Trivia

Hard

What Food, When Properly Sealed, Keeps Forever?

Beef Jerky
Smoked Salmon
Honey
SPAM

Answer: Honey

You may have heard tell of (but scoffed at) jars of preserved honey found in the tombs of pharaohs or deep in burial mounds, honey thousands of years old but still as edible as the day it was buried. While such stories would be indeed be scoff-worthy with any other food (try eating beef jerky left for 3,000 years in a tomb), honey is a rather unique substance that is well suited for extensive storage with little to no degradation in quality.

First, honey contains very little water. The extremely low moisture content of honey makes it very inhospitable to the vast majority of micro-organisms that spoil food, as they require moisture to live. Without the introduction of water or a body of something (like a piece of fruit or meat) that can spoil, there’s essentially nothing in the honey to spoil in the first place.

Second, honey is very acidic (an average of 3.9 on the pH scale) and very hostile to most micro-organisms. The real secret, however, is the bees. You can make a hygroscopic and acidic substance very much like honey (but not quite honey) like molasses, that will still spoil. The bees, however, impart a special property to the honey: an enzyme from their stomachs that breaks down the honey on a microscopic level and creates little tiny amounts of hydrogen peroxide that further kills any organisms that come in contact with the honey.

As such, if you harvest honey, filter out the debris, and seal it tightly in a jar, you can leave it on the shelf for your grand kids (or curious archaeologists 3,000 years down the road).

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