Honey Extraction and Processing

Learn how to extract, process, and store honey with step-by-step instructions.

honey comb frame

Extracting honey is sticky business. The frame shown here will need something washable to lean upon, and you need somewhere to put the emptied frame.

Illustration by Elena Bulay

Content Tools

The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Andrea Chesman is a simple-to-follow handbook to get curious foodies on their way to becoming self-reliant cooks and expand the horizons of experienced homesteaders. The following excerpt is from Chapter 5, “Homemade Sweeteners.”

Buy this book from the GRIT store: The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.

If you keep bees, you have already made some basic decisions that affect what will come into the kitchen. If you planned to extract the honey, you set up the hive with wired foundations that are strong enough to withstand the mechanics of the extractor. Then you either bought a honey extractor or built one from the many plans available in beekeeping books and online. But if you planned to bring comb honey into your kitchen, you started with either an open hive or a thin, non-wired foundation. You can drain and filter comb honey (a slow process), or you can enjoy eating it by the spoonful or spread on toast or crackers.

You can even cut it into small chunks and use it as a garnish. Chances are, you want both comb honey and some filtered liquid honey to bake with, serve with tea, and so on. There are a couple of ways you can extract honey from a small amount of comb in the kitchen. But be warned! Honey attracts ants, flies, and other insects, so try to keep everything very, very, clean.

How to Extract Honey

A low-tech way to extract honey is the “squish and drain” method (or the “squish and spin” alternative). To go slightly higher tech, install a honey gate — a spout with an on/off lever — in a plastic bucket (it will require drilling a hole); you can dispense the filtered honey from this bucket into canning jars for storage, which will make the process much easier and neater.

Equipment

• Long-bladed knife

• At least 2 large shallow plastic bins

• Food-safe buckets

• Potato masher or other tool for breaking up the comb

• Large fine-mesh strainer

• Butter muslin

• Clean canning jars and lids

Instructions

1. Cut the comb. Cut the comb from the frames and let the comb fall into a shallow plastic bin. Set the now-empty frame in another bucket.

2. Break it up. Break up the comb with your hands, a potato masher, or some other tool. This will result in a pulpy, sticky mess.

3. Strain. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a foodsafe plastic bucket. Pour the sticky mess into the strainer and let drain. It will take about 16 hours for the honey to slowly drip into the bucket. To speed up the process, use a salad spinner to spin batches of the comb, separating the wax and honey. If you like, you can take what remains in the strainer and heat it in a double boiler; it will separate into solid wax and some additional honey.

If ants are a problem, consider setting the receiving bucket in a sink (or bathtub) filled with several inches of water. If any ants should come scouting for the honey, they will drown instead.

4. Strain again. The strained honey will still contain bits of wax and other debris. Line a strainer with dampened butter muslin and strain again.

5. Store. Fill clean jars with honey. Cap, cover, and store at room temperature. (This process is much easier if you’ve installed a honey gate on your collection bucket.) The honey will keep indefinitely, but like all natural products, fresh honey tastes best.

Storing Honey

Honey doesn’t need pasteurization and will keep indefinitely at room temperature. Indeed, heating destroys the beneficial bacteria and nutrients (and pollen) in the honey. Many people feel that the advantage of keeping bees is to produce “raw” honey that is never heated. However, most varieties of honey will eventually become solid. This crystallization is normal and does not mean the honey is bad; it can be used in the same ways that liquid honey is used. See below for a tip on how to reliquefy the honey.

Comb honey is easy to store in flat plastic containers; beekeeping supply houses sell special containers, or you can use plastic sandwich containers.

You can also fill a canning jar with pieces of comb honey, topping off with liquid honey if you like.

Sweet Tips

• If your honey has crystallized, place the open jar in a saucepan of very hot water and stir every 5 minutes until the honey turns liquid.

• If you can, measure the oil in a recipe first, then use the oiled cup for the liquid sweetener. The oil will cause the sweetener to slide right out.

• When used in a salad dressing, honey, maple syrup, and apple cider syrup act as emulsifiers to keep the oil bound into the mixture.


Infants and Honey

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, honey can contain the bacteria that cause infant botulism, so children under 1 year old should not be fed honey. Honey is safe for children over the age of 1.


Excerpted from The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How © Andrea Chesman. Illustrations by © Elena Bulay. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.