Why everyone’s sweet on this super honey.
Manuka honey is a naturally supercharged version of conventional honey. According to the National Institutes of Health, it kills harmful bacteria and pathogens, heals wounds and reduces gingivitis. Rich in antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it rivals turmeric in healing skin ailments and preventing colds and sinus infections. It might also be anti-carcinogenic.
Manuka is a different strain than the regular honey you might be used to. It comes from the Southern Hemisphere, a product of bees that pollinate tea tree flowers of the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium) in New Zealand and Australia (not to be confused with the genus MelaIeuca, the source of tea tree oil). The native Maoris valued its wood for paddles and roofing and for smoking meat and fish, and made tea with its leaves to treat stomach and urinary ailments. It was only after Europeans arrived, bringing beehives and apis melliflora (honey bees), that Manuka could also be tapped for its honey.
Today it may be the most prized honey in the world, retailing for between $20 and $120 a pound. Is it worth the price tag? The richer, darker, thicker sweetener has “damp earth” notes and a slightly bitter, eucalyptus-heather flavor. The Honey Traveler describes it as having thixotropic properties: gel-like in its liquid form, it becomes more liquid when shaken or stirred. Its high sugar content and low pH levels enable it to restrict microbial growth. It contains hydrogen peroxide, an antibacterial and cleansing agent that draws moisture from wounds, and it produces dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which the American Academy of Dermatology describes as a naturally occurring sugar that generates methylglyoxal, an important antimicrobial.
Choose wisely when investing in this superfood—there are lots of imitations and counterfeit versions. The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association has the most reliable grading system, labeling manuka honey with its quality mark and a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor), an important number to know. According to Bee Culture: The Magazine of American Beekeeping, it helps consumers understand the “active” or healthful levels of manuka honey, similar to SPF in sunscreens. A UMF rating of 0 to 4 is the lowest. A rating of 16+ indicates the most potent—and most expensive—product.
Manuka Honey and You
Whether you eat it or wear it, there are few downsides to manuka honey. Those with diabetes should be aware that honey is a natural form of sugar and adjust their intake appropriately.
On the inside:
On the outside, you can apply it to cuts and burns. Or try a face mask: Combine a well-mashed half avocado, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 teaspoon manuka honey. Spread evenly on your face. The avocado moisturizes, the milk cleanses, and the honey makes skin supple. Rinse off with warm water after 15 minutes. Close up the pores with cold water and enjoy your naturally glowing skin.
The honey has gained acclaim from celebrities around the world, but it was nearly wiped out in the 1950s because New Zealanders considered its source plant a weed. Luckily, the plan failed and the rest is sweet, sweet history.