Ingredient Profile: Manuka Honey
6 min read
Native to New Zealand and some parts of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania, the Manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) is characterised by its white flowers with reddish brown centres, which emerge during New Zealand’s summer (from December until February) (1, 2).
The Manuka tree is renowned worldwide for the honey that is produced from its pollen. The Manuka flowers attract bees, which transport the pollen to their hives to create Manuka honey (2). The honey is then harvested and used for a variety of purposes, including as an ingredient in complementary medicines, foods, and wound care (3).
The Manuka tree, also known as the ‘New Zealand Tea Tree’ has a long history of traditional use by New Zealand’s indigenous community, the Māori. Well before the discovery of Manuka honey, the Manuka tree was widely used as a medicinal plant in the Māori community (2).
New Zealand’s first European settlers observed that the Manuka tree’s leaves were boiled and consumed as a tea, both as a diuretic and to provide relief from head cold symptoms.
The Manuka tree’s bark and oil were also rubbed into painful joints and were thought to assist in relieving inflammation (2).
The medicinal use of Manuka honey originated in the 1940s and 1950s, when it was used for its antibacterial properties prior to the discovery of antibiotics and pharmaceutical treatments. It was not until 1988 that the therapeutic benefits of Manuka honey were clinically identified (2, 4).
To date, there are more than 2,500 scientific papers have been published about Manuka honey’s therapeutic properties (5). It has attracted such extensive research primarily for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties (6). Antimicrobial’s work to halt or kill foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses.
Manuka honey’s antimicrobial activity is linked to its unique methylglyoxal (often abbreviated to MGO) content. This is the active component of Manuka honey thought to be responsible for it’s therapeutic effects.
Manuka honey is also rich in phenolic acids, which are strong antioxidants with the ability to scavenge free radicals and protect the body from oxidative stress.
Overall, research shows that the effects of Manuka honey are attributed to its higher MGO and phenolic acid content (7).
Manuka honey is darker and thicker than regular honey, making it more difficult for beekeepers to collect. It also has a sweet but earthy taste.
The Manuka flower’s nectar contributes unique natural compounds to Manuka honey. Namely, compared to regular honey, Manuka honey has much higher MGO levels.
Manuka honey’s MGO content has been directly linked to its antimicrobial activity. This is also sometimes referred to as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) (6).
Not all Manuka honey is created equal. Because of this, trusted grading systems have been established for quality testing. This is often measured with an MGO or UMF rating, which highlights the minimum amount of the active components present MGO and UMF are two different ways of measuring the active components in Manuka honey, and both are used to highlight the quality of the honey.
Products that contain Manuka honey will often display this on the packaging, along with an MGO or UMF rating.
These can be compared below:
The information provided in reference to this ingredient is general in nature and provided as information only. Any product specific therapeutic claims for this ingredient are linked to specific dosage requirements based on evidence of traditional or scientific nature.
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Bachelor of Nutrition and Food Science, Nutrition Sciences
Caitlin Daly is a certified health professional and Brauer’s National Trainer. She has a keen interest in understanding how individual ingredients work within the body as well as how different nutrients interact to support overall health. Caitlin believes good nutrition is important at all of life’s ages and stages, shaping growth and development in childhood and helping us to thrive and maintain good health as we age.
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