World of Honey

Manuka Honey

Introduction to Manuka Honey

If you have ever looked for honey on the internet, you cannot fail to have noticed that some of the wildest claims and some of the most gigantic hype surround Manuka honey, from New Zealand.  This is a pity, because this one type of honey has unique characteristics that should be enough to make it fly off the shelves without all of this over-selling.

Manuka flower. Photo by cliff1066, flikr.com.

Manuka flower. Photo by cliff1066, flikr.com.

This honey is made only in New Zealand in by bees that feed on the manuka bush, also known as the New Zealand tea tree (official name: Leptospermum scoparium), which grows on the east coast of both islands.  It has flowers ranging from white to pink, and prickly leaves.  The Maoris have been using all parts of this plant for centuries to make teas, dressings, skin treatments and poultices – and they are also long-time users of its honey.

Manuka honey is usually a dark amber color, and has a distinctive oaky flavour with undertones of caramel, richer than many honeys but at the same time, not overly sweet.

Honey with similar properties is made in Australia by bees that feed on the “jellybush” (Leptospermum polygalifolium).  It is these plants that give this honey a unique property – as well as the antibacterial agents found in other honeys, Manuka honey (and Jellybush honey) also has a second type of antibacterial agent – and one that is very special because it is not destroyed by the human enzymes, heat or light.  This means that these honeys are even more potent when it comes to fighting infection.

Because of Manuka honey’s special properties, there is a terrific demand for it, and it is more expensive than most other types of honey.  This probably explains why there are so many web sites out there saying whatever they can so they can ship as much of this lucrative product as they can.  The website you are reading is just not like that.  I want you to read the information on this page and come to your own conclusions about Manuka honey before you even think about buying it.  After all, it’s not cheap.  As you will know if you are a regular reader of my articles, I always try to back up any claims with evidence from the scientific community – and this article is no different.

So, without delay let’s pick our way through all the dross out there and get to the evidence:

Manuka – The Evidence

A whole lot of clinical trials have been carried out using all kinds of honey in recent years, and the health benefits of honey look to be undeniable.  But this section is all about the evidence we have on Manuka honey in particular.

Before you buy Manuka honey, I need to tell you some really important things that you’ve just got to know before you part with your cash, so listen up!

First of all, most of the research into Manuka honey has been carried out by one body – the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.  Now normally this would set the alarm bells ringing in my mind.

Second, in December 2006, the  University of Waikato’s commercial arm, WaikatoLink, signed a multi-million dollar agreement with healthcare products company Comvita, the major producer of Manuka honey, to commercialize some of the university’s intellectual property rights in this field.

So does this mean that we cannot rely on the findings of the University of Waikato?  Well, sometimes in life, things just ain’t what they seem!  The fact is, Professor Molan, the lead researcher at the University’s Honey Research Unit has for many years enjoyed an unrivalled international reputation for his extensive work at the University, and it is no exaggeration at all to say that he pretty much the world-leader in the field of Manuka honey research.  His reputation for outstanding research was well established way before the university decided, as so many do, to get a commercial return on some of its intellectual property.  So I can’t see any reason to discredit the man and his work.

There have also been some independent trials into Manuka honey by bodies that have nothing to do with the University of Waikato.  Here’s a quick example – in 2008, a study on 105 patients by Val Robson and others at the Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool, England found that the average healing time for wounds was 100 days using Medihoney™ Manuka honey dressings compared to 140 days using conventional dressings.  OK, so that one’s not earth-shattering, but at least it’s an independent trial.

The bottom line on medical evidence is this: yes, Manuka honey has been shown to have unique healing properties by extensive research.  Yes, most of that research is linked to one department of one university – and yes, this department and its staff have an undisputed world-class academic reputation in this field spanning 20 years.

So that’s a quick summary of the un-hyped facts – hope you have enough information to make your own mind up about the medical benefits of this product.

Manuka Honey Quality Standards

One big problem was how to rate the honey so that consumers know what they are buying.  Not every honey has the components that promote healing.  Even amongst Manuka honeys, only a small proportion has the magic healing ingredients.  As demand grew, the sharks smelled blood, and soon people were being sold poor quality honey at high prices, at the expense of reputable producers.

This led to the formation of the Active Manuka Honey Association (AMHA), which was set up with some encouragement from the New Zealand government to ensure that honey was properly labeled depending on the level of its antibacterial power. 

Please take a look at the next section for some tips on what to look out for when buying honey:

How to Buy Manuka Honey

Like other honeys, a lot of what can be legally described as Manuka Honey has NONE of the medical benefits that you will be looking for.  At one time, any honey sold as “Active Manuka Honey” could be relied on to contain the special antibacterial component.  Now though, even that label cannot be relied upon thanks to the sharks who will do anything for a quick buck.

Oh, and “natural” means nothing in legal terms because all honey is a natural product.  Also, neither the labels “raw” or “organic” guarantee that Manuka will have the special healing power.  No disrespect to the organic movement at all, it’s just that some organic Manuka has the antibacterial powers, and some does not (but they’ll probably both taste good!).

So what do you do to make sure you really are buying honey with those special properties? 

The Active Manuka Honey Association has devised this checklist to identify genuine UMF® Manuka Honey:

Genuine UMF® Manuka Honey complies with all five of the following criteria:
1. It has the name UMF® clearly stated on the front label.
2. It is packed into jars and labelled in New Zealand.
3. It is from a New Zealand company licensed to use the name UMF®.
4. It has the UMF® licensee’s name on the front label.
5. It has a rating of UMF10 or more.
The Association has a list of licensed producers on its website, so you can look up the producer of the honey you are thinking of buying.
As for MGO™ honey, this is produced by Active Health New Zealand and labelled with the MGO™ mark.

Please note that you will find lots of other trademarks on honey jars that look similar to MGO™ or UMF®.  PLEASE NOTE that honey marked with any other combinations of initials that are not MGO™ or UMF® are likely to be made with inferior (and cheaper) honey masquerading as the genuine article.

So, just remember when you buy honey to look for the symbols and buy from a reputable supplier.  The genuine article is a valuable commodity, so if you find something that’s cheaper than you think it ought to be, it may be a fake!

To summarise what I have said here, there is a lot of published evidence that suggests honey has beneficial properties, and some evidence that Manuka honey has additional unique benefits.  But you need to make sure that the Manuka you buy has the special properties, and as of today, the best way to do this is to look for a UMF® rating of 10 or more, or a MGO™ rating of 100 or more.  If it’s labelled like this, you’re OK provided it’s not a fake – so always buy from reputable suppliers.

Update:

Here are some links to updates kindly provided to World-of-Honey.com by the Active Manuka Honey Association. They give a lot of useful details about Manuka honey and make for very interesting reading:

AMHA Update Feb 2012
AMHA Update Dec 2011
AMHA Update Nov 2011
AMHA Update Aug 2011
AMHA Update May 2011