The Curious Case of Manuka Honey

Manuka Honey is produced by Western honey bees feeding on the nectar of Manuka bushes that can only be found in New Zealand and Australia.

western honey bee
Manuka honey is coveted for its anitbacterial properties discovered by Peter Molan.

Then Molan discovered there was something special about manuka honey. It appears to have antibacterial properties, unlike other honeys in the world, and some studies suggested it could heal wounds and help boost the immune system. (Specifically, the antibacterial property found in other honeys comes from hydrogen peroxide, which is broken down quickly in the body, whereas the non-peroxide form found in manuka honey isn’t.)

The manuka honey industry is highly lucrative. In New Zealand alone, manuka honey exports are worth NZ$315 million (~USD230million). The intense interest has led to a “manuka crime wave”, as warring beekeepers resort to beehive heists and massacres to edge out the competition.

The biggest consumers are the UK and China. 1,800 tonnes a year of the honey are now consumed in the UK each year, with prices ranging from £40 to £50 for 500g. China imports 1,500 tonnes a year and it sells for up to 1,789RMB ($279) for a 500g jar.

In total, 10,000 tonnes of manuka honey are sold worldwide, whereas only 2-3000 tonnes are produced each year. The New Zealand government has implemented measures to safeguard the authenticity of their prized export. However these tests seem to be ineffective in reducing the volume of fake manuka honey in circulation and major honey producers have called for a revision of these standards.

There is no single standard for manuka honey, instead there are various grading systems being used by different brands and countries which leads to much consumer confusion.

So how do you tell if your manuka honey is the real stuff?
I honestly don’t know.

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