How To Choose The Best Manuka Honey

Tao Newsletter

Manuka Honey - The Difference Matters

What is Manuka honey?

Manuka honey has been known to New Zealand's indigenous cultures for thousands of years and is known as the “healing honey”.  The Maori people used the leaves of the Manuka plant for a medicinal drink to reduce fever-like symptoms, while the oil from the crushed leaves was applied to wounds as a natural antiseptic. In the late 19th century, researchers discovered that honey has natural antibacterial qualities. While Manuka honey has long been enjoyed by honey lovers, laboratory research has shown that active Manuka honey has a unique and remarkable level of antibacterial activity, which has been clinically tested to be helpful on wounds, skin conditions, immunity, vitality, and stomach ulcers.

Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the native manuka bush (also known as the tea tree).  This is the same bush that supplies tea tree oil, a strong anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal essential oil. Honey produced from this bush retains some of the same protective properties. Known scientifically as Leptospermum scoparium, Manuka is the honey's Maori-given name.

What are the benefits of using Manuka honey?

Manuka honey contains antibacterial properties and in a study conducted by the University of Sydney killed nearly every type of bacteria to which it was exposed. In 2004 Britain's National Health Service (NHS) licensed the use of medical grade manuka honey as a wound dressing.

Honey protects against damage caused by bacteria. Some honey also stimulates production of special cells that can repair tissue damaged by infection. In addition, honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly reduce pain and inflammation once it is applied. Not all honey is the same, however, and some kinds of honey may be 100 times more potent than others. The antibacterial quality of honey depends on the type of honey as well as when and how it's harvested.

Hydrogen peroxide occurs naturally in honey and gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, also have other components with anti-bacterial qualities. The major anti-bacterial component in manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MGO). MGO is a compound found in most types of honey, but usually only in small quantities. In manuka honey, MGO comes from the conversion of another compound -- dihydroxyacetone -- that is found in high concentration in the nectar of manuka flowers. MGO is thought to give manuka honey its anti-bacterial power and the higher the concentration of MGO, the stronger the antibiotic effect.

The main medical use for manuka honey is for treating minor wounds and burns. Manuka honey is also marketed for use for many other conditions. These include:

  • Lessening the severity of upper respiratory illnesses
  • Calming coughs and soothing sore throat
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
  • Reducing systemic inflammation
  • Clearing acne and moisturizes the skin when applied topically
  • Accelerating the healing of minor cuts and burns and preventing scarring
  • Soothing gastrointestinal problems

Clinical studies continue to determine the effectiveness of using  manuka honey for these conditions.

Manuka honey is costly; how do I know I am getting a high-active, quality product?

 Manuka is an expensive product, mainly because it is a mono-floral honey (made by bees that interact with just one species of flower), derived from blooms which flower for just 2-6 weeks a year. Thankfully, there are strict industry standards in place so that the Active Rate listed on the label is exactly what you are getting.

Honey producers have developed a scale for rating the potency of manuka honey. The rating is called UMF, which stands for Unique Manuka Factor.  UMF is a registered trademark.  Honey producers who are members of the Active Manuka Honey Association of New Zealand have their Manuka Honey tested in independent laboratories and are then allowed to display the UMF trademark on their jars of Active Manuka Honey.  If the jar doesn’t carry the UMF trademark, it hasn’t been independently tested under the Active Manuka Honey Association guidelines. Along with the UMF will come a number.  The UMF rating corresponds with the concentration of MG. This number specifies the UMF level of anti-bacterial activity in that particular honey when it was packed (in properly stored Manuka Honey the UMF will increase slightly over time).  Many brands of Manuka Honey carry a number but not the UMF trademark.  This means that the producer is not regulated by the Active Manuka Honey Association of New Zealand.

Manuka Honey with a UMF of less than 10 has a low level of activity- the ideal potency is between 10 and 18 UMF. Not all honey labeled as manuka honey contains significant levels of MG. To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, manuka honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF. Honey at or above that level is marketed as "UMF Manuka Honey" or "Active Manuka Honey”.

What does “Active” mean?

“Active” means is that the honey in question has some sort of peroxide activity, however,  all honey in the world is “active” in some way or another and when tested will give a reading. This is because all honeys have some sort of “peroxide” activity. Two important facts need to be kept in mind: Using the word “active” on a jar of honey doesn’t necessarily mean that the honey is anti-bacterial, and There are no regulations in place to control putting “Active” on jars of Manuka honey.

There is no regulation regarding the term “Active”.  You pay good money for a jar of “Manuka honey Active 16+” and you actually just get a jar that has some Manuka honey while being mixed with other multi-floral honeys (similar to what you could find at the supermarket).

What does the “MGO” on the label mean?

MGO stands for a substance called Methylglyoxal. It is an organic substance found in Manuka honey that has one part to play in Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties. While MGO plays an important part in Manuka honey’s antibacterial properties, it isn’t the only component that makes Manuka honey such a powerful natural antibacterial.

When you see MGO on the jar it means that the level of MGO  has been measured and a number has been put on the jar. It is important to remember two things: MGO is only one part of the antibacterial nature of Manuka honey, and the trademark MGO has no laws and/or governing bodies managing the claims of the ratings on the label.

Since the MGO component of Manuka honey does not make up the full antibacterial power of Manuka honey , even if the MGO number was correct on the label, it still wouldn’t actually tell you how powerful the anti-bacterial composition of the Manuka honey is.

UMF - The most important information on the label.

There is a way to know what the full power of the Manuka honey is and there are regulations and a governing body to guarantee its claims. UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor.” It tells you what the full non-peroxide antibacterial rating of the Manuka honey is. Since Manuka honey’s antibacterial nature comes from many factors, the UMF rating takes them all into account (including the MGO factor) and gives you a final rating. The most common UMF ratings are UMF 5+, UMF 10+, UMF 15+, and UMF 20+. The “+” after the number just means that it could be more than the number given, but that it won’t be less. For example, a jar of UMF 15+ has a UMF factor of at least 15, but could be higher.

In 1981 a professor at Waikato University in New Zealand, Dr Peter Molan, identified that honey from some strains of the New Zealand Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium) contain extraordinary, very stable and powerful non-peroxide antibacterial properties. They are naturally present and not found in any other variety of honey. He then coined the term “Unique Manuka Factor” to describe these properties.

The UMF rating is audited and regulated by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) in New Zealand. Manuka honey that carries the UMF rating is tracked from the Apiaries (the Bee Keeper’s yard) through to the packaging factory. Every jar can be traced back to the individual Apiary and to the lab that tested its batch for the UMF potency. Each jar of UMF Manuka honey will have what you see to the right; a date of manufacturing, a best before date, and a batch number (which is used for tracking as described above).

The UMF standard is a global and authoritative standard. Its supply chain is independently audited and verified. No one can use the UMF label anywhere in the world unless they adhere to the stringent UMF auditing process required to ensure the ratings and labels are accurate.

Warnings:       

Do not use if you are allergic to bees or bee products.

Honey in general is not suitable for babies under 12 months of age because it is a known source of the bacteria spores that cause botulism

Wounds and infections should be seen and treated by a healthcare professional. The honey used to treat wounds is a medical-grade honey which is specially sterilized and prepared as a dressing.

 Daily consumption of Manuka honey is not recommended for those who are diabetic or prediabetic due to its high level of methylglyoxal and glucose which could induce complications of diabetes.


  Raw Manuka Honey  
  Raw Manuka Honey by Y.S. Organic Bee Farms, Hi-Active 15+, 12 oz.  
  Manuka Honey  
  Manuka Honey by Manuka Health, MGO 400+, 8.75 oz.  
  Manuka Honey  
  Manuka Honey by ManukaGuard, Certified Medical Grade, 8.8 oz