“When shopping for Mānuka honey, how do I know I’m getting the real thing and I’m paying a fair price?”
Not all Manuka honey is created equal.
When it comes to buying Manuka honey, many first-time shoppers can be easily confused as to what they should be looking for, or what some labels may even mean. If you’re feeling this way, we don’t blame you at all!
Before you decide to buy Manuka honey, there are a handful of things you will want to consider. And if it’s your first time, it’s important to recognize these distinctions so you can understand exactly what you’re purchasing.
That’s why we’ve put together this simple, go-to guide to answer the fundamental questions and give you the knowledge to make the perfect Manuka honey purchase!
What is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey is produced by ordinary honey bees foraging on the nectar of the flowering Mānuka tree, which is native to and grows predominantly in New Zealand.
Manuka honey is the most expensive honey in the world. It is highly valued for its wellness, healing, wound care, and nourishing skin care benefits.
Manuka honey has potent and broad-spectrum antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties! These properties and their subsequent benefits are significantly more potent and extensive than most other types of honey. If you want to learn more about these INCREDIBLE benefits, check out our blog article here!
Methylglyoxal - The KEY Ingredient!
Methylglyoxal is a naturally occurring organic compound found in varying concentrations in Manuka honey. It is commonly abbreviated as either MG or MGO. A direct correlation exists between the MG level of the honey and the antibacterial property of the honey. Higher MG concentrations in Manuka honey therefore provide more efficacy or potency in regards to the overall health, wellness, and healing properties of the honey.
All Manuka honey, when produced in New Zealand, is tested first and foremost for its MG levels. MG is measured in parts per million (ppm) or stated another way, milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). Test results for MG content can range from about 85 to over 1000 mg/kg. Below around 85, the honey will be unlikely to pass the definition of Mono-floral Manuka honey, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
The Methylglyoxal level, as determined by independent laboratories, is the primary factor that determines the value of the honey when sold by a producer (i.e., the beekeeper) to a packer who will be labeling and marketing the honey. The MG level should likewise be the key number that you as a consumer are looking at to determine the value of the honey you are purchasing. So, you can expect that the level of MG rises, so does the price of your Manuka honey.
Non-Peroxide Activity (NPA) - What is it?
All honey has naturally occurring antibacterial activity due to the conversion of glucose oxidase to hydrogen peroxide. This antibacterial activity is referred to as peroxide activity (PA).
Manuka honey is different and special due to its Non-Peroxide activity (NPA), which correlates to the Methylglyoxal level in the honey. NPA activity is much more stable than PA activity with exposure to heat and light. Typically, NPA ratings for Manuka honey will range from 5-20, which correlates to about 85 – 830 MG in mg/kg.
Unique Manuka Factor (UMF)
The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association is an industry group in New Zealand that promotes quality standards, supports scientific research and provides marketing support for its members.
The UMF Honey Association administers a trademark-protected grading system that correlates to the MG testing, which is the overall industry standard as discussed above. UMF labeled honey is also tested for and confirmed to have minimum required levels of leptosperin and not to exceed maximum levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). HMF is a breakdown product of fructose and is used broadly in the industry as a quality measure to ensure that the honey has not been overheated.
Taking into account these two additional tests, a UMF rating value will be equivalent to an NPA value, both of which are direct look-up values based on the MG testing result.
In short, MG, UMF, and NPA are all directly correlated to each other and are used to express similar values for Manuka honey. Specifically, these measures represent the potency of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties brought about by the abundance of the MG levels present in the honey.
Manuka Honey Labels – What to look for (and watch out for).
You should look for a Manuka Honey brand that is either displaying the MG level or the UMF value prominently on the front of the label. UMF is trademarked, and UMF members will have the letters UMF in front of the rating number. Avoid any brand that has words like “activity”, “bio-activity”, or “k-factor” or anything else followed by a number that isn’t MG or UMF. These brands are employing deceptive marketing practices to mislead the consumer into thinking the honey has the same level of NPA activity as a UMF honey of the same rating. Just look for the letters UMF and a number, and/or the letters MG or MGO and a number, steer clear of all others.
Applying this first filter will eliminate for you about 80% of the Manuka honey on sale in the US market, including most of the honey carried by big box retail chains, including some names you may currently consider trustworthy. This is a pervasive problem. ABC’s Good Morning America did an expose on this very subject which is available here.
Brands that are trying to deceive you might include something on their label about DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) levels. DHA is a precursor organic compound that converts to MG over time. DHA levels are often 10 times higher at harvest than MG levels, which makes a big DHA number on the jar sound impressive. Don’t fall for this ploy. For a detailed explanation of this conversion of DHA to MGO see this article published by Analytica Laboratories, one of the two primary independent labs that perform honey testing in New Zealand.
Other brands will quote a number for “Total Activity” or “Total Peroxide Activity”. As discussed above, all honey, including the local honey from your farmer’s market will have a level of antiseptic property based on its peroxide activity. Don’t be misled or impressed by this claim.
Lastly, the brands that seek to mislead will make statements that tout how the honey meets the NZ Government's stringent standards defining a mono-floral (or multi-floral) Manuka honey. These standards are discussed in more detail below but truthfully they’re just basic threshold measures. No Manuka honey can be legally exported from New Zealand without meeting these test requirements. So think of this as entry to the game, not a claim to brag about.
Comparing Legitimate Brands - MG Levels and Value
When comparing different honey brands, first look at equivalent MG levels. The lowest activity levels for mono-floral Manuka honey will be in the range of 85 mg/kg of MG or about a 5+ on the NPA and UMF scales. These honeys may provide some wellness benefits when consumed daily.
Our advice to anyone would be to select a Manuka honey of at least 250+MG levels (NPA 10+) for daily consumption and a 500+MG (NPA 15+) when going for a specific therapeutic effect for a health issue, or for wound healing applications.
You need to compare apples-to-apples, so first determine what range of activity level you are shopping for. So think “low”, “mid”, and “high” activity Manuka honey. Once you know which level you desire, you can start to compare brands and pricing. We define “low” as MG in the 100-200+ range; “mid” as MG in the 250-350+ range, and “high” as MG >400+.
Next you need to look at package size. Manuka honey comes typically in 250gm, 380gm, and 500gm size jars (or 8.8oz, 13.4oz, and 1.1lb). So the comparison should be for comparable activity levels, on a per ounce basis. If you shop on Amazon, or if you just want to try this out you can search Manuka Honey 500+ and Manuka Honey UMF 15+. Amazon will display the pricing in $/oz. so you can easily compare.
Manuka honey above NPA 15+ (MG 514+) is a rare commodity. Based on an analysis of honey samples from the past two seasons production, roughly only 10% of Manuka honey harvested across New Zealand will get to this level or higher. Some brands pack an NPA 20+ range (MG 829+) or even higher. Some of this ultra-high activity honey, with very elegant packaging sells for prices in excess of $1,000 per 250gm jar. We have not seen any objective research that would support significant additional wellness or healing properties at these higher activity levels. They might exist, but likely there is a point of diminishing returns that is reached for most uses.
Mono-Floral, Multi-Floral, and MPI Manuka Honey Standards
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) stepped into the Manuka Honey space with a set of regulations aimed to curb deceiving marketing practices and protect NZ’s reputation for high quality agricultural exports. The MPI Manuka honey standards were established in February 2018. Now, in addition to the MG & DHA tests that are used as the primary means of establishing the honey’s value and efficacy, there are 5 mandatory tests required for export authorization.
Known as the MPI 5, they consist of 4 chemical markers, and 1 DNA marker. Based on the results of these tests, honey is classified as Mono-Floral, Multi-Floral, or non-Manuka. To relate this back to the MG tests, and the rating scales we discussed earlier, almost all Manuka with an MG rating of 100 or better will meet the Mono-Floral level on this test.
We’ve covered a lot in this article, but it’s all important knowledge to determine if your Manuka honey purchase is the best for you. When buying Manuka honey, remember that the most important thing to look for is either the UMF or MG/MGO symbol along with its corresponding value. This determines the potency of methylglyoxal, which gives the honey its numerous health property benefits.
Avoid purchasing jars of Manuka honey that use terms like “Bio-activity” or “K-factor,” and also be wary of phrases like “High DHA Levels,” “Total Peroxide Activity,” or “Meeting Monofloral Standards.”
Truly, the only thing that you should look for is the UMF or MG/MGO label, to determine the level of potency that you desire from your Manuka honey!
Interested in trying Manuka honey? How about straight from New Zealand! Bees & Trees offers some of the most delicious and pure honey available on the planet. Crafted by a small team of dedicated apiarists in New Zealand’s Taranaki Region, Bees and Trees Manuka honey guarantees the most authentic and best tasting Manuka honey you can find!