What is Mānuka honey? – Benefits, uses, and how to spot a fake!

So, what is Mānuka honey, anyway?

Honey is honey, is honey… right?

I mean... All honey comes from bees which collect nectar from flowers, so Mānuka honey can’t be all too different to normal honey!

Well, for us to be able to make a clear distinction between Mānuka honey and regular honey, we need to understand a little more about honey in general.

History has shown that Mānuka honey has been favored in Māori medicine for centuries.

However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that honey was discovered, by researchers, to have natural antibacterial qualities including:

  • 1. The ability to protect against damage caused by bacteria
  • 2. Assisting in triggering cellular repair responses
  • 3. Acting as an anti inflammatory which can quickly ease pain and inflammation

That being said… not all honey is created equal.

The history of Mānuka honey, in New Zealand is an interesting one!

This honey can only be produced in New Zealand, in areas densely populated by the native Mānuka bush (also known as the Leptospermum Scoparium).

It’s the wonder-honey with antibacterial properties which, once upon a time, honey producers couldn’t get rid of fast enough.

Beekeepers used to throw it away because of its perceived bitter or ‘earthy’ taste when they compared it to regular honey.

However, in the mid 1990’s Waikato University, in new Zealand, commissioned research into the native honey with the goal of characterising a previously undescribed property found inside it.

Throughout their research, some samples were seen to be both antibacterial and antimicrobial. This means that the honey was seen to possess qualities which were destructive to, or inhibited the growth of, both bacteria and microorganisms.

In their testing, they observed potentially harmful bacteria and microbes die after coming into contact with Mānuka honey.

So Mānuka honey is special… but what’s UMF Mānuka honey?

 

Dr. Peter Molan, lead researcher into the properties of Mānuka honey, made a recommendation to categorise Mānuka honey by it’s UMF - or Unique Mānuka Factor.

This was because it was found that not all Mānuka honey expressed the same efficacy when it came to breaking down harmful bacteria and microbes.

This all comes down to the different chemical markers found in Mānuka honey and the varying levels of:

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

A naturally occurring compound, found only in the Mānuka flower. Once collected by bees and deposited in the hive, it begins to convert to Methylglyoxal.

Methylglyoxal (MG)

A compound which exhibits antimicrobial properties which are different to those caused by natural hydrogen peroxide found in other honeys.

Hydromethylfurfuraldehyde

This is an indicator that honey has been heated during storage. Sometimes honey producers will heat their honey to speed up the conversion of DHA to MG (it also results in an inferior, dark or ‘burnt’ looking product*.

*All Manuka South® honey is raw honey (which means it hasn’t been heated above 40 degrees celsius).

The concentration of MG is what dictates the UMF grading of a particular batch of honey, and this compound is most likely the cause of its natural health properties.

To put the grading system into context below are four of the most common UMF grades and their uses:

As well as its superior healing properties, higher UMF Mānuka honey often fetches a higher price tag due to its rarity.

Mānuka flowers within a very small six-week window during the New Zealand summer with UMF grades 5+ to 20+ accounting for 99% of that harvest annually.

Anything above a UMF 24+, but below a 26+ accounts for 0.9% of the annual harvest.

Mānuka honey that is graded UMF 26+ and above (like our Limited Reserve range) accounts for just 0.1% of the harvest each year.

How do I know if my Mānuka honey is legitimate?

Since the global surge in Mānuka honey sales, there have been a number of copycat brands in the market which have labelled regular honey as Mānuka honey.

To combat some of this, New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) have begun regulating the export market more-heavily, and are looking to replicate this within New Zealand.

In 2016 an article published by the Daily Mail uncovered that New Zealand produces 1700 tons of Mānuka honey each year, however, as much as 10,000 tons is sold.

As a conscious consumer, it’s important to know that you are getting what you pay for. So we’ve put together a couple of simple ways to spot a fake.

1. Which Grading System is Used?

Now, this is still a rather tenuous way to spot a fake.

The Mānuka honey industry is a relatively new one. One which, until recently, has been largely unregulated.

This has seen the emergence of a number of different indicators that companies will use to grade their Mānuka honey.

It’s important to note - while some Mānuka honey which uses grading systems other than UMF is still legitimate honey - the confusion can often lie in the perceived strength and benefits of the honey.

You only need to glance at a UMF/MGO conversion chart to see the confusion which can be caused by different grading systems.

Don’t be suckered into buying something that may appear to be higher strength than it actually is!

If you’re not sure, there’s a couple of other things you can check for…

2. Does the Packaging Carry UMF Information

The Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) is the only registered association in place to regulate the cultivation, labelling and distribution of Mānuka honey.

To ensure that the Mānuka honey you are buying is genuine, there are two key things which must be clearly displayed on the label of all UMFHA members.

Label Claim - The label must claim that it is genuine Mānuka honey

Number - The label must clearly display the UMF rating

UMF Statement - All packaging must include the statement; “UMF is a quality trademark. The UMF grading system appraises natural markers found in Mānuka honey, and assures purity and quality. Please see www.umf.org.nz

UMF License Number - Registered members will all display their UMF license number clearly on their packaging - you can also search the UMF Register to check that the license matched the brand.

Pro Tip

If you’re not sure, contact the honey brand directly to seek more information on their License.

For example, our brand Manuka South®, is owned by our parent company The New Zealand Health Food Company Limited, which means we can operate under the one license. We clearly display both logos on our UMF listing, however some companies may not.

How to use Mānuka Honey

There are a number of ways that Mānuka honey can be used - and there are number of ways that honey has been used by different cultures for centuries!

Humans have eaten it, bathed in it, applied it to their wounds and have even and traded with it since history was recorded.

Honey was so valuable in Egypt at the time that it was used as currency. Marriage vows included a husband’s promise to provide his new wife with honey.

More recently, In 2007 Mānuka honey received FDA approval as a medical grade option for wound dressings and treatment.

Here’s some of our top picks for using Mānuka honey

Use it for Skin Care

Many people believe that the Non-Peroxide Activity in Mānuka honey makes is the perfect companion in your skincare routine.

Adding natural products, like honey, to your daily or weekly routine is a great way to cut unnecessary chemicals from your life!

Check out this list of amazing recipes for DIY Mānuka honey face masks by Tracey Black from Don’t Mess with Mama. These are so simple to make, and you'll probably already have most of these ingredients in your cupboard!

Take it Straight from the Jar!

If you’re anything like our expert honey-taster, Grace, you’ll know that the only real way to enjoy your Mānuka honey is to take it straight from the jar!

Pro Tip

Protect the flavour of your honey by using a wooden spoon or honey dipper.

Honey generally has an acidic pH (though a few are alkaline). Acids react with most metals (gold is an exception). One of the side effects of using a metal spoon is that it changes the flavor of the honey by taking up metallic ions.

Our Limited Reserve UMF 28+ Honey even comes with a hand crafted gold spoon for this very reason!