What's special about manuka honey, what does 'UMF' mean, and are the health claims about this expensive ingredient really true? We take a closer look.
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is native to New Zealand and is a dark honey produced by bees that pollinate the flowers on the manuka bush. Manuka honey contains active compounds which give it natural antibacterial properties – and it is this that sets it apart from other honey.
What is the UMF trademark?
UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor and is a quality trademark that is given to registered licensed beekeepers, producers and exporters of genuine manuka honey.
As well as looking for UMF on the label of any manuka honey product, you’ll also see a number such as 10+ or 25+, which represents the level of unique signature compounds, methylglyoxal (MG) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA) present in that specific honey – this is what gives the honey its purity and quality. The higher the number, the greater the MG and DHA content, and therefore the more pure and potent the honey is considered to be.
Manuka honey, like any other honey, is high in sugar with 12g per 15g (2 tsp) serving, and it is low in fat, fibre and protein with less than 0.5g respectively. There is negligible salt content in manuka honey. Two teaspoons provides around 49 calories.
While manuka honey is a sugar, it is a simple sugar, unlike refined sugars which are sucrose. This makes absorption for energy much easier, but it also has nutritional advantages over other sugars, providing other nutrients.
Manuka honey contains some amino acids, which are essentially protein building blocks that contribute to growth and function, B vitamins which have many roles including releasing energy from food, calcium for strong bones and teeth, iron for healthy red blood cell production, potassium which helps the heart muscle to work properly, and zinc for wound healing and processing the macronutrients from our food.
Other health claims about manuka honey
There are many, varied health claims that have been made about manuka honey. Some of these are based on limited, small-scale studies which, although promising, can't be used to draw firm conclusions about the clinical use of manuka honey. Always check with your GP or other health professional if you're concerned about your symptoms.
Does manuka honey aid wound healing?
Manuka honey is probably becoming most well-known for its wound healing properties for, when applied directly to a wound, it may improve the healing process and decrease pain – so much so that the US Food and Drug Administration approved it as an option for wound treatment in 2015.
Manuka honey offers collectively antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which studies have shown may offer wound healing capabilities in tissue regeneration, acute wounds and superficial partial thickness burns, diabetic ulcers and eyelid wounds, for example, post-surgery.
Does manuka honey support digestive health?
Research has also shown the potential for manuka honey to help protect against gastric ulcers, by providing an anti-inflammatory effect.
It also offers potential as a prebiotic, containing a non-digestible food known as oligosaccharide, which helps to improve levels of ‘good’ bacteria in our digestive system including bifidobacteria and lactobacilli populations.
In addition, there is some evidence of the power of manuka honey to help treat other gut infections from strains such as clostridium difficile, which has been linked to conditions such as colitis, as well as helicobacter pylori which can cause ulcers and acid reflux.
Does manuka honey offer antiviral properties?
A 2014 study of manuka honey found that in vitro, it efficiently inhibited influenza viruses, and another study found it had significant in vitro activity against shingles. However, more research is needed in this area before any firm conclusions can be drawn, as no human trials have been carried out as yet.
Soothes a sore throat
A hot honey and lemon drink is an age-old home remedy for a cold, but studies have supported this claim. A study in 2010 found that honey was more effective on a cough in children than over-the-counter cough suppressants. This was followed by new guidelines in 2018 from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE and Public Health England (PHE) to use honey as a first-line treatment to reduce the symptoms of a short-term cough.
What is a healthy portion size of manuka honey?
A maximum of two teaspoons a day (15g) is a good portion size of manuka honey, as while it has many impressive health benefits it is still high in sugar.
How to buy the best manuka honey
Firstly check that it is from New Zealand and that it carries the UMF stamp and trademark.
The label should also carry the UMF rating such as 10+ or 25+. The higher the number, the better in terms of nutritional benefits – but the more expensive the product will be.
Is manuka honey safe for everyone?
Honey is safe for most adults, however, it must be avoided if you are allergic to honey or bees.
Those with diabetes also need to be careful around their blood sugar levels when consuming manuka honey, as it is high in sugar.
The NHS also advises not to give honey to children under the age of 1 year old as occasionally it contains a bacteria that can be can cause serious illness in infants.
This article was published on 5 March 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.