Before I dive into this post, consider these fun Manuka honey facts. Maybe they will entice you to read the entire post and learn how to distinguish real Manuka and not waste your money.
According to recent statistics:
1,700 tons of Manuka honey are harvested every year in New Zealand.
United Kingdom alone consumes around 1,800 tons of Manuka honey annually.
Globally, the consumption of Manuka honey exceeds 10,000 tons.
Here is why the math does not make sense:
In 2011, the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) tested 28 Manuka honey brands for their unique non-peroxide activity. 15 of them failed the test. Meaning, they were not Manuka honeys.
In 2012, the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association tested 73 brands across the globe. 41 of them failed the test.
What is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey is derived from the New Zealand native Manuka tree (Lepto-spermum scoparium). Much like any other honey, it is produced by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush in early spring.
The healing attributes of the Manuka tree have been known for thousands of years to New Zealand’s native indigenous cultures. The Maori people have often used the plant’s leafs to mix medicinal drinks capable of reducing fever and pneumonia-like symptoms. As a matter of fact, Manuka is a Maori-given name.
It was not until mid-twentieth century, that research begun to show the unique anti-bacterial faculties of Manuka honey. During the Second World War, the so called medihoney was clinically tested and proven to be helpful with faster healing of wounds and various skin conditions.
Since then, there have been numeral laboratory studies linking the use honey to a strong immune system and the improvement of digestive diseases.
What Makes Manuka Honey Different?
All honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, which instills them with anti-bacterial properties. Such anti-bacterial activity; however, can quickly be destroyed by heat and light, so it cannot be fully relied for medical use.
Professor Peter Molan and his team from the University of Waikato have dedicated their careers on studying the antibiotic activity of honey. One of their latest studies determined that Manuka honey has a unique anti-bacterial activity, such that does not exist in any other type of honey.
See, adding catalase (an enzyme) to honey will remove the hydrogen peroxide and neutralize the anti-bacterial attributes of the honey. However, when Dr. Molan’s team added catalase to sample of Manuka honey, they discovered that the samples still had a significant anti-bacterial activity.
What is MGO?
The main anti-bacterial component discovered in Manuka honey is methylglyoxal (MG or MGO). While MGO is not unique to Manuka products, its quantity found in other honeys is very minimum at best, and absent in most table honeys available in your local grocery store. Some research claims that the concentration of MGO in Manuka honey can be up to 1000 times higher compared to some regular honeys.
Measuring the content of MGO is tricky, because it is prone to change. Depending on the time and location, its content ranges from 0 mg/kg up to 1000 mg/kg. In order to be considered anti-bacterial, the minimum rating of MGO needs to be 100+. This would signify that there is 100mg of methylglyoxal per 1kg of honey.
In Manuka honey, MGO originates from a complex compound known as dihydroxyacetone (DHA). In time, DHA turns into MGO, even if the honey is already stored in jars. In some instances, the MGO in Manuka honey has tripled after 4 months of storage.
So, because MGO’s chemical properties change all the time, it cannot be qualified as a reliable measurement for the antibacterial properties of Manuka.
In this sense, further research has indicated that MGO is only partially responsible for the non-peroxide activity (NPA) of New Zealand’s Manuka honey. However, series of tests determined that higher concentration of MGO, does reflect a stronger antibiotic effect. Of course, the higher the healing properties, the higher the price.
NOTE: Even though methylglyoxal has an essential role to the anti-bacterial properties of Manuka honey, it is not the only component.
When MGO is present on the honey jar, followed by a number (100, 250, 450, etc…) it simply means that a certain level of methylglyoxal has been measured. Remember these three things:
- MGO is not the only component that determines the anti-bacterial strength of Manuka honey.
- The MGO trademark is not regulated by any governing bodies.
- Regardless of the MGO number on the jar, it will still not tell you how strong the antibiotic composition of the honey is.
- NPA, followed by a number, is not a direct measure of the level of anti-bacterial activity in Manuka honey.
A (Active) TA (Total Activity) or BioActive
A, TA and BioActive are used by some brands to measure the hydrogen peroxide activity (HPA) of honey. The problem with this type of measurement is that such activity exists not only in Manuka, but in all types of honeys (Sage, Tupelo, Sourwood, etc…). In addition, this level of activity is unstable and tends to decrease with time. Especially, when it is exposed to heat and light.
Unique Manuka Factor
Unlike misleadingly popular belief, MGO grading is not an accurate indicator of powerful Manuka honey. In this line of thought, the words “Active”, “Total Activity” and “BioActive” followed by a number grade (10+, 16+, etc…) are also no reliable indicators. Instead, they merely suggests that some sort of hydrogen peroxide exists in the honey.
Unique Manuka Factor, widely known as UMF, is by far the only guaranteed way to know the full power of the Manuka honey contained in your jar.
UMF is now considered the only global standard for measuring the actual medicinal strength of Manuka based products. Its original intent was to determine the full NPA rating of Manuka honey (including MGO and other properties). Now, UMF has grown into a grading system that rates and moderates Manuka products based on their NPA properties.
As the only global authoritative grading system, there is a strict enforcement regarding who can use the three letter trademark. This strict moderation has led to the establishment of UMFHA (Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association), an organization responsible for the accreditation of legitimate and genuine Manuka honey producers.
The UMFHA is responsible for the auditing and regulation of the UMF rating system in New Zealand. The organization ensures that every jar of Manuka honey has a batch number and can be tracked back to the lab that tested the batch for UMF potency.
This batch number should always be present on your jar of honey, together with a date of manufacturing, best before date and a numerical UMF rating.
Currently there are over 70 qualified beekeepers across New Zealand who produce and export Manuka products globally. Each of those producers has their own license number which gives them the legal right to utilize the UMF grading trademark on their honey jars.
Every UMF certified jar comes with a numerical rating attached to it. This number represents the percentage of phenol in water. For example, UMF 15+ signifies a NPA activity equal or greater than a 15% solution (%w/v) of phenol/water.
The most common UMF ratings are UMF 5+, UMF 10+, UMF 15+, and UMF 20+. The higher the rating, the higher the medicinal use of the honey.
The plus (+) means that the bare minimum UMF present in the honey either equals or excels the represented number. For example, UMF 20+ signifies a rating of 20 or more.
For therapeutic value, the UMF numbers range from 10 to 25. The higher the rating, the more medicinal use the honey has.
UMF 5+ – Excellent nutritional supplement, regardless of its rather low anti-bacterial properties.
UMF 10+ – Great for boosting the immune system and maintaining good health.
UMF 15+ – High anti-bacterial profile. Can be used for digestive system diseases and even treating wounds.
UMF 20+ – Very high anti-bacterial properties. This is where the name Medihoney comes from.
How to Choose Real Manuka Honey?
If you are after Manuka for its medicinal and anti-bacterial qualities, then you want to look for UMF certified honey. Check the label for the following:
- UMF trademark with a numerical value ranging from 5+ to 24+.
- Producer’s UMFHA license number – you can verify it here.
- Batch number, manufactured date and expiration date.
- Jar should be packed and labelled in New Zealand.
Here is the most comprehensive and up to date list of UMFHA certified Manuka honey brands, as of September 2016, and their license numbers. If you are still not sure which brand is for you, check out our manuka honey reviews.
100% Pure New Zealand Honey Limited (Licence # 1037)
Alpine Silk (Licence # 2045)
ApiHealth NZ Ltd (Licence # 1052)
Arataki Honey Limited (Hawkes Bay) (Licence # 1004)
Arataki Honey Limited (Rotorua) (Licence # 1003)
Aulando NZ Ltd (Licence # 2033)
Bee Nation (Licence # 2105)
BeeNZ Ltd (Licence # 2188)
BeePower International Pty Ltd (Licence # 2214)
Bees Inn Apiaries (Licence # 1040)
Beesonline Limited (Licence # 1026)
Cambridge Bee Products Limited (Licence # 1027) = (dist & sold by ‘GOLDENHILLS MANUKA HONEY. We check to see if Trader Joe’s is a fraud or not)
Cammell’s Honey Limited (Licence # 1033)
Carina Brands International (NZ) (Licence # 1099)
Comvita New Zealand Limited (Licence # 1019)
Deep Blue Health (Licence # 2058)
GO Healthy New Zealand Ltd (Licence # 2020)
Golden Flow Apiaries Limited (Licence # 1038)
Good Health Products (Licence # 2208)
Haines Apiaries 2007 Limited (Licence # 1015)
Happy Valley Honey Ltd (Licence # 2024)
Honey and Herbs NZ Ltd (Licence # 2210)
Honey Droplet (Licence # 2029)
Honey Farm Pte Ltd (Licence # 2099)
Honey Forrest NZ Ltd (Licence # 1088)
Honey New Zealand (International) Ltd (Licence # 1043)
Icing International Ltd (Licence # 2041)
Iuvenum & Forma Ltd (Licence # 2017)
Kare Ltd (Licence # 2202)
Katikati Honey & Bee Centre Limited (Licence # 1025)
King Honey Health Products Ltd (Licence # 2037)
Kiva Health Food (Licence # 2240)
KiwiCorp Products Ltd (Licence # 2199)
Kiwi Farm (Licence # 1094)
Kiwigold Ltd (Licence # 1035)
Koha Natural Foods Ltd (Licence # 2206)
Lake View Honey Ltd (Licence # 2218)
Ling Hai Group Ltd (Licence # 2226)
LS Health Ltd (Licence # 2034)
Luvenum & Forma Ltd (Licence # 2017)
M5 Holdings trading as Whakaari International (Licence # 1042)
Manuka Bioactives Ltd (Licence # 2031)
Manukora (Licence #2228)
Melita Ltd (Licence # 2050)
Melora Limited (Licence # 2015)
Midlands Apiaries Ltd (Licence # 2888) = (dist & sold by Kiva Health Food)
Mitosis (Licence # 2242)
Mizland (Licence # 2039)
Mossops Honey New Zealand (Licence # 1021)
Natural Solutions Limited (Licence # 1024)
Nature’s Secret Ltd (Licence # 2216)
New Zealand Health foods Ltd (Licence # 1053)
New Zealand Honey Ltd (Licence # 1051)
New Zealand Honey Specialties Ltd (Licence # 2060)
New Zealand Manuka Ltd (Licence # 1060) = Melora™
New Zealand Natural Care Products Ltd (Licence # 2027)
North Valley Natural Health NZ Ltd (Licence # 2043)
Numerou New Zealand Company Ltd (Licence # 1096)
NZ Bees Ltd (Licence # 2212)
NZ Focus NZ Ltd (Licence # 1094)
NZ Health Naturally Ltd (Licence # 1045)
Oceania Food Company Ltd (Licence # 1091)
Oravida NZ Ltd (Licence # 2052)
PA & SC Steens Ltd (Licence # 2204)
Prolife Foods Ltd (Mother Earth) (Licence # 1027)
Pure Manuka Honey (Three Peaks) (Licence # 2112 )
Pure New Zealand International Ltd (Licence # 1069)
Red Seal Natural Health Ltd (Licence # 1055)
Savage Horticulture Ltd (Licence # 1075) = (dist & Wild Cape Honey)
Streamland Biological Technology Ltd (Licence # 2010)
SummerGlow Apiaries Limited (Licence # 1001)
Superbee Honey Factory (Licence # 2220)
Swift Health Food (Singapore) Pte Ltd (Licence # 1188)
S&N International Pte Ltd (Licence # 2088)
Tahi Estate Ltd (Licence # 2035) → Tahi Manuka Honey
Tai Tokerau Honey Ltd (Licence # 2110)
Taku Honey (Licence # 1098)
Taylor Pass Honey Co. (Licence # 2107)
The Honey Collection Limited (Licence # 1032)
Unibale NZ Ltd (Licence # 2150)
Vitaco Health NZ Ltd (Licence # 1072)
Vitamore Ltd (Licence # 2056)
Waitemata Honey Co Limited (Licence # 1014)
Wilderness Valley Ltd (Licence # 2232)
Yobees Honey Ltd (Licence # 2230)