While inspecting your honey frames, you’ve probably noticed capped and uncapped honey. Usually, before extracting honey, you would wait until the honey is capped.
But what happens if you feel impatient and can’t wait for all the honey to be capped? Can you eat and use uncapped honey?
Yes, you can eat uncapped honey. However, remember that uncapped honey is more likely to have a higher moisture content and can ferment quicker.
Here are some recommendations and tips before using your uncapped honey.
What Is Uncapped Honey
Uncapped honey is the substance found in comb cells that aren’t covered by wax. Most of the time, bees haven’t capped these cells because the honey inside them hasn’t reached the ideal moisture content.
Before nectar becomes honey, it goes through a few transformations:
After bees absorb the nectar from the flower, they store it in an organ known as the honey stomach. In this organ, the nectar mixes with enzymes that break down the sugars.
Once back at the hive, forager bees regurgitate the substance and pass it on to other worker bees. They will repeat the process several times until the liquid has changed its consistency. Does that mean honey is bee vomit? Not really. The honey never reaches the stomach where they digest food. Therefore, it is not vomited.
Then, worker bees start filling comb cells with the transformed nectar, which, by now, has different properties. Here is where you may begin to see uncapped honey.
Before capping cells with honey, worker bees ensure the honey is dry enough (between 15%-18% of water content). This will save them a lot of trouble because moist or watery honey has a higher risk of fermenting. So, before capping the cells, they dry out the honey by fanning their wings and allowing most of the water to evaporate.
Finally, they add a beeswax layer on top of the cell to make sure the honey doesn’t absorb more moisture from the environment. This will prevent the honey from absorbing moisture from the environment and be kept in store until the cold weather arrives.
Is It Safe To Eat Uncapped Honey
In general terms, uncapped honey is safe to eat.
However, there are some things you should keep in mind before you decide who to give it to or whether to eat it or not.
- Honey is not safe for pregnant women and infants. It is strongly advised for pregnant women and infants under 12 months old not to consume honey, especially if it’s unpasteurized. This is due to the risk of botulism, a disease caused by a toxin that attacks the nerves.
- Make sure there are no signs of fermentation. Although fermented honey is safe to eat, some people don’t like it because the taste and smell change significantly. If, at the time you extract the frames, you perceive a sour smell coming from the hive, there’s a chance your honey has started fermenting. Look out for other signs of fermentation so you can decide whether to use it or not.
- It’s best to consume it quickly. Because the honey is uncapped, it’s likely your bees haven’t reduced the water level, or it has been absorbing moisture from the air. If you don’t use it quickly, it might start to ferment shortly after extracting.
- Have you been feeding your bees sugar water or medicinal treatments for pests? Consider whether you’re currently taking uncapped cells immediately after a period of feeding them sugar water or using mite or other medicinal treatments on your hives. If the answer is yes, consider discarding this harvest as the quality will not be good, and it might contain insecticides, making your honey unsafe.
How To Eat Uncapped
So, what’s the best way to extract and use your uncapped honey?
If you’re in a rush to use the uncapped honey, you can just get rid of the watery nectar to make sure you only extract the honey with the lowest moisture content.
You can do this by turning the frame upside down and shaking it with your wrists. If the frame feels too heavy or uncomfortable to do this, tap it against something firm like a secured post or a big tree.
The watery nectar will come right out of the frame as its consistency is not dense enough. Whatever honey you have left is honey that was close to ideal moisture levels, so it’s okay to use.
Ensure you keep this honey in a closed recipient to prevent it from absorbing additional moisture. I would also suggest keeping it in the fridge or freezing it if you are not going to eat it quickly enough.
Another way you can use your uncapped honey is by drying it out with the help of a dehumidifier and heater (more detailed instructions on how to reduce moisture in honey) before extracting it from the frame.
This is a good solution if you have some time on your hands and are thinking of selling the honey or giving it to others.
If you have capped and uncapped honey in the same frame, you can extract them together. Keep in mind, though, that you would be adding more water (uncapped honey) to honey that has low moisture (capped honey).
Before extracting it all together, determine the ratio of capped to uncapped cells on your frame and how much water the uncapped cells have.
As a rule of thumb, at least 2/3 of honey cells should be capped. However, it really depends on how much water is present in the unsealed cells. The closer to 18% moisture, the more uncapped honey you can mix in. A honey refractometer can help you measure the water content more precisely.
I also recommend flicking the runny honey out of the frame (as explained earlier) before extracting.
Will Uncapped Honey Ferment?
In theory, uncapped honey has a high-water content. Therefore, is highly likely to ferment.
However, it all depends on the moisture content. There might be instances where the honey is not as watery as you think and may not ferment. The best way to be sure is to use a refractometer to accurately measure the water content in the uncapped honey.
If the honey is under 18% water content, the risk of fermentation is low, and you can treat it as regular honey. However, anything above is likely to ferment, so keep it in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.
Uncapped honey is honey that has not been capped yet. This means, at the time you took the frames, the honey was too wet for your bees to seal with wax.
Uncapped honey can be eaten, but It’s important to know that it needs to be used quickly because it might start to ferment shortly after extracting it.
You can shake or tap the frame to remove the liquid to ensure you’re not extracting uncured nectar. You can also use a dehumidifier and heater to reduce the moisture content before extracting.
If you have capped and uncapped honey, extract them. Remember that adding runny honey to ‘dry’ honey will raise the overall moisture content.