Manuka honey has been hailed as one of nature’s most treasured secrets in recent times. Labeled as a superfood for its many medicinal and cosmetic properties, it’s health benefits have been thoroughly investigated and proven by scientific research.
However, many questions still arise when considering this relatively new ingredient in the global pharma and food supplement market. What is manuka honey? What are it’s main benefits? How can companies ensure they access the highest-quality raw manuka honey? And how to pick among the main manuka honey suppliers?
From our experience as natural ingredient suppliers, at Honey Green+ we share the main keys to understand this popular monofloral honey. Keep reading to find out in this comprehensive manuka honey guide.
What is manuka honey?
It is a honey variety produced by bees using the nectar from the manuka tree flowers (Leptospermum scoparium).
A monofloral honey variety, in order to be considered as raw manuka honey officially, at least 70% of the nectar used by bees must have originated from these flowers.
Proven by extensive scientific research, this honey stands out as one of the most remarkable honey varieties in terms of health benefits. This is mainly due to its high content in methylglyoxal, a powerful compound that boosts this honey’s antiseptic properties and which we look at more extensively later in this guide.
As a testament to this honey’s outstanding properties, the market for manuka honey is growing incessantly in recent times: just in 2021, 27 new manuka honey products were launched in Europe belonging to categories such as food, vitamins, animal food and drinks. Of particular importance is the expanding food supplement sector, which has shown increasing interest in this honey variety.
As this growth has also raised questions about the quality of manuka honey, a number of certifications have appeared that aim at verifying their authenticity. Among these, the UMF (“Unique Manuka Factor”) is especially preeminent. Created by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) in New Zealand, its goal is to supervise the quality of this registered trademark.
This organization has also made an effort to officially describe what is manuka honey. According to this criteria, all honey labeled as manuka honey for export must be tested by an MPI-recognised laboratory in order to guarantee it accommodates this ingredient’s official definition. As such, it must present a combination of 5 specific attributes: 4 chemicals from nectar (Leptosperin, MGO, DHA, and HMF) and 1 DNA marker from manuka pollen.
Again, we explain more on this and the rest of the official manuka honey certifications below in this guide.
Origin & history
The manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is an endemic plant native to Australia and New Zealand. A hardy and short-sized shrub with dense foliage, it’s very resistant to droughts and fires and thus perfectly adapted to its native climate.
Its elongated leaves and stellate flowers have long been used by aboriginal cultures such as the Māori, who had a special link to this plant to the point where they called it taonga or ‘treasure’ in their language.
Their traditional medicine already acknowledged this plant’s health benefits: the leaves were used to reduce fevers and treat digestive or urinary issues; its gum helped generating moisturizing for burns and treat coughing; the bark was employed as a mouthwash, a sedative and to treat fever and digestive issues.
The history of the manuka plant took a turn with the arrival of European colonizers to Australia and New Zealand. While naturist Johann Forster first described Leptospermums in 1776, 1822 can be marked as the year when European honey bees first arrived on the continent and thus the production of this honey began.
Regarding how manuka honey is produced, the process follows the flowering period of the plant and the hot season: the North harvest begins in September while the South takes place in January and February, with the exception of areas at a high altitude, while the average production rate per beehive is 30 kg per harvest.
All these attributes, combined with the outstanding manuka honey properties make this honey variety a rare natural treasure.
What is so special about this honey?
The history of this honey continued in the 1980s, when groundbreaking research by professor Peter Molan identified this ingredient’s health benefits and its powerful antimicrobial properties.
Further research was able to precisely detect what it is that makes manuka honey so special: its high content in methylglyoxal (MGO).
Among early connoisseurs of this honeys, the question of what is mgo in manuka honey is often raised. This compound is created by the conversion of this honey’s dihydroxyacetone (DHA), another compound that can be found in this plant’s flowers. As time passes and the honey ripens, MGO content and strength increase.
MGO is directly linked to this honey’s strong antibacterial effect. Other honey varieties contain hydrogen peroxide, which is neutralized by enzymes present in the human’s intestinal tract. MGO, on the contrary, is not, making it an effective ingredient for eliminating harmful bacteria while also taking care of essential, beneficial bacteria for digestive purposes.
Generally speaking, the higher the MGO content, the higher the product’s antibacterial activity.
When considering what makes it different from normal honey, it’s also important to take into account its unique organoleptic notes: it typically presents a thick, creamy texture, a dark brown color and a strong, slightly bitter taste.
Health benefits Manuka Honey
This honey has great health benefits, as scientific research has shown. Here are the main properties of manuka honey:
As mentioned above, this honey variety’s high content in MGO has been shown to fight bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, famously known for resisting antibiotics (Blair et al. 2009).
While all honey varieties present natural antibiotic activity, this finding has turned manuka honey into a great ingredient choice for treating infections, both minor and chronic wounds (RA Cooper, 2011).
Improves digestion and boosts the immune system
It has a positive impact in relieving the symptoms of gastric ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. It’s high content in oligosaccharides means it’s also a powerful prebiotic, increasing production of beneficial bacteria.
Reduces acne and skin inflammations
Research points towards the use of this honey to treat skin conditions such as seborrhoeic dermatitis. It’s also been linked to eliminating skin bacteria and decreasing inflammation, thus helping in speeding up the healing process for acne.
Calms sore throats
This is a result of this honey antibacterial properties pairing up with other honey varieties’ capacities for healing sore throats. For instance, Streptococcus mutans, a common bacteria in throat issues, can be minimized using manuka honey.
Promote Oral Health
It attacks and inhibits the growth of harmful oral bacteria such as P. gingivalis and A. actinomycetemcomitans.
Improves wound healing
This honey has a positive impact in wound healing processes and burn treatments, as it augments tissue regeneration.
Quality grading systems for this honey
The Unique Manuka Factor was established by manuka honey producers in New Zealand in 1998 to set quality standards, a definition of what is manuka honey and provide verifications for this natural ingredient’s quality. It’s considered as the strictest standard for this honey. The UMF rating reflects the concentration of MGO.
Manuka Honey that complies with this certification:
- Presents the four unique chemical markers of this honey variety (Leptosperin, MGO, DHA, and HMF). Following this criteria, UMF ratings are established: typically, rates between 10 and 15 indicate good levels of these chemical markers. A UMF +16 indicates superior levels.
- Has been tested independently
- Presents no adulteration once it has reached the stores
Some manuka honey manufacturers prefer to indicate the levels of the chemical component MGO to consumers: ratings can range from 30 mg/kg to 829, while 400 mg/kg are considered as superior levels. The strong antibacterial activity of this honey is due to the presence of the antibacterial substance methylglyoxal. MGO is obtained through a natural chemical reaction from dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is unique to manuka nectar.
This is a grating system invented and used by the Wedderspoon company. This certification looks at verifying the honey’s origin (New Zealand) and its traceability, as well as its unpasteurized nature, non-GMO verified, and free of other harmful chemicals. KFactor 12 describes multifloral manuka honey and KFactor 16 refers to monofloral varieties.
This standard only measures the levels of two of manuka hone’s unique chemical compounds (MGO and DHA). These levels must be higher than 100mg/kg in order to be verified as manuka honey.
NPA, Non Peroxide Activity
It is responsible of the Manuka honey special antiseptic properties.
What grade of this honey is best?
MGO and UMF are the best and most widely used grading systems to represent the medicinal quality of this honey.
UMF grades start at 5+ and go up to 25+ and MGO grades start at 30 and go up to 1197.
This is typically organized in levels such as UMF5, UMF10, UMF15, UMF20 or UMF25. These all refer to different qualities in manuka honey and, consequently, different price ranges.
To be considered potent enough to be therapeutic, this honey needs a minimum rating of 10 UMF.
In order to choose the best raw manuka honey for your project, it’s worthwhile to consider the following “unwritten rules” or criteria:
Rules for choosing honey grade
The rule of thumb for choosing the best manuka honey is first knowing what the intended use of this natural ingredient will be. From this perspective:
- MGO levels on the lower end act as great healthy natural sweeteners
- Higher MGO levels are intended for strong antibacterial products in wound healing formulas, treatments for acne and so on. Manuka honey with UMF 10+ and higher has been proven to present higher antibacterial effects, while UMF 20+ ingredients are effective against drug-resistant strains of bacteria.
How do I know I am buying quality manuka honey?
The certifications mentioned above all speak of companies’ needs to guarantee they’re accessing high-quality, strong, undiluted raw manuka honey from their suppliers.
When considering a supplier, it’s important to ask the following questions:
- Are its MGO levels certified in any way?
- Is it UMF-certified? This presents an internationally-recognized standard for authentic and contains this variety’s 4 key unique chemical compounds.
- What is its UMF rating? The higher the rating, the stronger antibacterial activity
- Is its New Zealand or Australian origin certified?
- Is its origin transparent and traceable?
- Is it sustainably sourced? GMO-free? Unpasteurised? All these are indicators of honey’s top quality
- Are intermediaries able to correctly store and handle this delicate honey variety?
- Do suppliers present specific quality management systems and other quality standards?
- Is the honey multifloral or monofloral? Monofloral manuka honey is considered to contain 70% of nectar from manuka flowers.
Learn more: What are the purchasing criteria for manuka honey?
In which sectors is it used?
Food supplement industry
The food supplement sector has been quick to harness this ingredient’s outstanding benefits in formulas such as:
- Functional food
- Throat spray
- Sweet & Spreads
Pharma and cosmetics
The pharma and cosmetic applications of manuka honey also focus on this honey’s natural healing potential, especially in the treatment of wounds and tissue regeneration. This also responds to a growing consumer interest in plant-based, natural remedies.
Current popular formulas incorporating this honey in this area include:
- Face masks
- Medicinal creams
- Nasal sprays
This honey has also revealed a powerful potential as perfect natural sweetener in the food sector, where it has been included in:
Discover more: Medicated confectionery: why you should consider Manuka Honey
Buy Manuka Honey wholesale in Honey Green+
Considering the remarkable benefits of this honey, many pharma, food supplement, cosmetic and retail companies are in a race to find reliable suppliers in order to buy this honey in bulk.
As mentioned above, the soundness and trustworthiness of this honey distributors can play a huge role in obtaining a top-quality honey. This is why the choice of where companies can make a honey bulk purchase is of utmost importance.
At Honey Green+ we work to provide convetional and organic Manuka Honey from New Zealand in different formats and MGO grades, analyzed by accredited laboratories.
Our laboratories analyze the MGO and DHA parameters and the following attributes to separate manuka honey from other honey types and and identify it as either monofloral or multifloral manuka honey:
Download our catalogue with the criteria you must follow to identify monofloral and multifloral honey
The test for monofloral or multifloral manuka honey requires all of the five attributes mentioned above. If the honey fails to meet one or more of the attributes it means that it is not monofloral or multifloral manuka honey.
Learn more about our premium-quality manuka honey or get in touch with us to discover how we can help you have access to this high-quality natural product and align with current consumer interest for this superfood honey variety.