Every jar of ‘real’ honey is different.
By ‘real’ I mean that which is made by honey bees.
It is derived from the nectar of plants visited by honey bees. It has enzymes added by bees and is matured in the nest by bees until the nectar is converted into honey and is capped for storage purposes by the bees.
In contrast, cheap supermarket honey is as cheap as it is because of human interventions and adulteration. Sugar syrups are added to dilute the honey and make it go further, leading to larger profits for the perpetrator. It is heated and filtered to maintain its clear, translucent appearance, but this also results in the stripping out of pollen and the destruction of the flavenoids which make real honey, well... honey.
Real honey will thicken and ‘set’ over time. To ‘crystallise’ or ‘granulate’ are words used to describe this process. It’s colour will change, as will its consistency. But it will keep its wonderful flavour.
Honey is poured into jars in its clear, translucent state. If the jar then remains on the shelf for an extended period of time, the honey in the jar will gradually granulate. The rate at which this happens will vary from jar to jar because it depends on the flowers the bees have visited. If, for instance, the bees have visited Oil seed rape early in the season, or Ivy later on, the resulting honey will granulate more quickly depending on how much of the nectar of these plants is present in the honey. The more there is, the quicker it will granulate.
As it sets it may become thick and spreadable; or it may be spoon-bendingly hard.
It may have a fine texture like butter; or it could be course, like sugar granules.
It may even separate into larger, heavier sugar crystals, which sink to the bottom of the jar, and a runny, liquid part which floats above.
But that’s the beauty of it... it’s a natural process... and in any case, real honey is so lovely that it is rarely on the shelf long enough for this to happen anyway.
There is another form that real honey may take.
It used to be called ‘creamed honey’ but this term has been replaced, though some people, beekeepers included, still use it. Some people took it to mean that cream had been added when in reality it means it has been thoroughly stirred. In the same way that butter and sugar are ‘creamed’ together when cake making. The newer term for this style of honey is ‘soft-set honey’.
There are various ways in which soft-set honey can be produced but the most straightforward way is to allow it to set in its container bucket then gently warm the honey to soften it again. When it gets to a consistency that’s stirrable, that’s what you do. You stir. You stir until you can stir no more, you go for a cup of tea, then you stir again ‘till your arm can do no more. You repeat this until you have an arm like Popeye. What you are doing is causing friction between the sugar granules, they rub together and smooth each other. The more you stir, the creamier the consistency. Once jarred, the soft-set honey will remain in this state... for ever.
So there we have it. Three main forms of honey –
Clear or Runny: Golden, translucent. Good for drizzling.
Naturally set: Excitingly unpredictable. Could be spreadable or hard. Could be smooth or course. Either way it’ll be a surprise and it’s a natural process.
Soft-set: Smooth, buttery consistency. A refined quality to it. Good for spreading.
Dale Wood, Apiary Man