Guest writer Oliver Wastie sheds light on our manuka mayhem…
Honey is wonderful. We’ve mentioned it before and it’s many beneficial properties (as well as tasting simply scrumptious, of course). But manuka honey really is top of the tree when it comes to healing and health properties. However, recent studies have highlighted that we are buying more manuka honey than is actually being produced. So, how do we know what we are purchasing is the real deal?
Guest writer, Oliver Wastie has long been interested in Manuka honey and its fascinating properties. He has even set up his own website to pass on this knowledge and make manuka more accessible. Who better, then, to shed some light on this sticky situation?
If you are the one in your household who has the pleasure of swinging the shopping basket merrily down the aisle for your mid-weekly shop or are the power behind the fingers that do the clicking online, you may have found yourself lost for words when it comes to manuka honey. You know it has antibacterial properties at the very least not to mention its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties – but where do you start? How can you be sure you are buying a genuine manuka honey worthy of that sometimes eye-watering price tag?
If you are taking your first tentative steps of discovery into the world of manuka honey, one thing that will become immediately apparent is the mind-boggling array of abbreviations and adjectives used to describe it: UMF, NPA, MGO, TA, active, and bioactive, and so the list goes on. But what does it all mean?
Know your honey science
If you understand what makes manuka honey different from all other types of honey it can help you work out what the labels mean.
There is something special about manuka honey and scientists refer to its unique antibacterial effect as ‘non-peroxide activity’ (NPA) and this is what you need if you want the real-deal special honey. The second bit of science to be aware of, is that this antibacterial effect happens if manuka honey contains the distinctly scientific sounding element ‘methylglyoxal’, which is at least handily abbreviated as MGO.
Why the confusion?
The confusion lies in the fact that all honey has some level of antiseptic quality because it contains hydrogen peroxide. But if you are interested manuka honey’s famous antibacterial nature it needs to have non-peroxide activity.
Two reliable trademarks
There are two international trademarks that you can rely on to give assurance that what is in the jar is genuine manuka honey. The most well-known of these is the UMF label, or Unique Manuka Factor, which is a trademark managed by an association of 57 member companies. Manuka honey using this trademark is independently tested, verified and then graded on a scale from 5+ to a very strong 20+ (it is possible to get stronger UMF honey but these are very rare). You can find the list of approved UMF honey organisations here.
The second trademark is MGO Manuka Honey, which was pioneered around the research on methylglyoxal (MGO) in manuka honey, and the MGO level can vary from 30+ to a whopping 800+.
Wait! Not so simple
However, not all producers of genuine manuka honey are members of these two trademark schemes. Some producers of high quality honey use similar independent testing methods but use the abbreviations NPA (non-peroxide activity) or MGO (methylglyoxal) on the label.
The confusion this has caused and some recent well-publicised scandals involving labelling of manuka honey has led the New Zealand government to issue guidelines on the labelling of manuka honey. This is likely to result in many changes in how manuka honey is labelled and some producers have already changed their packaging. In practice, this means the label will state the MGO level of the honey.
If you are still confused by reading this then just remember this tip. If you are buying manuka honey specifically for its antibacterial properties then you should find the information mentioned here on the label. The jar should clearly identify a number which will refer to: non-eroxide activity, UMF level or MGO level.
We’ve also got a tub of quality 10+ manuka honey to giveaway to one lucky reader. All you have to do to win is let us know why you love honey in the comment box below. Competition closes 12th March.