The History of Manuka Honey
Mānuka & Māori: A Special Relationship.
Māori have had a long relationship with Mānuka, they call it taonga or ‘treasure’ and have found a staggering amount of uses for it; from food to medicine, and all manner of tools and artifacts. Its most significant use was as a medicinal plant. Infusions made with the leaves were used to reduce fevers and treat stomach and urinary problems. Gum produced from the tree was used as a moisturizer for burns, and to ease coughing. Decoctions from the bark were used as a sedative, a mouthwash, and to treat diarrhea and fever. The tree was essentially a pharmacy.
Fancy a cuppa?
Europeans were also quick to discover uses for this versatile plant. On Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery around New Zealand, his crew boiled the leaves of Mānuka to make tea. Cook also brewed a beer using Mānuka and Rimu leaves and found it: “exceedingly palatable and esteemed by everyone on board.” cheered James. The wood of Mānuka has been extensively used by New Zealanders as it is hard and straight-grained. It has been used to fashion a vast range of tools, implements, and structures; such as beds, houses, combs, paddles, canoes, and spears. It is also highly valued as firewood. Today, sawdust from the wood is commonly used as a flavoring agent when smoking fish and meat. Essential oils from the leaves are also used commercially and form the basis of a variety of medicinal and cosmetic products.
You can call me honey.
Currently, Mānuka is now widely known as delicious high-quality honey. It is made by bees that pollinate the Mānuka flower, which is native to New Zealand and blooms just 2-6 weeks per year. Mānuka honey can only be produced in areas abundant with native Mānuka blossoms, which is why hives are located in some of the most remote, untouched parts of the country. This remarkable honey is used for much more than being smeared on toast (though that’s good too). The honey is highly valued throughout the world for its rare and complex properties.
Check out the video below to learn more about the history of manuka honey.
The Harvesting and Production of Manuka Honey
Manuka Honey is made from the nectar of the flowering Manuka tree, which is a native New Zealand tree. The Manuka tree has a white flower, sometimes tinged with pink.
In the Taranaki region, the Manuka trees start blooming from mid-December to mid-January depending on the season. The hives are moved to the area just ahead of the start of the flowering of the Manuka trees so the bees are in place and ready to forage as the nectar becomes available.
Honeybees forage for nectar when the weather is good. Warm temperatures, with daytime highs in the 70s, and nighttime lows above the mid-50s are required for the plants to present nectar at the flower. Rain or high winds can keep the bees from getting out to forage, so weather conditions are critical during the 4-6 weeks that the Manuka is typically in flower each year.
Bees forage specifically for the nectar of the Manuka flower in order to make honey. Pollen is also collected as a food source and stored separately from the nectar. Forager bees collect the nectar and upon returning to the hive, pass it on to younger hive bees. This begins a process of moving the nectar to honeycomb cells, depositing it along with enzymes the bees produce. The incoming nectar is about 70% water, which must be evaporated down to 20% or lower in order to turn the nectar into honey. The nectar is mostly sucrose, which is broken down by the bee's enzymes into glucose and fructose.
The bees evaporate most of the moisture from the honey by rapidly beating their wings over the honey cells, aided by warm temperature (95 degrees) within the hive. As the honey is dried, the bees produce wax and cap the cell to prevent it from reabsorbing moisture, thereby protecting it from mold and preventing fermentation.
The flowering, weather forecast and the progress of the honey-making in the hive is closely monitored through the summer. When the timing is right, the process of moving the hives out of the Manuka sites and harvesting the honey begins.
The honey boxes are removed from the hives and transported to the processing facility. Grouped by harvest area, the honey is weighed, tagged, and cataloged. The boxes are stored in a "warm room" which simulates the inner hive temperature in order to keep the honey liquid for extraction. Extracting the honey from the comb involves three basic steps, piercing the wax seal on each cell, spinning at high speed to force the honey out of the cells, and then filtering the wax from the honey.
After extraction, the honey is ready to be packed into jars.
Check out the video below to learn more about the harvesting and production of manuka honey.
Quality Control and Adulteration
There are many types of adulteration present, such as adding colorants to make the honey appear a certain color, corn syrup, cane syrup, beet syrup, rice syrup, honey from flowers other than manuka, and many more.
Honey is the third most adulterated food product in the world, it would take a whole book to go through all of the issues and history of honey adulteration.
In addition, often the country of origin of the honey is mislabeled.
Check out the documentary series Rotten on Netflix, the first episode is about honey, it is a great way of understanding many of the issues surrounding honey.
We are doing this in two ways, the first of which is to have 100% of our products be traceable from the farm or harvest area to bottle.
The second way, is by working with companies we sell products from and companies we do not sell products from, through our consulting division, to help them transition from Chinese sourced raw materials to ethical suppliers in other countries.
Every month we get more and more requests for this service. We are extremely proud of the work we are doing in this area.
Every batch of Manuka honey should be tested for a variety of compounds such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, heavy metals, antibiotic residue as well as adulterants and country of origin.
Look for companies that provide the test results on each batch, along with the testing methods used to make sure they are the correct ones.
It is best to buy from companies that use third-party labs to do the testing.
Another great way to know whether a Manuka Honey is truly real is to only buy from companies that are certified by Oritain. They are a third-party testing company, that has strict standards for traceability and purity.
Check out the video below to learn about quality control and testing of manuka honey.
Soft Plastic versus Glass Jar Packaging
In order to save money on shipping and packaging costs, most manuka honey is packaged in soft plastic.
Avoid buying manuka honey and other liquid foods and beverages packaged in soft plastic containers.
Proper Labeling of Manuka Honey
Labeling of Manuka Honey products can often be one of the most confusing things about it and finding a properly labeled one can often be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Often seen on the labels of Manuka Honey products are abbreviations or terms such as MGO (Methylglyoxal), NPA, DHA UMF, MG, and others.
Some companies have even started making up their own fake certifications and measurements that have no real meaning such as "Bio Active 15+", "High Active", "Active 15+" or "K Factor 16" that is intended to make you think they certified or tested properly, but in fact, they are nothing more than words and numbers on a page created by the company.
So just because a jar says Manuka Honey and lists lots of fancy numbers or terms does not mean it is a good product. Marketing can conceal a lot of issues with a product.
So what do various real measurements and numbers mean?
There are actually only two legitimate ways to label Manuka Honey, MG/MGO, or UMF.
MG/MGO (Methylglyoxal) - Manuka honey should either be labeled with the actual MG test results (in mg/kg) or with a correlated rating on the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) scale. The UMF trademark must be on the jar if they are using a UMF rating instead of the actual MG test result.
Honey labeled with the UMF logo and rating is also tested for two additional chemical markers (HMF & Leptosperin). The relationship between MG & UMF is as follows (after threshold HMF and Leptosperin levels are met):
When you see anything else on a label of honey purporting to be Manuka honey, you should steer well clear. Examples of what continues to show up on labels include “Active”, “Bio-Active”, “Total Activity ”, “K-Factor ” plus a number typically ranging from 5+ to 20+. When labeled this way the company is trying to intentionally mislead the consumer into thinking they are getting a high MG (or legitimate UMF) honey when in reality they are typically getting a very low concentration, or low activity (i.e., low MG value) honey. The label must use the MG/MGO (or Methylglyoxal) letters on the label or it is not an actual measurement of that.
Manuka honey is the ONLY honey in the world with meaningful levels of MG. The amount of MG in a Manuka honey determines its value. If your honey has low levels (or no levels) of MG, it really shouldn't cost you more than any other table honey.
DHA (Dihydroxyacetone, different from the essential fatty acid DHA found in fish, Docosahexaenoic acid) - Some honey will also mention other scientific/compound disclosures, including DHA. While DHA is a precursor compound to MG, it cannot be correlated to the MG level and does not tell you the potency of the honey. Putting DHA on the label is just another attempt to fool you. The same can be said for disclosures about pollen count or pollen percentage—they aren't accepted standards for measuring the activity of Manuka honey.
NPA (Non-Peroxide Antibacterial Activity) - This is present in many types of honey, the NPA activity of Manuka Honey is measured by its MGO activity.
Non-Peroxide Activity (NPA) values are not directly measured by the lab but are calculated from the measured methylglyoxal concentration in the honey. The calculation is based on published data(†) comparing the NPA and methylglyoxal concentration measured in a range of honey samples. These calculated values are not accredited by IANZ and do not imply that the honey is or is not manuka honey.
Companies listing NPA instead of MG or MGO activity could be mixing several types of honey, so it is not a good idea to rely on this measurement, stick to looking at the MG/MGO measurement.
Listing NPA activity on the label is another trick that companies often use to make a Manuka Honey appear more potent than it actually is or to cover up for a product having very low levels of MG/MGO.
Make sure that the company can provide third-party test results on each batch, not just one batch, confirming the claims on the label, or you should not trust them.
Not every batch may measure the same potency, which is one of many reasons you should not trust a company that just tests one batch and uses that test result for all of their batches.
Check out the video below to learn more about Manuka Honey labeling.
New Zealand vs Australian Manuka Honey
True Manuka Honey only comes from New Zealand and comes from the flower of one particular species of Manuka, Leptospermum Scoparium.
Australian "Manuka" honey comes from a variety of Leptospermum species. These will have different bioactive compounds and varying levels of them. It is not comparable to true New Zealand Manuka Honey.
In an article written by the UMF Honey Association, they leave the reader asking a simple question:
"Why have some operators in the Australian honey industry decided to adopt the name ‘Australian manuka’ for Leptospermum honey, given that the honeys are distinct, and those differences are readily detected by consumers? The decision to do so is clearly not supported by science, is misleading and, at worst, could be cynically viewed as an attempt to deceive consumers."
As with sourcing every product, the first and most important thing to consider is how it affects the people growing or harvesting it and the environment.
No matter how good a finished product is, if it caused suffering to the people producing it, or damaged the environment, it is not worth it.
There is no reason to compromise on these areas. Corporations often try to make us feel as if we need to choose. They are wrong.
We should never sacrifice our ethics in order to save a few dollars or make things a little easier.
When it comes to Manuka honey it is important to know exactly where your honey comes from.
You should buy from companies who own their own hives, not companies who buy through middlemen.
Knowing exactly who cares for and harvests the hives is the only way to truly begin to find out if the honey is produced in an ethical manner. If companies are buying from lots of suppliers and mixing honey from different sellers you will not be able to find out the ethical practices of the individual apiaries.
If the honey is being mixed from various suppliers or from different vendors, there is simply no way to track this. Ideally, each bottle of honey should have a batch or lot number that allows you to trace it from hive to bottle.
Farm (in this case hive) to bottle is incredibly important with Manuka Honey.
You want to make sure to buy honey from companies and apiaries that are not giving the bees antibiotics, corn syrup, or overworking them.
In addition to supporting charities and groups that are working towards saving the bees, we only buy and sell herbal and other food supplements that are grown and harvested without the use of these toxic pesticides.
While you may not always be able to know whether foods you buy are grown without these pesticides, there are some simple everyday steps you can take to reduce the use of these.
Number two, urge your local hardware and garden supply store to stop selling products containing those ingredients.
With the collapse of bee populations worldwide, knowing that you are only buying honey from companies that are good stewards of the bees and the planet is so important.
While it would be far more profitable to sell manuka honey that is not produced ethically, that was never an option.
We will never make you choose between quality and ethics.
We will never put profits over people.
Check out the videos below to learn about ethical honey and a documentary about the vanishing of the bees.
So which company should you buy Manuka Honey from?
Rooted Nutrition searched for a very long time to find a source of manuka honey that met our standards for ethics, sustainability, quality, efficacy.
After a nearly six month search, we finally found a small company that did all the right things.
Their model fits perfectly with what we believe at Rooted Nutrition.
We are proud to offer you this incredible honey, that meets our standards for manuka honey and helps to make the world a better place.
Click the link below to learn more about this incredible company, the people behind it!