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This question is similar to the case of bread, but I am more skeptical with honey because of its properties somewhat resemble to an alcohol (being acidic and tangy on tongue).

Relative source

I found this paper on ScienceDirect describes the apparent ethanol content of unspoiled honeys during storage. Some relevant text have been quoted as below.

[...] Ethanol is a honey fermentation product, together with carbon dioxide and several volatile and non-volatile acids (Marvin, Peterson, Fred & Wilson, 1931).

Ethanol content of honey can increase during fermentation, and this is normally related to moisture content (Fabian and Quinet, 1928, Lochhead, 1933 and Stephen, 1946) [...].

Based on my reading, the quoted text (especially in bold, applied by me), would suggest that ethanol may be found in honey prior to fermentation.

Generic source

Some time ago, this was asked on Yahoo Answers and it had few answers. However, even the "best answer" didn't have any citation to support the claim and "blurred" with chemistry facts.

Honey contains no alcohol [...]. It does is a chemical categorization sense though. Within organic chemistry alcohols are sometimes considered a hybrid of carbohydrates or visa versa [...].

The next closest result from googling is "mead" or "honey wine", produced by fermentating honey with water and such. But this produce does not describe any traces of alcohol occurring naturally in honey, that may be found prior to fermentation process.

Question details

Above all, is there any source that clarifies whether honey contain traces of alcohol or else?

  • Here, I am referring to honey as in raw honey. Honey that is found in its original condition (in the beehives), prior to harvest, unpasteurized and unproceessed.

  • Also, I am referring to alcohol as in ethanol, ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. The kind of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages and in the rising bread dough, however occurs naturally.

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    Pretty much everything contains traces of everything else, if you look for small enough quantities. Given that there exist microbes that consume sugar and excrete alcohol, if even one of them finds its way into a beehive, I'd expect that honey to contain alcohol. Without saying something about the quantity or concentration of alcohol, this claim seems rather meaningless. – Nate Eldredge Oct 11 '15 at 16:46
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    Also, does "alcohol" here specifically mean "ethanol", or the broader meaning of "any organic compound in which the hydroxyl functional group (–OH) is bound to a saturated carbon atom" (per Wikipedia)? The latter sense seems to be the interpretation taken by the Yahoo answer. – Nate Eldredge Oct 11 '15 at 16:50
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    Fermenting honey can produce alcohol ... mead. – GEdgar Oct 11 '15 at 19:31
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    Welcome to Skeptics! We want to focus our attention on doubtful claims that are widely held or are made by notable people. I don't think this question is notable. One person asking on Yahoo answers doesn't mean it is widely believed. I did a quick search and couldn't find anyone else who believed it. Please provide some more references to places where this claim is being made. – Oddthinking Oct 12 '15 at 0:52
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    If you add water to honey it will form alcohol pretty quickly, but basic fermentation science, alcohol forms when Yeast eats sugar and water. Honey is so thick and it has such a low water to sugar content that it's a very unfriendly environment for yeast. That's why it keeps for years and that's why there's so little alcohol in it. Provided it doesn't get wet. Leave the cover off on a humid day, that's a different story. – userLTK Oct 12 '15 at 8:28
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The article author of the article that you linked to wrote an earlier article in 1994 where he measured the ethanol content of unspoiled honey.

This article of Journal of Agricultural Food Chem from 1994 gives the natural ethanol content of honey as 27.9mg/kg.

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    so, .00279% alcohol, or .0056 proof if my math is right. That's a pretty small amount. Fun math question, how many pounds of honey would you have to eat to consume the equivalent of 1 beer? Maybe 800 lbs. :0 – userLTK Oct 12 '15 at 8:24
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    @clearkimura 1. The presence of sugar makes ethanol content unsurprising. 2. Like most scientific papers this papers references related literature. 3. While I would prefer meta-studies, I think we will have to accept that there are questions to which single studies is about the best we can hope for. – Taemyr Oct 12 '15 at 13:47
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    @userLTK: The usual definition of "one drink" is 8 g of ethanol, which needs about 270 kg of honey, about 630 pounds. Not far off. – Nate Eldredge Oct 12 '15 at 14:13
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    @Taemyr sugar alone isn't enough. You also need an environment for the yeast to live, replicate and be happy. If sugar alone was sufficient then table sugar would ferment and obviously, table sugar doesn't ferment. Honey doesn't ferment cause it's a bad environment for yeast or any bacteria. That's also why Honey stays fresh for years. – userLTK Oct 12 '15 at 19:05
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    Am I allowed to ask for clarification, how can honey contain ethanol if fermentation cannot take place in honey, being a bad environment? This answer from related post seemed to support that "too much sugar... is not good for microbial growth" but never mentioned the existence of ethanol within the explanations. – user29319 Oct 13 '15 at 4:54
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This answer has been written by taking an alternative approach, to clarify that traces of ethanol are indeed found in honey. Below are the minimal explanations to convince most skeptical users (or at least myself) regarding the claim.

Existing claim

According to the 1994 publication (same article but different source), the literatures (Borries', 1934; Duisberg, 1967) stated that "small quantities of ethanol" are found in unspoiled honey. One of the literatures, written in German (Borries', 1934), is available as abstract only.

The 1994 publication had been authored by mostly same group of authors, similar to the publication quoted by the question. This may lead to, although unlikely, the answer to be shadowed by doubt or being biased. Hence, clarification follows.

Alternative approach

The following three important points, shall be considered as basic knowledge before doing an in-depth reading of the publications, which have been quoted under "existing claim".

  1. Sugar will help microorganism growth, and ethanol is the product of microorganism growth in a process called fermentation [1] (regardless of intentional or unintentional).

  2. Honey is essentially sugar, mostly glucose and fructose, that makes about 85 percent of the solids in honey [2].

  3. Saturated sugar [however] inhibits the growth of yeast and other fungal spores [3]. This property, known as hygroscopic, describes that sugar contain very little water in its natural state but it can easily absorb moisture from its surrounding [4][5].

Despite the hygroscopic environment, it is said that honey should still contain yeasts [2]. In fact, honey is found to be a good environment for certain kind of yeasts to live. The presence of the yeasts can be explored in this book, Biodiversity and Ecophysiology of Yeasts [6], as quoted below.

Osmophilic or sugar-tolerant yeasts are a problem in the honey industry [...] As a result, osmophilic yeasts readily ferment honey.

Clarification

In the introduction of the 2001 publication, which is quoted in the question, the osmophilic yeast in honey had been mentioned as below.

It is generally agreed that all honeys contain osmophilic (sugar-tolerant) yeasts in greater or lesser amounts, which could lead honey to ferment.

Therefore, the quoted publications in question and answer (or under "existing claim") are most likely unbiased and plausible based on the supporting explanation above.

Summary

Honey would contain very little amount of alcohol, or specifically ethanol, because of fermentation caused by sugar-tolerant yeast found in honey.

References

[1] Fermentation on Simple English Wikipedia.

[2] Honey Composition and Properties on Beesource Beekeeping.

[3] Why doesn't honey go bad on Quora, whose answer featured in The Huffington Post.

[4] The Science behind honeys eternal shelf life on Smithonian.

[5] Why honey is the only food that doesn't go bad on io9.com.

[6] Biodiversity and Ecophysiology of Yeasts, edited by Carlos Augusto Rosa, Gabor Peter, in page 380, accessible via preview on Google Books.

Disclaimer: This answer is not the best answer, due to lack of empirical evidence or figures that could point to "traces of alcohol in honey". This is just intended as generic explanations.

  • Hi! It would be best to suggest an edit to the other answer than to post your own answer, in this case. Or better yet, create an answer that mesh the two together! Keep in mind that, if that other answer is deleted for some reason, your own answer would lose sense. Answers should be self-sufficient! – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 '15 at 17:39
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    @ThalesPereira Updated this answer to be "self-sufficient" as a generic answer. – user29319 Oct 17 '15 at 0:59
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    Though [4] and [5] state it: "Hygroscopic" just means that a substance attracts water. It does not mean that a substance contains very little water. Even more: Honey does not dry out completely because it is hygroscopic. And glass is not hygroscopic just because it contains no water. However, hygroscopic substances often contain very little water and dry out biological cells, but this is not the definition of the word. – sweber Apr 19 '16 at 9:24
  • @sweber Updated answer accordingly, after reviewing the cited sources. – user29319 Apr 19 '16 at 13:23

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