increase the production of a toxic substance called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). 

To see if this chemical is toxic to bees, a handful of studies have been done where HMF was fed to bees in a controlled hive. One study fed bee larvae varying concentrations of HMF while monitoring mortality rates. Higher concentrations of 7500ppm and above showed a 100% death rate of honey bee larvae. In this study, lower concentrations did not cause death.3  

In another study, a solution containing 30–150 mg/kg of HMF was used to feed honey bees and was found to cause 15–58.7% of deaths of caged bees within 20 days.2 

Note: Safe levels of HMF for Humans is below 40 mg/kg. 

In a Belgium study, abnormal losses of honeybee colonies were observed in colonies fed with syrup of inverted beet sugar, containing high concentrations of HMF (up to 475 mg/kg). These losses suggest HMF could be implicated in bee mortality.4 

HMF naturally occurs in honey, but at very low concentrations that are safe for the bee. Storing honey for long periods of time or heating it can raise toxic HMF levels.2 

If Bees Die, What About Humans? 

HMF is not just in heated honey; it is a toxic chemical formed whenever sugars are heated or caramelized, which is why baking with honey is bad idea. 

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It is found in sugary or honey-baked breakfast cereals, breads, dairy products, fruit juices, and liquors at different concentrations. Heated honey, molasses, and processed protein and whey protein powders are high sources of HMF.  

Let’s start with some mice science. In one study, when mice were given a dosage of 250 mg/kg of HMF, most animals died after 5-11 days due to massive kidney damage. Later, the living mice developed kidney complications and liver damage.5 

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In humans, HMF has been reported to cause a host of health concerns, such as cytotoxicity in the mucous membranes, skin, and upper respiratory tract; mutagenicity; chromosomal aberrations; and carcinogenicity in humans and animals.2 In both bees and humans, HMF seem to first damage and weaken the epithelial protective layers of the body in the lungs and intestinal tract.2 

HMF May Not Be the Whole Story! 

While decades of science suggests HMF is a formidable toxin, emerging research finds HMF may also have a variety of health benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, and anti-oxidant properties. One of the more comprehensive studies concludes, “HMF has both profoundly adverse and beneficial effects on human and bee health. Some effects of HMF on human health and its carcinogenic as well as anti-carcinogenic properties remain inconclusive”2 

honey bear jar

It is very possible other factors besides HMF make cooked honey indigestible, toxic, and to be avoided. Ayurveda is a study of nature and perhaps when early Ayurvedic doctors saw bees die when fed with heated honey, they decided better to avoid heating honey altogether! 

Storing Honey 

Studies show that in addition to cooked honey, old honey, processed honey, and honey stored at higher temperatures will build up HMF and become toxic. Studies report honey stored at low temperatures and/or under fresh conditions has low or minimal HMF concentrations, while aged and/or honey stored at comparatively higher or medium temperature has high HMF concentrations.2 

Studies show honey stored at 68-86°F for more than a year has HMF levels ranging from 118.47–1139.95 mg/kg. In another study, when honey was stored at room temperature for over a year, HMF levels ranged from 3.18 to 703.10 mg/kg.2 

How Hot Can Honey Get Before it Becomes Toxic? 

The Codex Alimentarius Standard commission has set the maximum limit for HMF in honey at 40 mg/kg (with a higher limit of 80 mg/kg for honeys originating from tropical regions) to ensure the product has not undergone extensive heating during processing and is safe for consumption.2 

Honey processed at 203°F for 90 minutes and 194°F for 75 minutes shows HMF levels lower than 40 mg/kg, the established safe limit of HMF in honey. Water boils at 212°F, so putting honey in your tea will be within safe levels. Cooking, baking, or frying with raw honey will exceed the HMF limits.   

Honey Advice:

  • Avoid honey that has been heated during processing 
  • Avoid honey that has been stored for any length of time.  
  • Store honey in your refrigerator to protect it from HMF damage. 

References

  1. Caraka Samhita. Sutrasthana XXVII. Verse 243-248
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5884753/  
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15619715/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22349055/ 

References

  1. Caraka SamhitaSutrasthana XXVII. Verse 243-248
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5884753/  
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15619715/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22349055/ 

54 thoughts on “At What Temperature Does Honey Become Toxic?”

    • Yes it does…. store your honey in the pantry and it will be safe to eat forever, literally forever. Honey is the only food that will never spoil. However , except for tupelo honey, your honey will eventually crystallize no matter where you store it.

      Reply
  1. How can we tell if store bought honey has been heated at high temperatures?
    Do you have a list of recommended honey brands ?

    Reply
    • Hi Helen,

      Raw honey is not treated at high temperatures.

      At this time, Dr. John does not have a list of recommended honey brands. Try to find a local apiary or ask at your local markets about finding raw honey from local beekeepers.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  2. Thank you. This information is very helpful. I would like to know more about the reference to high HMF levels in processed protein powders. I need to stay away from any milk products (I react to all aspects =whey, casein, and lactaid). However, I do use a “raw” pea protein powder to supplement my mostly vegan diet. (I also need to stay away from eggs and don’t want to eat meat.) So, I would like to know if there are other protein powders or plant protein processed products that should be avoided. Thank you for any help you can provide.

    Reply
    • Hi Jackie,

      You can, once it gets to the right temperature. From the article: “Honey processed at 203°F for 90 minutes and 194°F for 75 minutes shows HMF levels lower than 40 mg/kg, the established safe limit of HMF in honey. Water boils at 212°F, so putting honey in your tea will be within safe levels.”

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
    • Hi Coleen,

      If there is a point you can add the honey to your mixture after you remove it from heat, then you may be able to continue using it. It depends on the temperature and duration at a given temperature. The article has those details:
      “Honey processed at 203°F for 90 minutes and 194°F for 75 minutes shows HMF levels lower than 40 mg/kg, the established safe limit of HMF in honey. Water boils at 212°F, so putting honey in your tea will be within safe levels.”

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
        • Honey Pacifica (I think is the name) is the only company I know of that “cold presses” honey, but its totally a gimic. Look for honey heated no more than 121° most people I know heat to 100°, Its done because cold honey takes forever to bottle, put your honey in the fridge for an hour then try and pour it into another bottle, then imagine doing that with 50 gallons lol

          Reply
        • Hi SP,

          Most chyawanprash has the honey added after it is removed form the heat. It really depends on the brand and all I know and have been told is that our product is safe because the honey is added after. I can’t speak to other brands.

          Best,
          LifeSpa Staff

          Reply
  3. What about honey hives with climate change,prolonged periods of heat?

    I guess honey cake is out for the question, as it is baked!?

    Thank you very much for the article, enjoyed the read!

    Reply
      • Bees fan their honey to evaporate excess water and maintain a hive temp of about 95° if the core temp of a give drops below 95° they vibrate their bodies to generate heat.

        Reply
        • Also beekeepers do NOT spray their gives with a honey water mixture before pulling frames they pump smoke to calm the bees and make them easier to work with because it disrupts their alert/attack pheromones… the more I read this article the more inaccuracies I find…

          Reply
  4. Heated honey is not toxic, Its just not healthy anymore. Heating honey over 120° kills the active enzymes and degrades the pollen but it will not harm you. Essentially every jar of honey at your local grocery has been heated to 140+ to prevent crystlazation….. when the first reference is a thousand year old Indian book im thinking maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about

    Reply
  5. Arriving, I was shocked to find out that very expansive multigrain custom small bakery bread was loaded with honey. If I remember correctly, not even original German Christmas Fruit Stove cake contains honey and witch is more then calorie fat bombe. And who get the idea to cook ham with honey? England? Holland? Germans scientists found out that it is extremely bad idea to eat protein with sugar. American BBQ with 60 % sugar souse ??
    I think, somebody long time ago, found buffalo/ cow dead laying a couple of sunny days in Sommer, and how to mask the taste and still make a profit? I am joking, please.
    And I am supporting bees by not eating baked beans with honey.

    Reply
  6. When my honey crystalizes I warm it in a pot of hot water to return it to its liquid state. Sounds like I should not be doing that. What else can be done to decrystalize honey?

    Reply
    • You’re doing it right… boil a pot of water, take it off the burner and put the jar of honey in the pot. Keep in mind the bees keep their honey at about 95° inside the hive. This article is BS….

      Reply
    • Hi Sahib,

      From the article:
      “Honey processed at 203°F for 90 minutes and 194°F for 75 minutes shows HMF levels lower than 40 mg/kg, the established safe limit of HMF in honey. Water boils at 212°F, so putting honey in your tea will be within safe levels.”

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
    • Add honey to your tea after its cool enough for you to drink to get the most health benefits. That will help retain the active enzymes and pollen.

      Reply
    • Its never too old, honey will eventually crystallize and it get darker in color and stronger in flavor the older it gets but will never spoil. If you’re using it for allergy relief get honey around 30-50 miles from your house, the closer the better, produced during your allergy season.

      Reply
    • Hi Gail,

      Honey doesn’t really get old unless kept in unsuitable conditions. Honey is great for preserving other foods and remains edible for some time, provided it wasn’t kept near a hot stove or on top of the fridge (which can also get hot).

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  7. I don’t get it. 203 degrees & 195 degrees seems awfully hot. I bought some honey @ Wholefoods from company called Wholesome Sweets I bought the unfiltered raw honey. I called the company to ask if they heat their honey. They responded they do at 120 – 130 degrees fahrenheit. I can’t find honey that the label states they don’t hear their honey And to Louis & Jordan. John’s article is not BS and he does know what he’s talking about. Ayurveda is not a thousand year old recipe book. It’s a complete wholistic system of health care. I can’t believe how after Jiohn presents the scientific research on this subject. you state it’s BS. Ignorance and stupidity you two should shun away from

    Reply
    • And just because something sounds scientific and uses technical jargon doesn’t mean it isn’t BS. I’ve been keeping bees and producing honey for 15 years, “avoid honey that has been heated during processing” bees maintain a hive temp of 95° even the largest companies heat honey to 140° to aid in bottling, “avoid honey that has been stored for any length of time” bees themself store honey for survival, honey is the only food that will never spoil they have found sealed jars of honey in Egyptian tombs that was still safe to eat, “store honey in your refrigerator to prevent high hmf levels” his own article says it takes prolonged temps of around 200° to cause hmf damage so unless your house is on fire the honey on your counter is fine….. misleading=BS. What kind of honey are you looking for and what state do you live in? I can recommend some companies.

      Reply
    • Hi Tony,

      Most brands heat the honey just to get it flowing so they can package it. The safety of this really depends on how long they are heating it, but at those temperatures it should be fine.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
        • Hi Rhonda,

          The time it takes to create the HMF is usually extended periods of heating. The boiling water would only maintain a slightly higher temperature for a short amount of time, so this should be fine.

          That being said, it is probably best to add the honey after the tea is ready to drink, and not during steeping.

          Best,
          LifeSpa Staff

          Reply
  8. I bought some raw honey that the company says they heat theiir honey between 120 to 130 degrees. Is this safe or not?

    Reply
    • Hi Charles,

      Most brands heat the honey just to get it flowing so they can package it. The safety of this really depends on how long they are heating it, but at those temperatures it should be fine.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
    • Hi Barbara,

      It is a Clostridium bacteria that infants digestion is not strong enough to break down in honey.

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  9. Hi,
    I use honey instead of sugar in baking cakes typically at 350F and making jam which is boiled. This article generates a problem for me suggesting that I am making toxic food 🙁 Sugar is bad, stevia and agave taste bad. What do you use suggest I use for safe natural healthy sweetener?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Anii,

      Try stevia and /or monk fruit.

      Yes, I too wish the science did not support the Ayurvedic principle to not cook with honey–but is does.

      Be Well,
      Dr. John

      Reply
  10. For an article about honey “according to Ayurveda” there is very little on Ayurveda here, which is specifically what I searched for and why my search engine returned this as one of the top sites for the information. Surely Ayurveda has more information on the effects of heating and consuming honey than the simple line quoted(?)

    As for mouse studies, they may not be useful as explained by this book:
    https://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Cows-Golden-Geese-Experiments/product-reviews/0826414028/

    Reply
  11. It is possible to decrystalize your honey using a home made decrystalizer. I have built two out of coolers, using light bulb(s) and a temperature sensor that shuts off and turns on current, for the light bulb(s) inside the cooler, based on the temperature inside. One cooler can handle 20 quarts at a time (uses two 40 watt incandescent bulbs). The second cooler can handle 2 quarts and uses one 40 watt bulb. I heat to 94 degrees when the sensor shuts off the power to the light bulb(s). It then drops to 85 degrees at which time the power is switched back on. It usually takes about 24 hours to decrystalize a quart. We don’t heat honey in a pan of water, due to the bottom of the honey (jar) getting so hot. The temperature sensor is made by Ranco, and is called an Electronic Temperature Control. We store our honey in the basement where the temp normally below 70. We used to store honey in a cabinet above the fridge, but it would heat up and ‘bubble’ out.

    Reply
  12. Who eats baked food that’s been at a temp of over 200 degrees for 90 minutes? That would burn to a crisp and cause a fire. The oven temp does not equal the internal temp of food! Even if a fruity dish with honey in it bubbles, that is only at the end, not a length of time of 90 minutes. Bake freely, people! There’s no way honey in a baked good can get heated to toxic levels based on the temps and times listed in this article.

    Reply

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