If you want to preserve fruit in honey, there are a number of options. Honey can be a useful preservative. For longer-term preservation, the safest and most effective way to preserve fruit in honey is to use honey as a canning syrup and to process fruit covered with this canning syrup in the usual way, in a hot water bath canner.
To preserve fruit in honey in this way, you will usually need to:
- Select Your Fruit
- Select Your Honey
- Decide How Long You Want to Keep Your Fruit Preserved
- Create a Honey Syrup
- Select and Prepare Canning Jars
- Add Your Fruits To the Canning Jars
- Pour The Honey Canning Syrup Over the Fruit
- Process The Filled Jars in A Hot Water Bath Canner
Deciding how long you wish to preserve your fruit is important because there are other shorter-term options that do not involve undertaking this whole process. If you only want to preserve fruit for a shorter period, especially if refrigeration is available, you can make the fruit last a little longer simply by coating it in a honey solution and keeping it in your fridge.
Two other interesting options (which we will discuss later in this article) are preserving fruits in fruit-infused honey or in honey-sweetened jams, jellies, or other preserves. These latter two options will keep for a short while in your fridge or in a cool place. But if you want to keep your fruit for longer, then following the canning process described below is the best way to go.
Honey can be a moderately effective preservative for fresh fruit. But for food safety, it is a good idea not to rely on this preservation method alone and to undertake a full canning process to preserve your fruit more effectively for long-term storage. You can also, as we will discuss later, simply preserve fruit by placing it in a honey syrup and then freezing it.
Read on to find out in more detail how to preserve fruit in honey.
Preserving Fruit in Honey – Step By Step
In this first section of this article, we will walk you step by step through the process of preserving and canning fruit in honey one stage at a time. At each step, we will discuss some of the important considerations and give you the information you need to complete this process successfully. Preserving fruit with honey certainly isn’t rocket science. But you do need to think things through carefully and follow each step so as to avoid any issues.
Step One: Select Your Fruit
The first stage of the process involves thinking about which fruits are suitable for this process and deciding which of them you will choose. Of course, you may already know which fruit you will be using because you have a glut from your garden. But you might also decide to pick up some fruit from a farm shop or farmers market to preserve in this way.
Any fruits that would ordinarily be canned can be canned using honey in the syrup. But canning in honey can work particularly well for tart soft fruits like blackberries or raspberries, for example. It can also work well for a range of stone fruits like plums, damsons, gages, apricots, and peaches.
It is important to choose fruits that are healthy, pest and disease-free, and as blemish-free as possible. The better the quality of the fruit you begin with, the better the quality of the finished preserved product will be.
Remember, the honey will influence the flavor of the fruits that are preserved to a degree. So it is important to select both the fruits and honey you use carefully to make sure that you are pleased with the final result. You may wish to test with small batches to see what combinations work best for your particular taste.
Step Two: Select Your Honey
Another important thing to remember is that the honey you use in fruit preservation will, at least to a degree, influence the taste of the fruit. This means that it is important to choose honey with a flavor that appeals to you. Real, raw, organic honey is always the best choice.
But it is important to remember that the flavors of honey can vary significantly. The flavor of honey will be imparted by the nectar sources chosen by or available to the bees. Honey from an upland region, with lots of heather, for example, will taste very different from honey made from nectar from farmland or wild meadow areas.
Step Three: Decide How Long You Want to Keep Your Fruit Preserved
How exactly you wish to preserve your fruit will determine the next steps. If you wish to simply keep fruit for a few more days to weeks, and have refrigeration available, then spreading a honey syrup over the fruits or placing them in a jar with honey may well be sufficient for your needs.
But if you want to store your fruit for longer, it is best not to rely on the preserving properties of honey alone. You should not just cover fruits in a honey solution but should also put the jars through the canning process.
For the rest of this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through this process, from making the honey syrup solution to processing the jars in a hot water bath canner. After this, however, we will go on to discuss a number of other potential short term preservation methods you could consider and how to freeze fruit in honey – an alternative means of preservation.
Step Four: Create a Honey Syrup
Successfully using honey in canning involves understanding how to make a honey preserving syrup.
Honey can be useful in canning for those who want to reduce the amount of processed sugar that they have in their diets and use in their homes. But is it important to understand that in safe and proper preservation through canning, honey and sugar are not direct equivalents.
It is also important to understand that though some homesteaders and canners will substitute all the sugar in a canning recipe for honey, according to food labs, honey may only be substituted effectively for up to half the sugar called for in a canning syrup recipe.
If you plan to substitute some or all of the sugar in a recipe for honey, here are some things to bear in mind:
- Honey is sweeter than sugar. This means that you will generally need to use less of it if you do not want to make your preserved fruit overly sweet. As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended that where 1 cup of sugar is specified in a canning recipe, ¾ cup of honey should be substituted. If you do not have a sweet tooth, you can reduce this further, but do not go lower than ½ cup. Remember, sugar has important preservation properties. It can often be a good idea to use a proportion of honey rather than replacing the sugar altogether.
- The pH of different kinds of honey can vary. The average pH of a jar of honey is 3.9. This high acidity means that it can be great for preserving – and will add an extra layer of preservation protection to the already acidic fruit. But if you are avoiding acidic foods, honey preserved fruits will not be the best choice.
- Another important thing to remember is that honey adds volume to a liquid. You’ll need to do a little math because, for each cup of honey you add, you’ll need to reduce the volume of the liquid added by around ¼ cup.
If you are new to using honey to preserve fruit in canning, then it is a good idea to choose to use a tried and tested recipe from an authoritative canning site.
Making a honey syrup for canning involves following a recipe and adding the requisite amount of sugar and honey to water, and carefully bringing it to the boil. But hold off making this until you are ready, as it should be kept hot until it is used.
If you are substituting a honey canning syrup for plain water canning liquid to improve the flavor of the fruits that you preserve, then one thing to note is that doing so will increase the finished product’s calorific content quite substantially. Depending on the thickness of the syrup, whether it is light, medium, or thick – you will potentially increase calorie content by around 200-400 calories per pint.
Here are some ratios for canning syrups with ½ the granulated sugar substituted with honey:
|Honey Very Light Syrup:||1 part||1 part||8 parts|
|Honey Light Syrup:||1 part||1 part||6 parts|
|Honey Medium Syrup:||1 part||1 part||4 parts|
|Honey Heavy Syrup:||1 part||1 part||2 parts|
|Very Heavy Syrup:||1 part||1 part||1 part|
For example, for a very light syrup, you might use ½ cup sugar, ¼ to 1/3 cup honey (the equivalent of ½ cup sugar, and 4 cups water.
A very light syrup will not have as long shelf life. But the flavor alterations, color impact, and sweetness will be less. Note: if you make your own fruit juice to use for canning, this could be a better, healthier choice. Again, however, this will typically not last as long in good quality as when a heavier syrup with more sugar is used.
A heavy or very heavy syrup can be great for keeping fruit fresh over a long period. But in many cases, it can lead to the sugar and honey overpowering the fresh fruit taste. I find that a light or medium syrup is usually best in most fruit canning, where a little sweetening is desirable. And these should keep the fruit tasting good for up to around a year or so.
Step Five: Select and Prepare Canning Jars
The next thing to think about is selecting and preparing your canning jars. Many people feel that they are happy to simply reuse old jars when preserving fruits. But if you are keeping the fruit for a longer period of time, and want to put the jars through the canning process in a hot water bath canner, then you should always use good quality jars that are specifically designed for the purpose.
Get canning jars that are tried and tested by well-known manufacturers, and you can rest easier knowing that you have the right tools for the job. Whenever you are doing any canning, it is best to invest upfront to save money in the long term. Remember, the jars themselves can be reused – and should still be good and useful many years from now. Rings should also last. It is just the lids (or seals) that should be replaced, depending on the system you choose.
Step Six: Add Your Fruits To the Canning Jars
Once you have your clean jars ready and lids and tools prepared, it may be time to add your fruits to the canning jars. Often, fresh raw fruit will be packed into the jars. When you add fresh fruit to the jars without any prior heating, this is known as the cold pack method.
With the cold pack method, the fruits float in the jars, so the end result does not look as visually appealing. But fruit may have better texture and sometimes better taste. This is a better option for more delicate fruits, which can fall apart and break down easily.
The alternative is to use a hot pack method. This can sometimes be the better option for certain fruits, such as pears and peaches, that can stand up to a little heating without breaking down too much. In this method, the fruits are added into the hot syrup and heated through before the whole lot is poured into the jars.
One other interesting thing to consider is that for some fruits, it could be beneficial to consider adding dehydrated or partially dehydrated fruits to the jars before pouring over the canning liquid.
Step Seven: Pour The Honey Canning Syrup Over the Fruit or Add the Heated Fruit and Syrup
Once you have decided on whether you will use a cold pack or hot pack method for your fruits, fill your jars. Use a de-bubbling tool, spatula, or other utensils to remove any air pockets around your fruits.
Make sure that you leave the headspace on the jars that is specified in the recipe that you have selected to use. Make sure you wipe down the rims with vinegar before you place them on the lids. Then screw on the rings.
Step Eight: Process The Filled Jars in a Hot Water Bath Canner
Take your filled jars and place them into your hot water bath canner. Remember to use a rack (or make one) to keep the jars from bumping on the base of the pan if you do not own a canner and have made your own.
Make sure that you process the jars for the period of time specified in the recipe you have chosen for the size of a jar that you are using. Even with high acidity foods like fruits, it is best not to take any chances with food safety.
Canning fruit in a syrup containing honey is a safe way to preserve it if you plan on keeping it for a somewhat longer length of time. For example, if you want to preserve fresh summer fruits to enjoy during the depths of winter.
But there are, as mentioned above, a few other ways that fruits can be preserved using honey if you do not plan on keeping them for so long a time or would like to make a different type of canned product.
One option is not to preserve fruits in a honey syrup but simply to place fruits into honey to make delicious fruit-infused honey to use on bread or in other recipes in your kitchen over the coming weeks.
Another option is to make honey-sweetened jams and jellies for refrigeration and quick use or to substitute some of the sugar in a traditional canned jam or jelly recipe and process in the usual way.
Alternative Option: Fruit Infused Honey
If you heat fruits in honey, then strain out the pieces, you can enjoy fruit-infused honey over the next few weeks. Some of the fruits that work very well for fruit-infused honey are lemons and oranges, which will impart a pleasing flavor that can enhance the natural taste of the honey itself. You can also use fruits found in a vegetable garden, such as chili peppers, to give honey a fiery kick that can make it a great accompaniment to a range of dishes.
Infused honey can also be made using a range of herbs and spices to deliver the exact combination of flavors you are going for.
The honey will work, on its own, to preserve the fruit for a short while in good conditions. But it is best to strain the honey before storage so that there is less chance of bacteria or other pathogens creeping in and causing a threat to health.
The more moisture there is in the additions you choose to use in an infused honey, the more quickly it will tend to be that problems can set in. Leaving the fruit in the honey for a little longer may well improve the intensity of the flavors. But it is important to be careful and get the balance right between the intensity of flavor and food safety.
Again, if you plan on placing fruits in honey and storing them for any length of time, then it is always safest to choose a recipe that can be put through the canning process, to fully heat and exclude air from your preserves.
Alternative Option: Honey Sweetened Jams and Jellies
In addition to putting fruit in honey or honey syrup to preserve it, you can also consider using honey in place of the sugar in jams and jellies. If you are making a simple refrigerator jam that will be used up in short order, then you can make jams with only honey and no refined sugar at all. The honey will have some preserving effect, but as mentioned above, it is best not to rely on this alone, even when dealing with acidic fruits.
When making jams and jellies for canning, you can do as you did with the syrups for canning fruit and replace up to half of the sugar in the original recipe with honey. When you do so, make sure that you note the things mentioned above about how honey differs from sugar and how to account for those differences.
Freezing Fruit With Honey Syrup
If you do not have a suitable space to keep canned goods or have space in your freezer but don’t want to invest in canning equipment, you can also consider preserving fruits in a honey/sugar syrup for longer by freezing them.
If you plan to freeze fruit, then there are a number of ways you can do so. Freezing fruits in a syrup made, as mentioned above, with a proportion of honey, or even with just honey, can be a good way to preserve them for longer and is easier and more straightforward than canning.
This method of preserving fruit in honey is suitable for fruits that are firm and not particularly juicy or fruits that have been stoned, halved, or sliced. Some examples of fruits that can be suitable for this method include plums, damsons, gages, apricots, and peaches. Rhubarb, though not technically a fruit, can also be preserved in this way. Tarter examples of the above can also taste better when a sweetening syrup is added.
To freeze fruit with a honey syrup:
- Make a honey syrup as described above.
- Heat this syrup up as above, but then allow it to cool.
- Prepare your fruit, making sure that you remove stones, etc., and use only fresh and unblemished, ripe but not overripe examples.
- Choose a freezer-suitable container. (Ideally, it is best to opt for a plastic-free option if at all possible, as this is the healthier and more sustainable, and eco-friendly choice.) Make sure that it has a well-fitting lid or can be sealed properly.
- Layer the fruit into the containers, and pour over the honey syrup.
(Make sure that you leave sufficient headspace as, of course, the liquid will expand as it freezes.)
- Close the container and be sure to label it and date it so that later, you will know what exactly you are dealing with.
- Place it into your freezer, and defrost it and use it within 9-12 months.
How Does Honey Work as a Preservative?
Honey has long been used for its preservative properties. But if you are into preserving food in natural ways, you might be interested to learn more about why exactly honey has preserving properties.
Many people believe that the high sugar content in honey is the reason for its preservative properties. Sugar tends to draw water from the microbes, leaving microbial cells dehydrated and thereby killing them. This helps to keep food safe from microbial spoilage. But while this is one of the things that makes natural honey a preservative, it is not the most important factor.
Another of the things that makes honey a natural preservative is its acidity. Since microbial life is less likely to thrive in acidic conditions, however, it is not the acidity either that is the main reason why honey can work to preserve food.
In fact, honey can last a long time due to an enzyme found in a bee’s stomach. Bees mix glucose oxidase with expelled nectar that they previously consumed. This results in two byproducts – gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. These are partially responsible for the acidity of honey and also key in the suppression of bacterial growth.
It is important to note, however, that while honey has preservative properties in its raw, cured state will not ferment or allow rot, it cannot preserve forever. Honey is hydrophilic. This means that it draws in water.
If exposed to any air, especially in a humid environment, the honey will gradually gain a higher water content naturally. This means that it can begin to ferment, and fruits within it may rot. Water introduced from the fruit itself will also raise the water content of the honey. If the water content of the honey rises much above 25%, bacterial suppression will be limited, and fermentation will take place relatively quickly, which is why canning and air-tight jars are crucial if you want to preserve fruit in honey for a longer period of time.