You’ve heard of fake boobs, you’ve heard of fake handbags, but fake honey? Yes, it’s out there on sale. Well, specifically, fake Manuka honey is out there – after all, it’s not worth faking something that sells for 99p a jar, but Manuka can retail for £15+ a pot – so, hand me the sticky label replacer and Dodgy Bob is your uncle.
Recently, the guys in the know from the New Zealand based UMF Honey Association went on a little shopping spree in the UK and picked out four jars that looked suspicious (sadly they wouldn’t say what gave them away). They then tested them for criteria that they thought were important in a real Manuka honey – like definitely coming from a Manuka tree in New Zealand (that’s the pretty pink one up there), not be being adulterated with other nasties and actually containing the special something that makes Manuka do its thing – something called non-peroxide activity. Not one of them passed all the tests.
So, how do you know if you’re buying the real stuff or potentially a jar of Gales with a new label? Simples. Reputable brands from New Zealand suppliers are now being asked to sign up and display a handy little UMF® symbol. If it’s on your jar, you’ve got the real thing. If it’s not, it might not be fake or the company might just not have registered but why chance it?
You see UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor. It’s a measure of how much of all three of the active ingredients in Manuka, leptosperin, DHA and methylgloxal, the honey contains; the higher the UMF rating, the more active ingredients there are and the more therapeutic the honey is likely to be. If you want to harness the health benefits of Manuka Honey by eating it ideally you should be looking for brands marked with a UMF of 10-20 – below that it will taste good but it won’t have any added benefits. Honey’s marked with UMF of 20+ are more designed for topical usage – Manuka can help with wound healing. To keep their UMF rating the company not only has to fit some specially selected criteria they have to submit their honey for regular testing. There are over 100 companies allowed to carry the trademark – and you can check if your brand is registered.
Now since I first wrote this piece, another measure of Manuka Honey has appeared called MGO. You see, UMF, as brilliant as it is, is a New Zealand thing – but, Australia also has the ability to produce Manuka Honey from their own version of the Manuka tree. They couldn’t sign up to the UMF marking and so, Australian producers have decided to use MGO to show the strength of their product. This measures only the levels of methylglyoxal in the honey but again, shows how packed with active ingredients that particular product is. As with UMF, the higher the MGO the better – those marked 100-400 are good for eating, products marked 400 or over are better to use topically.
MGO vs UMF
You might be wondering which is better – the answer seems to depend who you ask. The fact is that both systems aim to show the purity of the honey, they both give you an idea as to whether the active ingredients in your product are found at levels that are actually going to get any benefit from the honey but devotees of UMF say, because it measures three ingredients it’s a bit more stringent. You can also check that the brand you’re choosing is registered on their site – if it’s not, but they have a UMF measure on the label alarm bells should probably start ringing.