Does Honey Really Never Expire?

If you're anything like us, your pantry is scattered with one or two (or three or four) open jars of honey, ranging in age from "purchased last week" to "this jar of honey has seen me through four moves and I probably bought it when I was 17." We never seem to use these jars up, and yet the honey doesn't appear to go bad. For that reason, many of us think that honey never really expires — but does it?

The answer is: it's complicated. Long story short, in a jar or container with an airtight seal, honey actually will last forever. According to Smithsonian Magazine, "one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old."

1,000-year-old jars of honey have been found, apparently still edible, in various archaeological excavations, fueling the public perception that honey doesn't go bad. McGill shares that in 1922, for example, archaeologists discovered a container of the sweet stuff in King Tut's tomb — making the syrup more than 3,200 years old (via History). The brave scientists decided to taste it, remarking that it was fine.

Honey will never expire in an airtight jar

Smithsonian explains that a number of chemical factors in honey create an atmosphere that has the potential to preserve it forever. Because the food is so low in water, microorganisms can't survive in it; and without microorganisms, there's no food spoilage. Honey's extremely high acidity (falling between 3 and 4.5 on the pH scale) also means certain death for microorganisms. The natural presence of hydrogen peroxide in honey, yet another antibacterial agent, is strike three against any potential threats. So all in all, honey doesn't go bad — that is, if it's sealed in an airtight vessel.

If your honey jar has been opened or has an imperfect seal and is left in a humid environment, the outlet explains, water can enter the jar, creating an environment that's safer for bacterial growth and, thus, the untimely death of your precious syrup. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at UC Davis told Smithsonian Magazine, "As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad. As soon as you add water to it, it may go bad. Or if you open the lid, it may get more water in it and it may go bad."

So if you want to keep snacking on those decades-old jars of honey you've accumulated over your life span, seal 'em up, and seal 'em up tight!