Manuka honey is a type of honey that comes primarily from the nectar of the manuka tree, which is native to New Zealand and Australia.
Although it’s more expensive than regular honey, manuka honey is quite popular due to its potential health benefits.
In particular, it has antibacterial properties which could make it effective at treating open wounds, killing bad bacteria in the mouth, soothing sore throats and treating acne.
Manuka honey achieved worldwide popularity in the 1990s after the term UMF (Unique Manuka Honey Factor) was coined and manuka honey was promoted to the increasingly health-conscious American public.
Although the manuka plant had been used in medicine by the Maori for centuries, manuka honey itself is quite new. Native bees in New Zealand do not have hives or produce honey, so it wasn’t until honey bees were introduced in New Zealand in 1839 that honey could be produced in New Zealand.
What Is UMF?
When looking at manuka honeys, you’ll come across lots of strange acronyms and numbers. One of the most important acronyms to understand is UMF, which stands for Unique Manuka Honey Factor.
Real manuka honey can be identified by the presence of three “marker compounds”.
Marker compounds are active ingredients or chemicals that identify a substance as belonging to a particular type, in this case manuka honey.
The more of these marker compounds, the stronger the honey is and the more antibacterial effects it will have. In manuka honey, the three marker compounds are:
- Methylglyoxal (MG)
An alternative rating to UMF is MGO, which just measures the amount of methylglyoxal. It’s measured in milligrams of methylglyoxal per kilogram of honey.
UMF numbers are always lower than MGO numbers. Here’s a chart showing how they compare:
To ensure you’re buying quality manuka honey, it’s best to stick to products with a UMF or MGO rating.
Manuka honey with a UMF of less than 10 (or an MGO of less than 260) is unlikely to have significant antibacterial effects. In general, the higher the UMF number, the better.
It’s better to choose a honey with a UMF rating rather than just an MGO rating. This is because the MGO rating is easier to manipulate artificially, for example by simply adding methylglyoxal to regular honey.
Therefore, a UMF rating is a more reliable sign of real manuka honey.
Best Manuka Honey in the UK
Here are three of the best manuka honey products you can buy in the UK.
Steens UMF 15+ Raw Manuka Honey
Steens are one of the biggest and most respected manuka honey brands. This particular honey is raw and unpasteurised (cold pressed), so it retains all the healthy enzymes of natural honey. It has a UMF of 15+, which is relatively high and equates to an MGO of at least 514.
This product comes in a BPA-free plastic tub rather than a glass jar, so it’s not perfect if you’re trying to go plastic free. However, plastic is lighter, so transporting plastic tubs from New Zealand would use less fossil fuels than transporting plastic jars.
Unlike many manuka honeys, this product contains “bee bread”. Bee bread is the plant pollen bees take to their hives, which is rich in vitamins, minerals and plant phenols.
There are some fake manuka honey products out there, as well as brands that use misleading figures to disguise the fact that their products have a low UMF. Steens’ honey is expensive, but they are a reliable and trustworthy brand who produce high-quality, real manuka honey.
Steens produce manuka honey with a range of UMF ratings, from UMF 5+ to UMF 27+. The UMF 15+ version pictured above offers a good compromise between price and strength.
Comvita Manuka Honey UMF 15+
Here’s another high-quality manuka honey with a UMF of 15+ and an MGO level of 514. Comvita’s honey is produced on New Zealand’s North Island, and is independently tested for leptosperin, methylglyoxal (MGO) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA).
New Zealand-based Comvita is the world’s biggest producer of UMF-certified manuka honey. The brand was founded in 1974 by Claude Stratford and Alan Bougen. Claude ate honey everyday and lived to the age of 102!
This honey is unpasteurised, so it retains the healthy enzymes and plant phenols that would otherwise be destroyed by heating the honey to pasteurise it.
As well as this UMF 15+ honey, Comvita also sell several other products, with UMF ratings from 5+ to 20+.
Like the Steens honey reviewed above, Comvita’s honey comes in a plastic jar rather than a glass one.
At the time of writing, this honey is slightly more expensive than Steens’ equivalent UMF 15+ product. However, Comvita are a very high-quality and reliable brand.
WildCape UMF 15+ East Cape Manuka Honey
WildCape’s honey comes from the East Cape of New Zealand’s North Island. According to the WildCape, their honey is the only single-source UMF manuka honey you can get from this pristine area of New Zealand.
This honey has a nice sweet taste that isn’t bitter unlike some other manuka honeys. It comes in in a BPA-free plastic tub rather than a glass jar.
At the time of writing, this honey is similarly priced to alternatives from Steens and Comvita. It’s worth looking at the price per gram or per 100 grams to see which works out cheapest.
Can You Get Manuka Honey in Glass Jars?
Most manuka comes in plastic rather than glass. Plastic is having a devastating effect on the environment, and can also leach toxic chemicals into our food.
The only manuka honey we could find in a glass jar is this MGO 600+ manuka honey, which is packaged in the UK.
Since manuka honey is produced in New Zealand and then transported to the UK, using glass jars could actually be less environmentally friendly as glass weighs a lot more than plastic and therefore requires more fuel to transport.
If we had to pick just one of these products to recommend it would be Steens’ UMF 15+ Raw Manuka Honey. Steens is a well-known and respected brand who create quality products, and with a UMF rating of 15+, this honey offers a good amount of antibacterial ingredients.
If you’re looking to take advantage of the health benefits of honey without spending so much on manuka, see our roundup of the best raw honey you can get in the UK.
Laurence is the founder and editor of Naturaler. He’s been working in the online world for over 5 years and is trying to live a more natural and eco-friendly lifestyle every day.