Manuka Honey Reviews
We spent 54 hours researching what makes manuka honey so special and the companies that produce it. After digging into how each company harvests honey and produces their product, we further tested each brand’s honey by performing taste, color and texture tests to come up with our top pick. There were two brands that really stood out among the rest which are Tahi’s Manuka Honey and Wedderspoon’s 100% Raw Manuka Honey.
Manuka is amazing, medicinally and for general food consumption – with new benefits being discovered and verified on an ongoing basis. It can score ‘off the charts’ compared to traditional honey in terms of antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. This amazing honey comes at a higher price point than traditional or “regular” honey. With that higher price point, the market can get inundated with the crooks who are looking to take advantage of you with a fake product by either mimicking honey with corn syrup, sugar, or non-manuka blends. Companies can manipulate the origins of where your honey came from, for example by putting a drop of Moroccan honey into a vat of sugar syrup. (Morocco is just an example). You want to buy manuka that has a certified UMF symbol, or if you prefer, the K Factor which measures pollen count and is specific to the Wedderspoon brand. Don’t worry, we exhaustively tested all of this for you.
Manuka Honey Buying Guide
How We Selected the Manuka Honey
We tried to pick all companies that originated as family farms, had an ongoing commitment to sustainability, taking care of the bees, their employees, and the environment overall. We did email all the below companies asking for any information but didn’t hear back from all of them. We spoke on the phone with the team at Wedderspoon, as well as a Sarah Ayala, a New Zealander (kiwi) who sells New Zealand products through her own company the Kiwi Importer here in the USA. Both obviously had different opinions but were informed and respectful of the industry, and the goals of beekeepers who are making manuka. We choose honeys that had a Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) of 10 or more since that is the level at which you should notice a difference in the effects, and were certified by the UMFHA. We added Wedderspoon to the testing pool because although they weren’t a UMFHA licensee, they did have their own testing process (KFactor) which had received approval from the New Zealand government.
Taste, Color & Texture Testing
It was a divided group because taste is so personal, but the Tahi and Wedderspoon came out as everyone’s favorite. The others are good, but had a thickness and distinct flavor that might not appeal to everyone. The Belixir is formulated as a drinking honey, so while it was delicious on its own, it wasn’t as universally appealing as the Tahi and Wedderspoon unless mixed in a drink. Some purists argue that Wedderspoon isn’t UMFHA certified, but they have gained approval for their own KFactor process from the New Zealand Ministry, so if you’re okay with that, go for it.
|UMF||UMF 12+||KFactor 16||UMF 15+||UMF 15+||UMF10+||UMF 15+|
|Certified||UMFHA||KFactor 16||UMFHA||UMFHA||260 MG (UMF 10+)||UMFHA|
|Color||Gold & Pearlized||Light Gold||Amber||Amber||Light Amber||Light & Golden|
|Texture||Smooth & Creamy||Smooth & Creamy||Thick||Thick||Smooth||Very Smooth & Creamy|
What Matters Most
Our love affair with manuka honey was solidified years ago on a trip to New Zealand. While we had heard of it prior to the trip but had not yet taken the plunge to purchase a jar of our own. However, when in Rome (or in this case, the Marlborough Sounds)…we jumped right in to see what the buzz was all about. We unanimously loved it. It was like golden colored deliciousness in a jar. We ate it on toast, by the spoonful, on fruit…you name it. And then, when one of our party had a cut on their leg we slapped some manuka on it, and no kidding, it was nearly gone the next day. We were all converts and believers in the wonders of manuka honey.
A couple of things happened after that trip to New Zealand. We had all purchased jars of it to bring home – different brands than what we had been eating while in New Zealand, and when we got home and opened it, we realized we had not purchased the same quality that had been eaten with unabashed delight. So, off we all went to different grocers here in the United States and looked online to find the same glorious honey that we had fallen in epicurean love with. Overwhelmed at both the price per jar and the options available to us. What were all those numbers? Why was this one better than that one? No one was not about to spend even one dollar on a jar and take the chance that we’d be duped again. Maybe you have heard manuka mentioned in conversation with foodies, perhaps looked it up a bit yourself, and maybe even been lucky enough to have a taste of the good stuff. If you’ve ever gone to purchase a jar of it, you may be first shocked at the cost, and then surprised at the labeling, and finally, overwhelmed at how many options there with so many varying price points with varying labels. If you’re going to spend “that” much, you want to get the right stuff. Let’s pause here and say that if you are shaking your head at this narrative of a purchase as simple as honey, we get it, but once we began to research what was going on, and which direction to go, it was like we had opened Pandora’s box. We had no idea. And clearly we are going to be the type of people who look into everything that we eat or make as a major purchase, so this experience was akin to Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Listen, we know it’s not a new car, it’s a jar of honey, but why would you want to spend any money if it’s not legit? and more importantly, why not give your body the incredible benefits of this wonder of nature?
As we were writing and researching this, we felt like Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes, discovering so much information and data, and at the same time, uncovering fraudulent behavior in what? the HONEY MARKET??? It sounds like a kid’s crime story, but the problem is bigger than you might first think it is. When it comes to buying an item that is fake, take for instance a handbag, you are duped, but the cost is a bit of pride, you feel foolish, you suffer from extreme anger…..but with the food industry, you are being manipulated sometimes at the cost of your health. It’s important that we educate ourselves and are informed consumers. We know that reading all of this data isn’t always fun and interesting, but this is one of the more complex things we’ve looked into.
Relax my busy bees, we’ve done the work for you. We too was overwhelmed by what we found, and as mentioned earlier, while we wanted the benefits, we didn’t want to figure it out by making monetary mistakes. Honey has become big business, and if purchased properly, it’s a great asset to have in your healthcare arsenal and pantry, but to the uninformed buyer, solidified sugar water or corn syrup might be all that you’re adding to your diet.
Why is Manuka Honey Special?
Genuine honey (in general, not just manuka) has been prized since as far back as 40,000 years ago – (yes, 40,000 that’s not a typo), for both its natural sweetness and medicinal properties. Nutritionally dense and comprised of a blend of sugar, trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids, honey offers antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antioxidant properties. All of these benefits are true and present in honey ONLY if it’s genuine – and I can’t stress this enough, because as the world discovers (or re-discovers) the amazing and natural benefits are, soon follow the scammers and people looking to take advantage of you with basically sugar water, corn syrup, or adulterated versions of the honey they are claiming to sell to you. Like too many things, once the word is out there about how wonderful something is, the demand can exceed quantity and so quality can get compromised.
All genuine honey has antiseptic properties which are created in an enzymatic process and released as hydrogen peroxide, but manuka honey contains even stronger natural properties that make it superior to killing bacteria. These unique and incredible healing properties of manuka are so treasured, they have become a target for fraudulent product manufacturers, especially because of their higher price point. And at the cost per pot of this liquid gold, you’ll want to “bee” spending your money, honey, wisely.
So, let’s break this down, and go over all of the players and the moving parts, that together, make up the magic of Manuka:
How Manuka Honey is Made
Bees – Western honey bee, or European honey bee; these are the ones who transport the pollen from tree flower to tree flower and then back to the hive. About 60,000 bees travel 55,000 miles to visit 2 million flowers so that we can have a pound of honey. One pound.
Pollen – We loved this description from Larry Olmsted’s book ‘Real Food/Fake Food’ “pollen is a fingerprint for honey that can be tested to show where the plants the bees visited lived and prove country of origin”. The pollen in honey is like it’s fingerprint in that it is unique and shows where the flowers were located geographically, what type or the genus of the plant, and if it was from one type of floral group or another. The study of the pollen contained in honey is Melissopalynology. This is a crucial part of the process because the price of honey varies according to its contents, so in order to take down the imposters, you need a way to prove that what they are selling isn’t legit.
Tea Tree – There are three types of these trees found in New Zealand and Australia, and manuka honey is specifically from the pollen of one kind of tea tree, the Leptospermum scoparium species found ONLY in New Zealand, commonly known as the New Zealand manuka. This is also important because ‘tea tree oil’ is not the same as ‘manuka tree oil’. An interesting fact is that the manuka trees were considered “scrub” and a nuisance at one point. Until farmers realized that their land can be quite lucrative if they take advantage of it to grow this tree. There’s an initiative now to change that. Also, the manuka blooms at the same time as the kanuka tree. I’m telling you that because the kanuka pollen can end up in the Manuka honey and sometimes people will pass off the kanuka as manuka. Sounds like a Dr. Seuss book.
New Zealand – the location of the manuka trees. I was fortunate to explore the South Island and just a small bit of it at that. I’m mentioning it here because if given the opportunity to go there, take it. You’ll hear how the views are amazing, this or that film was made here, but no single description or fact can accurately describe this country and the amazingness that comprises not only the landscape but the people as well. I went with my son and hope to go back again, and often. The people that I met will stay in my heart forever. The joy of having green mussels in Havlock to whale watching in Kaikoura must be experienced firsthand. Go to New Zealand.
HPA – short for hydrogen peroxide activity, which is the measurement of antibacterial activity in ALL honey; this is often reduced or destroyed by the time most honey reaches the consumer
NHPA – non-peroxide antibacterial activity, or the manuka only activity which is the level of antibacterial activity that remains once the above mentioned HPA is reduced or destroyed (often by heat or light); because this is considered a ‘stable element’ of the honey, it is not reduced by external factors and a great indicator of the quality or potency of the manuka honey; this is unique to manuka honey. A manuka’s potency is gauged by this concentration within a batch of honey.
Active Levels (Active, TA, Bio-Active) – this can be confusing as it may take a bunch of factors and mix them up to indicate the total amount of antibacterial activity in the honey. I don’t feel confident telling you that this is a genuine and accurate measurement. I do believe that there are legit factors taken into consideration, I’m just not sure that they accurately reflect the effectiveness of the manuka.
Raw v. Pasteurized – Heating honey (pasteurizing) can break down some of the nutrients found naturally in honey, therefore, I recommend going with a raw or unpasteurized. I did review one honey that is specifically formulated for use in teas and hot water – this maintains is potency.
How Manuka Honey is Graded
The individual parts that when combined, determine the level of magic that makes up the manuka-ness of a batch of honey.
- Leptosperin – Now this is important if you want to really understand what makes up the UMF, because leptosperin is the dominant component of that UMF number. It is found ONLY in the nectar of the manuka plant flower; therefore, if found in the honey, we can validate that the honey is considered manuka; and because it is difficult to synthesize or “fake”, this compound and it doesn’t degrade over time, making it a solid identifier of manuka. Leptosperin level/number must be 100 to be considered manuka, and 390 to be considered grade 16+ which is superior.
- HMF – short for hydroxymethylfurfural which is the number or level identified from the breakdown of sugar. It is used as an indicator of heat treatment and aging in the honey.
- MG or MGO – This is short for methylglyocal, which is an active antimicrobial and antibacterial component
- DHA – dihydroxyacetone which is present in the nectar of manuka in varying degrees; it converts to MG over time by the DHA interacting with other components of the manuka honey
A lot of honey producers will label their products with a number that confuses the consumer in my opinion. We assume that the higher the number, the better the product. Not always true. They may be giving you a high number of ONE component of the total number that you are looking for. For example, an MGO rating may say 360 but the total UMF is only 8.
MG or MGO Rating – measured in mg/kg (ppm), this is the level of methylglyocal in parts per million.
UMF Rating – Unique Manuka Factor; a quality trademark and grading system used to identify authentic and unadulterated (fake) manuka honey; created to protect consumers; can only be used by licensed New Zealand companies. It is a combination of the key factors which are leptosperin, DHA, HMF, and methylglyoxal levels.
The UMF quality trademark has the following ranges to identify the level of UMF in each jar:
The only issue with this rating system, my opinion from speaking with people in the industry and reading what I could online, is that this system it can be compared to the term “organic”; there may be honey that is fantastic quality but hasn’t gone through the process of being certified. If you do go by this rating, you’ll want to stick with a UMF rating of at least 10+. However, I do believe a standard system is important to have, and hopefully, this movement remains true to the perseverance of maintaining high standards and quality.
KFactor – This grading system is unique to the Wedderspoon honey, and it’s been approved by the New Zealand government. They measure their honey based on the percentage of pollen through a holistic and multi-stage authentication system that includes purity, live enzymes, over 250 chemical residues, pollen count, pH level consistency, antioxidant levels, and phenolic compounds.
UMFHA – the main trade association for New Zealand manuka honey producers. To be labeled New Zealand manuka honey, at least 70% of the pollen content needs to come from the above mentioned New Zealand manuka tree. Yes, they can test for this.
The most important thing in choosing a manuka honey is quality. And although Wedderspoon is the exception to this rule, you’ll want to choose a honey that is UMFHA certified/a licensee. This is the ONLY way to guarantee a product that is legitimate. Additionally, in order to get the benefits of the manuka, you should purchase a honey with a minimum of UMF10+. Remember, all manuka must come from New Zealand and don’t be fooled by words like Bio-Active or Active. Legitimate honey MUST have the UMF certification on it (again, Wedderspoon is the exception to this rule with their KFactor process and certification).
- Ministry for Primary Industries – The Ministry that protects New Zealand industry by setting standards, ensures the safety of food production, protect and increase sustainable resources, and protect NZ from any biological risk. They oversee and govern the opportunities for exports. They have devised a program that identifies 5 attributes to mark genuine New Zealand Manuka, honey. Details can be found here.
- Analytica Labs – lab that provides extensive testing on manuka in accordance with the MPI standards
- Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association – The organization which created and maintains the standard for measuring the UMF rating of licensed honey makers.