Dyce Lab

Dyce Laboratory
Roger A. Morse
Department of Entomology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY

Elton J. Dyce was born and raised in Meaford, Ontario, Canada. He attended and graduated from Ontario Agricultural College, now known as Guelph University. Today's enrollment is much higher than when Dyce studied there. Dyce obtained his Master's degree from McGill University and came to Cornell University to study with the late Professor E.F. Phillips in the fall of 1929. Dyce completed his Ph.D studies in spring 1931 and returned to Guelph where he became Professor of Apiculture.

Dyce came to Cornell to study honey fermentation and crystallization. At that time, large quantities of honey were lost annually because these phenomena were not understood. As honey granulates, only about 12% of the water present becomes part of the crystal, thus raising the moisture content of the part that does not granulate. If a container of honey granulates uniformly there is no problem, but if only part of the honey in the container granulates then the liquid portion has a much increased moisture content. Whenever the moisture content of a honey rises higher than about 19%, the yeasts present may grow and fermentation can occur. Yeast cells are always present in unpasteurized honey; once honey is fermented, there is no way it can be salvaged.

At the time Dyce started his studies, England was a major market for Canadian honey. England gave the commonwealth nations favored status, which allowed them to send goods to England without duty. That privilege was never enjoyed by the United States or non commonwealth nations. The creation of the European Common Market, which England eventually Joined, eliminated that favored status for Canada and certain other nations forcing their beekeepers to sell their honey on the world market.

The favorite honey in England was one that was light in color, mild in flavor, and granulated. The English preferred granulated honey with fine crystals and paid a premium for it over honey with coarse crystals. At that time, nobody knew how to control honey granulation, though some beekeepers because of the flora their bees fed on, and the resulting ratio of the sugars glucose and fructose in the honey made a product that was consistently finer grained than other honeys.

When Dyce began his graduate studies at Cornell, he was a salaried lecturer at Ontario Agricultural College, a fact that later played a role in the disposition of the patent he finally obtained on his process. Dyce had been appointed to the teaching post when he graduated in 1923. Sugar chemistry was still little understood at that time, as shown by contemporary textbooks.

Dyce's major contribution to our knowledge of honey was his discovery that one could control the granulation process by adding seed crystals. A seed crystal is simply a crystal with one or more sharp fractured edges where the crystal might grow larger. He also determined at 57 °F. (14 °C) is the optimum temperature at which granulation would take place. Pasteurization was required if the honey liquified partially upon long standing. Looking back on the situation, it is obvious to anyone today with a knowledge of physics and biochemistry that such a process could be controlled, but in 1927 this was a major breakthrough in honey processing and marketing.

In conversation, Dyce recalled that the idea for controlling honey granulation came to him one evening in Ithaca when walking home from a lecture. It took some time to determine the optimum temperature for granulation and to learn how to eliminate most of the foam that inevitably appeared on the top of the freshly crystallized honey.

After Dyce wrote his thesis, his research was published in Cornell Bulletin 528, Fermentation and Crystalization of Honey (Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, October 1931, 76 pages). I still have a few copies of the bulletin that are available for libraries.

During his later days as a graduate student, Dyce was approached by a fellow graduate student who asked him if he proposed to patent the process Dyce indicated he had no such plans. The other student, unbeknown to Dyce. applied for a patent on the process. When the patent was received in the patent office in Washington, it was sent to Professor Phillips for comment and advice. Phillips had previously been in charge of bee research for USDA in Washington and was a well-known authority on bees and honey. The patent office was unaware that the applicant and the real author of the patent were both students of Phillips: its only goal was to determine if the idea was valid. Phillips, of course, was angry and dismissed from the University the student who had improperly submitted the patent. It was decided that Dyce should seek a patent or protect his discovery. Since he was a full-time employee of the Province of Ontario, he gave the rights in Canada to the Province and in the United States to Cornell University. A note at the end of his 1931 bulletin states, "For the purpose of safeguarding the quality of the product that may be obtained by use of the process described in this bulletin, the author has applied for patents on the process and product and has assigned these, if and when issued, to Cornell University for the use of the College of Agriculture in promoting similar researches."

On August 13,1931 Dyce wrote Cornell President Livingston Farrand, stating "I request these funds" — if any are forthcoming — "be used for further development of the work of apiculture in the university." His offer was accepted, first by Provost A.R. Mann and later by President Farrand in letters dated August 21 and November 26, 1931, respectively.

In 1944 Dyce came to New York State where he became the first manager of the newly formed Finger Lakes Honey Producers Cooperative, in Groton. One of his goals was to promote the sale of crystallized honey in the United States. Until that date, little royalty money had been received by Cornell University. Two years later Dyce Joined the Cornell Faculty where he remained until his retirement in 1965.

Dyce - honey house

Summary of the Dyce Method of Processing Honey

"Honey should be heated until it is totally liquefied and until a temperature of about 150 °F (66 °C) is reached. It should then be thoroughly strained through two or three thicknesses of fine cheesecloth, nylon, an O.A.C. strainer or some other medium that will remove all noticeable wax particles. The honey should be stirred constantly, yet sufficiently careful to prevent overheating and the incorporation of air bubbles. The agitation should be from below the surface of the honey. The honey should then be cooled as rapidly as possible to about 75 °F (24 °C), and here again some form of agitation will have to be used which will not incorporate air and which will remove the cooled viscous honey from the sides of the tank or cooling device.

"When the temperature of the honey is between 70 °F (21 °C) and 80 °F (28 °C), 10% of the starter, which consists of fine, creamy, previously processed honey, is thoroughly mixed with the honey which has been heated, strained and cooled. The honey used as a starter is thoroughly broken up in a grinder or sausage machine which will not incorporate air. The seeded honey is left to settle for an hour or two, thoroughly skimmed if necessary, and then run into containers of the size desired for market and stored at a temperature not higher than 57 °F (14 °C) and not lower than about 45 °F until completely crystallized. This usually requires about eight days. The reason for leaving the honey to settle for a while before running it into containers is to allow the majority of the large air bubbles to rise on the surface of the honey. This precaution helps to avoid a frothy surface on the honey in the containers which have been filled for market.

"Honey high in water content should be blended with honeys low in water content, so that the honey will not have more than 17.5% or 18% moisture. This precaution will usually result in a spreadable product, which is not too hard or too soft. If the processed honey is too hard for table use, it should be placed at room temperature of about 80 °F (28 °C), until it becomes sufficiently soft. Once it becomes soft it will not return again to its original hardness.

"This is a brief outline of the complete method of processing, but precautions must be taken to prevent overheating darkening and impairing the flavor of the honey. If this formula is carefully carried out, the resulting product should be a fine, creamy, crystallized product."

There are several considerations and problems in manufacturing honey that should be clarified. Some of these mentioned in the 1975 article by Dyce; others are little known. Dyce states, "Since dextrose crystals are pure white, honeys become lighter in color as the granulation progresses." This may also create a problem if the honey is not thoroughly strained, since any specks of comb, especially dark comb, are readily visible. Honey shrinks slightly upon crystallization and has a tendency to pull away from the side of the jar if it is packed in glass. Here the white crystals that are visible may appear as mold. Some buyers have rejected crystallized honey for this reason, thinking something is wrong with the product. Dyce advised that if the honey was packed in a clear glass jar one should use a label that wrapped fully around it. It is preferred to pack crystallized honey in an opaque container.

Dyce observed that if the moisture content of the honey was too low, the temperature too cool, or the product was stored in a refrigerator, it would not spread easily. Dyce processed honey made for use in the southern states, or the northern states and Canada in the summer, should contain about 17.5% water. Crystallized honey used in the cooler months should contain about 18% water. As indicated above, the best way to adjust the moisture content is to blend honeys of varying moisture content.

A serious problem with crystallized honey is that air bubbles may be incorporated into the honey when it is cooled and/or as seed crystals are added. This air may rise to the surface as the honey cools and before It becomes firm. Foam on the top of a package of crystallized honey gives it a bad appearance and may again cause a consumer to reject it. Some firms found that if they Inverted the containers of freshly seeded honey the foam would form on what would eventually be the bottom of the container. In this positron it was not visible to the consumer. More recently, several firms have begun to make crystallized honey in bulk containers, and after the product has become more or less firm, it is homogenized. This serves to give the final product a uniform appearance and is a step forward.

Dyce recommended that those who made crystallized honey use 10% seed; however, he was aware that many firms used only 5%. He found that if one had a grinder that would reduce the crystals to tiny fragments, one could actually make good crystallized honey using only 1% seed. Doing so required the honey be less than 70 °F. (21 °C) at the time the seed was added, that the seed by thoroughly mixed, and most important, that the seed be finely ground. Each manufacturer of crystallized honey must deal with this consideration in his own way.

We are often asked how one determines the best size crystal for Dyce processed honey. There have been no taste tests made recently as far as I know, but those conducted by Dyce many years ago indicated the crystals should be too small to be felt by the tongue. Not all beekeepers agree with that thought and I have known many who make their crystallized honey with larger crystals; however, I feel that this is because they did not have adequate facilities to grind the seed honey properly or to control the crystallization temperature.

I believe that we could sell much more crystallized honey nationwide if it were properly made. The most widely sold crystallized honey pack sold in the country today is that packaged by Sioux Bee. In my opinion it is a high-quality pack, though several other packers also do an excellent job. I suggest any beekeeper interested in marketing crystallized honey first try some of the Sioux Bee product.

There is no question that many people feel that Dyce processed honey has a different flavor, some say it is better. An important feature of crystallized honey is that it does not drip the way liquid honey does; this should be emphasized in promotion programs. In light of the great surplus of honey in the country today, brought about by imports, it is important to pay even greater attention to the quality of honey we market.

AUGUST 1983 Gleanings in Bee Culture, pp. 44

© Copyright 2008, All rights reserved, Nicholas W. Calderone, Associate Professor,
Department of Entomology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 


Updated July 2006
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