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New Zealand Manuka UMF® honey has become one of the most sought after floral honeys, recognised internationally for its unique antimicrobial properties, prescribed in hospitals and clinics around the world to treat antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
Manuka honey is in fact unique in that it contains antimicrobial compounds that are not present in any other floral honey. This uniqueness led to the development of a testing regime to certify the concentration of these compounds known as the ‘unique manuka factor’ or UMF®.
All of this began in the late 1980’s when Professor Peter Molan began testing a range of floral honeys in his laboratory at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and when he discovered that honey derived from the Manuka plant species had remarkable antimicrobial properties.
Professor Molan showed that while all honey contained an enzyme called glucose oxidase which in itself has an antimicrobial effect when the glucose oxidase releases hydrogen peroxide in the presence of body serum, however Manuka honey had something more that when the glucose oxidase was removed still had powerful antibacterial properties.
This factor became described as non-peroxide activity or NPA, later to become known as the ‘unique manuka factor’ or UMF®.
It wasn’t until many years later that the compound responsible for this unique antimicrobial factor was identified by scientists in the University of Dresden in Germany as methylglyoxal.
While it was known that nectar collected from the Manuka species produced honey containing methylglyoxal, it was also discovered that there was a wide variation in the concentration of methylglyoxal in samples of Manuka honey from different regions, seasons and density of Manuka plants in a given location.
So a system of measurement and certification had to be developed in order to quantify the antimicrobial effectiveness of Manuka honey.
Initially, before the identification of methylglyoxal as the compound responsible for this non-peroxide antimicrobial effectiveness a system was developed to measure the antimicrobial effect of this honey, known as the ‘unique manuka factor’ or UMF®.
The method used was to compare individual samples of honey in a bacteria culture with a known concentration of Phenol (carbolic acid) a common antiseptic used in the medical industry.
By comparing the antibacterial effectiveness of Manuka honey samples against a known concentration of Phenol, Manuka honey could be given a classification that guaranteed its effectiveness. For example, a sample of Manuka honey that had the same antimicrobial effect as 15% concentration of Phenol would be certified as UMF® 15+.
Today, testing and certification of the level of UMF® in Manuka honey is related to the methylglyoxal level in the honey sample, this is a much more sophisticated test and is also used to identify ‘rogue’ Manuka honey where unscrupulous vendors are making unsubstantiated claims for the effectiveness of their Manuka honey.
Once methylglyoxal was identified as the main compound that contributed to the antimicrobial level of Manuka honey, questions remained about the source of the methylglyoxal as it is not present in the nectar of the Manuka flowers.
Research continued and in 2009, scientists at the University of Waikato (Christopher Adams, Merilyn Manley-Harris and Peter Molan) published research that showed that the methylglyoxal in New Zealand manuka honey originates from the chemical compound dihydroxyacetone (DHA)
When Manuka honey is freshly produced by the bees it contains high levels dihydroxyacetone and low levels of methylglyoxal, this gradually reverses as naturally occurring proteins and amino acids gradually convert the dihydroxyacetone to methylglyoxal.
One never ceases to be amazed at what the humble honey bee is capable of!
Unfortunately the public are still faced with an array of confusing measurements of the efficacy of Manuka honey and while we prefer the time-tested UMF® classification others are using terms which describe the methylglyoxal (MGO) content in mg/kg in their honey.
This is fine as long as people understand the correlation between UMF® and MGO. Unfortunately some vendors are overstating the MGO in terms of UMF® effectiveness. (an example “MGO 400 is equivalent to the old UMF® 20+”) this is not true as can be seen on the Analytica Laboratories website where MGO 400 is actually equivalent to approx. UMF® 14+. For MGO to reach the same antimicrobial level as UMF® 20+ it would have to be tested at above MGO 800 mg/kg.
Others are simply adding a totally fictitious number to their labels such as 15+, 20+ etc. without the UMF® trademark or the UMF® licence # on the label.
It has been reported that there is more honey sold as Manuka honey in the UK alone than is produced in the whole of New Zealand, and Manuka honey is not produced anywhere else in the world.
So our advice is to be very selective about where you buy your Manuka honey, make sure that it has been produced and packed in New Zealand, that it carries the UMF® trademark and that it has the licence # of the producer on the label.
Genuine Manuka UMF® honey is an amazing product, its medicinal value comes from the presence of bacteriostatic and bactericidal compounds such as hydrogen peroxide, the high level of methylglyoxal expressed in terms of UMF®, together with antioxidants, lysozyme, polyphenols, phenolic acids, flavonoids, and bee peptides, all of which are vital to our health.
Manuka UMF® honey can truly be described as a superfood and one of the best natural supplements available in the world today.
Manuka Natural stock a range of UMF® certified honey ranging from:
UMF® is the registered trademark of the New Zealand Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association.
Manuka UMF honey is pure honey, it does not contain any GMO nectar, it is not heated and there are no additives, flavors, colors or preservatives included.