Raw honey is an ideal culture for fermented fruits, condiments, and low-salt preserving. Here is everything you need to know about fermenting with honey!
I am passionate about preserving food with fermentation. Here are a few reasons why:
- Super simple. No cooking required!
- Zero-waste and electricity-free, so it is a climate-friendly way to preserve food.
- If you do it properly, it will last in your pantry for up to a year!
Salt-brine fermenting is a great way to preserve. However, sometimes I want a low-salt preservation method. This is why I make storage ferments with apple cider vinegar (like my low-sodium hot sauce), and why I ferment with honey!
How Does Honey Ferment?
Raw honey naturally contains probiotic cultures that come from the microbiome of the bees.
In its undiluted form, the thickness and acidity of honey prevents fermentation. However, as soon as the honey is diluted, the natural bacteria and yeasts from the honey bees start to ferment.
As a result, raw honey is a really strong, reliable culture. Perfect for any ferment where you don’t want to use a lot of salt! I typically use it for:
Honey ferments aren’t sweet. They tend to be savory and vinegary. If you want a sweet ferment, then add back the sweetness right before serving (otherwise any added sugar will just feed the ferment).
Doesn’t It Turn Into Mead?
Yes — and — No.
When raw honey is diluted (with water or fruit) the natural yeasts will start to consume the sugar.
–> Yeast always ferments sugar into carbon dioxide (bubbles) and alcohol.
So all honey ferments will produce some alcohol. Without any added sugar or yeast, the alcohol levels will likely be between 0.5% to 7% ABV. The alcohol level will depend on the amount of sugar in the ferment based on a combination of the sugars in the honey and the sugars in the fruits and vegetables.
Most mead recipes use commercial yeast and added sugar to increase the alcohol level. They also add a bunch of yeast nutrients to ensure the yeast has what it needs to ferment well.
When you use a little bit of honey to ferment fruit, you will technically end up with a low-alcohol mead. However, that isn’t the same as an alcoholic ferment. Because there is also bacteria in the culture, the liquid will actually taste more like vinegar than mead.
Here are a few ways to reduce the amount of alcohol in your honey ferment.
- Use the minimum amount of honey required for the batch (1/4 cup per 3 cups).
- Don’t add any extra sugar. If you want to sweeten the ferment add the sugar when you’re ready to serve it.
- Stick to low-sugar fruits and vegetables.
- Ferment for only 2 to 7 days (versus several weeks or months).
Fermenting with Honey
In general, any fruit or vegetable will ferment when mixed with 8% honey (the minimum amount that I’ve tested for long-term storage).
Increasing the amount of honey won’t make the ferment sweeter, it will just increase the alcohol content (making the ferment more mead-like).
–> The ONLY trick with honey ferments is that they are at a greater risk of mold.
Mold naturally comes into the ferment on fruits and vegetables. It may also be in your home.
Mold cannot penetrate a salt brine that is more than 2% salt. However, with a honey ferment, any mold on top will have penetrated the entire jar. Mold on top of a ferment is only the sporing body of the mold. The rest of the mold is already in the liquid. So take extra care if you plan on using honey for preservation (versus a quick ferment).
Using honey for food preservation
Here are the extra steps needed if you want to preserve with raw honey. Follow these steps whenever you want to pack a honey ferment that will be left in the pantry for more than a week.
–> I’ve stored all the honey ferments photographed in this post for up to 8 months without any issues.
Here are a few things you should do to reduce the risk of mold:
- Sanitize the jars with boiling water. This is similar to what I recommend for making wine.
- Only use fresh and mold-free fruits and vegetables.
- Use a well-sealing fermentation jar to prevent any mold from getting in. Honey will bubble vigorously, so use a jar that can also let CO2 out. I recommend a high-quality gasket-based jar, like a Fido or a jar with an air-lock. I don’t recommend pickle-pipes or similar lids as they sometimes can leak.
- Make sure to use raw honey. The amount required is based on the jar size, not the amount of fruit or water (1/4 cup of honey for 3 cup jar).
- It’s fine to use honey that has crystallized. Just place the container in a pot of hot water to soften the honey. Don’t microwave it, or you may kill the yeast and bacterial cultures.
Simple Honey Fermented Fruit
Raw honey is perfect for fermented fruits, condiments, and low-salt preserving. This simple honey ferment can be made with any type of fruit of vegetable.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 10 minutes
- Yield: 3 cups of fruit 1x
- Method: Fermentation
- Cuisine: Healthy
- Diet: Low Salt
- 3 cups of fruit
- 1/4 cup of raw honey
- 1/2 cup of water, as needed
- Please note, raw honey ferments are not recommended for pregnant women, children under the age of 1 year, or anyone who is immune-compromised.
- See the sections above for details on how to use honey for long-term food preservation. It requires a few extra steps to make sure your ferments will be shelf-stable for several months. This recipe can be used with any type of fruit or vegetable. Raw honey is a very good culture.
- Wash and prepare the fruit. You want to remove the pits and slice them so that they are ready to serve, right from the jar. Bite-sized pieces are easier to pack into the jar.
- Place the fruit into a 1-quart (1 L) jar. There will be quite a bit of room at the top because honey is a very active ferment and you’ll need the headroom. Pour in the raw honey. Then add water, if needed to make 3 cups total. Adding water may not be necessary for soft fruit, however, hard fruit, like apples, will require some extra liquid.
- Place a weight on top of the fruit to keep it below the liquid. Cap it with a lid that will allow gas to escape as the ferment bubbles. A loose lid is perfect for a short-term ferment.
- The fruit will bubble vigorously for at least 2 weeks. To slow the fermentation, place the jar in the fridge. For sweeter flavored ferments, refrigerate after 2 days. If you let the ferment go for more than a week, it will taste quite sour.
- Once opened, honey ferments will last a long time in the fridge. Just keep clean when you serve them. (No double dipping!) If you’re looking for a way to serve honey fermented fruit, check out my companion recipe, a clafoutis that is perfect for featuring fermented fruit!
- I’ve tested all different concentrations of honey. I’ve fermented with a mix of up to 1/2 honey to 1/2 fruit. This recipe uses the minimum amount of honey that I’ve tested. It’s a concentration of approximately 1/12th honey. Feel free to play around with different concentrations to see what flavor works best for you.
- I haven’t included nutrition information because it really depends on the type of fruit and how long it ferments. In general, honey ferments are sour and low sugar. Most of the sugar is used up in the ferment.