Oi you over there, stirring a spoonful of honey into your hot water to aid digestion. And you, with the sore throat, dumping half a squeezy bottle of honey in your mouth.
Put down the tub of delicious, sticky, sweet $4.99 supermarket honey because there’s a good chance it can’t actually help you.
Manuka honey, on the other hand, can.
Mums have been recommending a good ole teaspoon of honey to soothe scratchy sore throats and cure colds since the dawn of civilisation (we presume, anyway) but in the mid-80s, Manuka honey became the premier honey of choice for scientists and anyone taking a keen interest in their health. And now, Instagram influencers.
If you’re not living your life in the ‘wellness’ space, it’s easy to write off Manuka honey as just another thing we have to spend money on to ‘be healthy’. Ugh.
But according to a stack of academic research and experts like Healthy Life Nutritionist Cayte Moxom, Manuka honey is worthy of the hype.
So strap on your goggles and let’s take a deep dive into the science behind Manuka honey, why it’s so expensive, and what makes it different from other honeys on the shelf.
What is Manuka honey?
Manuka honey is type of honey derived from the bees that feed on the nectar of New Zealand Manuka trees (otherwise known as Leptospermum scoparium).
Thick and dark in colour, Manuka honey has medicinal properties you won’t find in the regular squeezy bottles on supermarket shelves.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that these properties were discovered and reported on by Professor Peter Molan of New Zealand’s Waikato University, who found the low pH and high sugar levels in the honey could inhibit microbial growth.
In other words, it’s the kind of natural medicine you’ll legitimately enjoy the taste of. No offence, Chinese herbs.
What are the health benefits of Manuka honey?
"Manuka honey can be used like medicine, it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and is great for your overall nutrition and wellbeing," Moxom said.
"The health benefits of Manuka honey are far-reaching - assisting with allergies, anti-aging, oral health, gut health, immunity, fighting infection, blood sugar levels, sport performance and recovery, better sleep and general health."
On a day-to-day level, Moxom explained people use Manuka honey to treat colds, flus, sore throats, skin rashes, open wounds or sores and eczema.
How can you use Manuka honey?
To improve your general health and wellbeing, Moxom suggested dissolving a teaspoon of Manuka honey into a glass of warm water in the morning, or in the evening to possibly aid sleep. This is also a great way to treat sore throats.
Additionally, Manuka honey can be eaten on an everyday basis like you would supermarket honey if you want - on a slice of toast or in your cooking - however it's important not to heat the honey up as this alters the properties you're consuming the honey for in the first place.
Manuka honey is particularly effective when applied topically. For wounds or skin irritations, pop it directly on the skin. Yes, as in grab a butter knife or your fingers and spread it onto the area. Moxom recommended popping a band aid on over the top so you can go about your day without sticking to things/people/pets, and you should see improvement on the area after a couple of days.
You'll also find Manuka honey in a lot of your favourite beauty products, however you can just whack it directly onto the skin to cut out the middle man, so to speak.
How is Manuka honey different from supermarket brand honeys?
Honey is honey, right? you sigh while starring blankly into the abyss that is the honey aisle of your local supermarket.
That's where you're wrong.
"Supermarket honey is essentially sugar, so there's not a lot of health benefits to it," explained Moxom.
"A lot of honey on supermarket shelves is pasteurised and heated, so the medicinal qualities found in Manuka honey are altered in the heating process. A lot of processing also goes into producing supermarket honey, meaning the sticky, delicious stuff in the jar doesn't quite resemble how it started off in the beehive."
Additionally, there's no testing or regulations around the components of supermarket honey, meaning you can't guarantee the jar you grab off the shelf will boost your health in any way.
How is Manuka honey different from raw organic honeys?
But what about the jar of organic raw honey I bought? Do I have to bin that in favour of Manuka honey now too?
Short answer... no. But they're not the same thing.
"Raw organic honey is a step down from Manuka honey. A cheaper alternative to Manuka, raw organic honey is the middle ground between Manuka and supermarket honey," Moxom said.
"Organic raw honey doesn't have all the same active properties Manuka has, but it's as close to nature as you can get. Unlike supermarket honeys, raw organic honey isn't processed, so it's more than just sugar, and the goodness hasn't been stripped away.
"If you can't afford, choose raw organic honey over supermarket brands."
Moxom advised using raw organic honey for general use if you'd prefer to save your Manuka honey for when times are tough.
Why does Manuka honey cost more than other honeys?
Manuka honey starts at around $20, and soars upwards of $118-149 for a 250 gram jar of the real good stuff.
And no, those price estimates aren't typos. It's not uncommon to find two identical sized jars of Manuka honey sitting next to each other on the shelf, yet one can be a bucketload more expensive than the other.
Moxom stressed "you get what you pay for" rings through when comparing the cost of Manuka honey with the considerably cheaper alternatives.
"What you're paying for is the science behind it, and the research that shows this particular honey has certain health benefits, as opposed to cheaper supermarket honeys that don't have proven health benefits," she said.
As for which of the many Manuka honeys to spend your dosh on, the most important thing to know is, the higher the MGO rating of the Manuka honey, the more you'll expect to pay.
Which leads really nicely into...
What is a Manuka Honey MGO rating?
As Moxom mentioned above, Manuka honey comes with a built-in guarantee you'll reap its many health benefits.
That guarantee is called a Methylglyoxal (MGO) rating. And every jar, tub and batch of Manuka honey has one.
Methylglyoxal is a major anti-bacterial compound naturally formed in the nectar of the Manuka flower ready for collection by the honey bee. While small traces of methylglyoxal can be found in many honeys, Manuka honey is distinguished by the way the compound is transferred into the honey, giving us the health benefits.
Think of the MGO rating the same as you would SPF in your sunscreen - the higher the rating, the more 'activity' the Manuka honey has (and the better health benefits you'll experience).
Moxom explained this rating system ensures quality, so it guarantees how much of the active methylglyoxal compound (a.k.a the bloody good stuff) in the honey you're actually getting.
"Each batch of Manuka honey is tested for the active components within the honey. Every batch is tested so you can guarantee it will do what it says it does," she said.
"The higher the number, the greater the amount of the active properties are in the honey."
For example, MGO 180+ Manuka honey means there is at least 180 milligrams of methylglyoxal per kg of Manuka honey in the product.
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What MGO rating should Manuka honey have?
Moxom advised choosing a Manuka honey with an MGO rating of 280+ or higher if you're wanting to experience the full range of health benefits.
"280+ is the point at which [the Manuka honey] will promote health and wellbeing," she explained.
"Less than that, and the Manuka honey is still a great general honey you could take everyday, but you would need to go to a 280+ or higher if you've got a sore throat or are wanting to treat other conditions. It will still be helpful, but the honey won't have high enough levels of the properties that will give you the health benefits."
Considering price should generally be indicative of the product's MGO rating, be wary of any exxy Manuka honeys that have an MGO rating lower than 280+.
According to Healthy Life, Manuka honeys with an MGO rating lower than 280+ can still be used to treat specific concerns.
Beneficial uses for MGO 100+ Manuka honey.
- Dry, irritated throat, mouth ulcers
- Topical for eczema and dry skin
Conversely, Manuka honeys with an MGO rating upwards of 280+ will provide further relief from more severe issues.
Beneficial uses for MGO 280+ Manuka honey.
- Gastritis, heartburn/reflux, irritable bowel
- Dry, irritated throat, mouth ulcers
Beneficial uses for MGo 400+, 550+ and 800+ Manuka honey.
- Gastritis, heartburn/reflux, irritable bowel
- Sore throat and coughs
- Gum disease, mouth ulcers, dental care
- Wound healing
Is Manuka honey worth the price?
Now for the answer to the million dollar question. OK maybe not a million dollars, but a nice Manuka honey-shaped dent in your weekly grocery bill.
"It all comes back to - you get what you pay for," Moxom said, again.
"You do really need to look at what you're trying to achieve by adding honey into your daily routine.
"Supermarket honeys are essentially processed sugar, and there's no real benefit adding this to your diet. Raw organic honey is a great, budget friendly alternative to supermarket honey for general use like spreading on your morning toast, or adding a spoonful to your coffee."
Moxom still stressed if your goal is to reap health benefits from eating honey, you're better off dropping cash on quality, high MGO Manuka honey.
"Honeys tend to look quite similar, but no other honey can offer the health benefits of Manuka honey. A good quality Manuka honey with an MGO rating upwards of 280+ is worth the price."