Manuka honey- what’s all the fuss about?
Manuka honey is automatically associated with inherent medicinal qualities and a hefty price tag, and is also often assumed to be solely a product of New Zealand. Manuka honey is not strictly from New Zealand alone, but has benefited from very strong marketing campaigns by the honey council in the ‘land of the long white cloud’. Manuka is a shrub or small tree belonging to the genus Leptospermum, of which there are more than 80 species in Australia but only one in New Zealand; L. scoparium. Also known as New Zealand Teatree (or Manuka Myrtle), L. scoparium is endemic to both New Zealand and Australia and probably originated in the latter. What’s interesting is that all Leptospermum species are considered to be teatree (or tea tree), but not all teatree are Leptospermum! The story goes that the name was bestowed after Captain James Cook made a brew from the leaves.
Over two decades, Manuka honey has been proven to have antibacterial qualities and has become established as a medicinal food. Some confusing terminology may be used on jars of Manuka honey, the most common of which is UMF, which stands for ‘unique Manuka factor’. This ranges from +5, which is the lowest and cheapest grade, right up to +25, which can fetch a pretty price. Fundamentally, UMF is a measure of Manuka honey’s capacity to kill bacteria and viruses. In 2008, Professor Thomas Henle, of the University of Dresden in Germany, discovered that these unique properties are conferred by an active ingredient called dietary methylglyoxal (MG). Previously, the only food items known to contain significant amounts of dietary methylglyoxal were coffee and cocoa. But the concentrations present in those foods are small in comparison to some Manuka honeys.
As it turns out, not all honey produced from teatree flowers contains high levels of dietary methylglyoxal; this may range from 0mg/kg to 1000mg/kg. Anything above 100mg/kg is considered to have antibacterial properties, although the higher the concentration, the more antibacterial activity.
Manuka honey can be used to treat many ailments and sores, both internally and externally. It has been proven to kill potentially dangerous bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli as well as being useful in the management of cuts and abrasions. In addition to being antimicrobial and antiviral, Manuka honey also contains antioxidants that can help boost immunity and vitality.
Healthy food is not always cheap, but is Manuka honey worth the cost? Why not try it for yourself?