Demystifying Manuka Honey Ratings: Part 2

Demystifying Manuka Honey Ratings: Part 2

So what is ‘manuka honey’ anyways? Manuka honey is honey whose nectar has been sourced from the Manuka tree (L. scoparium), which grows primarily in New Zealand. It has been gaining popularity since its unique antibacterial properties were initially investigated by the University of Waikato in the 1980s. The most well-known of these unique properties is its touted potential to inhibit the MRSA superbug, which gained this particular honey its current notoriety. It has since been studied for its effect on numerous health conditions, including H. pylori, C. diff, E. coli, plaque, gingivitis, and ulcerative colitis, to name just a few.

There are now many varieties of honey popping up on retail shelves using rating systems like “Active”, “NPA”, “MGO”, “UMF” and “Medical Grade”. Here’s a quick guide on how to read them:

  • Medical Grade: These are manuka or other kinds of honey that have been gamma-irradiated for sterility, to ensure that they are suitable for wound care. These are the types of honey now used in clinical applications, under brand names like “Medihoney” and “Remavil”. The type of irradiation used does not appear to inhibit the honeys’ antibacterial activity. If honey is antibacterial itself, you may ask, then why does it need to be sterilized? The reason is that raw honey occasionally harbors spores of the pathogen Clostridium botulinum, better known as botulism (which is also the reason why honey should never be fed to infants). There exists a chance that botulism spores could proliferate in an anaerobic wound environment, and so this safety measure is recommended for anyone attempting to use honey as a topical agent for significant wounds.
  • UMF: UMF is an internationally-recognized rating system unique to manuka honey, which stands for “Unique Manuka Factor.” Its intent is to measure all of the known non-peroxide qualities of manuka honey, including its MGO activity. This is an independently tested certified trademark, and it represents an industry-standard phenol equivalent, meaning “this honey inhibits bacteria growth to the same extent as an equivalent concentration of disinfectant.” Batches of manuka honey may differ in their activity level and are individually tested. UMF values range from 5+ to 28+, with levels above 10+ being considered therapeutically useful.
  • MGO: This label stems from the work of German scientist Dr. Thomas Henle, who has developed and established as a rating system by the company Manuka Health. It measures the activity of one constituent of manuka honey, methylglyoxal (MGO). The important thing to remember is that MGO and UMF ratings do not use the same units; different opinions exist regarding how to convert and compare UMF and MGO ratings to one another, and whether one label is preferable to the other, but the presence of either label verifies that a certain amount of testing has been performed on the product you have in hand.
  • NPA: This stands for ‘Non-Peroxide Activity’, and can be seen as an alternative to UMF ratings. It is not a registered trademark, but rather is a figure that is returned on lab certificates of analysis. Use of this term not regulated, so consumers purchasing NPA honey may contact the company directly to find out about their testing procedures or to request certificates of analysis if they have concerns.    
  • Active: Similarly, ‘active’ is an unregulated term that presumably indicates the antibacterial level of a given honey, whereby a company determines their honey’s activity level without supervision. However, just because the term is unregulated, this doesn’t mean that the product is necessarily bad or ineffective: in the same way that small food producers may use organic production methods but lack the USDA certified organic label due to the prohibitive cost of obtaining certification, small honey companies may shun expensive certifications like UMF for the same reasons. In this case, it is up to the consumer to put their trust in the company at hand. Consumers may save money on this type of honey but should take this information with a grain of salt when deciding what type of honey to purchase and for what reasons.
  • KFactor: This is a new one. In recent years there has been controversy over dubious practices in manuka honey labeling: Kanuka honey, a sister honey also hailing from New Zealand, has at times been erroneously labeled as manuka honey. While perfectly suitable as culinary honey, kanuka honey doesn’t pass UMF or NPA tests, and the identity discrepancy has been responsible for significant variations in the price of ‘manuka’ honey. KFactor tests for a number of markers, the most interesting of which is pollen count: the higher the KFactor, the higher the guaranteed percentage of pollen from the Manuka tree, thereby guaranteeing the identity of the honey at hand. This rating system is currently being utilized by the company Wedderspoon.

So what do we offer here at Mastel’s? At the time of writing this article, we carry a selection of manuka honey rated UMF 15+, MGO 400+, Active 15+, and KFactor 12, as well as one medical-grade manuka honey (blended into a Throat and Chest Syrup containing other ingredients). We also have a number of body care items incorporating manuka honey such as soaps, creams, and toothpastes, as well as the essential oil of the manuka tree.

Part 1 of Demystifying Manuka Honey Ratings

Hungry for more nectar knowledge? Check out this source material:

1) “Manuka Honey.” WebMD. Ed. Kiefer, David M.D. WebMD Medical Reference, 2015. Web. May 2015.

2) Mandal, MD and S. Mandal. “Honey: Its Medicinal Property and Antibacterial Activity.” Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. Apr 2011; 1(2): 154–160. PubMed. Web. May 2015.

3) Burlando, B. and L. Cornara. “Honey in Dermatology and Skin Care: A Review.” J Cosmet Dermatol. 2013 Dec;12(4):306-13. PubMed. Web. May 2015.

4) Kwakman, Paulus and Sebastian Zaat. “Antibacterial Components of Honey.” IUBMB Life, 64(1): 48–55, January 2012. Epub 2011 Nov 17. Wiley Online Library. Web. May 2015.

5) Cooper, Rose A. PhD and Leighton Jenkins BSc. “A Comparison Between Medical Grade Honey and Table Honeys in Relation to Antimicrobial Efficacy.” Wounds, 2009; 21(2). Web. May 2015.

6) Simon, Arne et. al. “Medical Honey for Wound Care – Still the ‘Latest Resort’?” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2009 Jun; 6(2): 165–173. Published online 2008 Jan 7. Web. May 2015.

7) “About UMF History.” Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. Web. May 2015.

8) “A Buyers Guide to Manuka Honey Ratings.” Green Bay Harvest. Web. May 2015.

9) “Industry Leadership.” Manuka Health New Zealand. Web. May 2015.

10) “UMF vs. MGO”. Alive Plus Honey, 2013 May 15. Web. May 2015.

11) “KFactor”. Wedderspoon. Oct 2015.

12) Burne, Jerome. “Is Your Manuka Honey Really Worth the Money?” Daily Mail, 2009 Feb 2. Web. May 2015.

13) Usborne, Simon. “The Manuka Honey Scandal.” The Independent, 2014 Jul 1. Web. May 2015.