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What Is Manuka Honey—And Should You Be Eating It?

What Is Manuka Honey—And Should You Be Eating It?

Manuka honey has been touted as a cure for everything from acne to stomach ulcers. But what is it exactly, and does it really have health benefits?

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Manuka honey is a type of honey made by bees that pollinate the manuka bush in New Zealand. (All honey is classified by what plant(s) the bees pollinate—wildflower honey, clover honey, etc.) Manuka honey, which has a strong, slightly bitter flavor, was used medicinally in New Zealand for many years before being exported and marketed to the rest of the world.

Health Benefits of Manuka Honey

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However, there is little research showing that manuka honey can cure cancer, lower cholesterol, or purify skin—so the health claims about manuka are certainly overblown.

Why You Might Not Want to Buy Manuka Honey

Honey can be nutritious, and it can be an antibacterial wound or burn treatment—and manuka might be one of the healthiest and most effective honeys. But its price tag—which can reach $75 for 8 ounces—is hard to justify.

Also, you can’t really be sure that all manuka honey is really manuka honey. New Zealand produces 1,700 tons of the stuff every year, while about 10,000 tons are sold around the world, meaning that a very large chunk of what is sold as manuka isn't legitimate.

The bottom line? You’re better off buying honey from your local farmer’s market—it packs the same health benefits, but for a much lower price.


What is Manuka Honey and How to Eat it

Manuka honey has been around for centuries, but it's only in recent years that this elixir from New Zealand has become quite popular in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Just like celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow do, you can get the best out of its benefits by consuming one or two teaspoons of manuka honey each day for good health.

But what exactly is manuka honey? How should you eat it? Let's take a look.


When we talk of superfoods, raw honey has a lot of health benefits. Manuka honey though not raw honey, is antibacterial and is also bacteria resistant. It means that bacteria are unable to build any resistance to the antibacterial properties of Manuka honey. Manuka honey is considered to be an effective treatment for clearing skin blemishes to cure sore throats.

Scientific research supports the healing qualities of Manuka honey. The healing benefits include:

Antibacterial properties:

Scores of bacteria are sensitive to Manuka honey. That includes Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus. Manuka honey is equally effective against Clostridium difficile (2), which is considered to be a very difficult micro-organism. Scientists are actually fascinated by the fact that Manuka honey attacks bacterial infections that form a biofilm. Biofilm is a thin sheet of bacteria which, once created, is considered to be untreatable.

To this day, there has been no evidence of microbial resistance to Manuka honey. It means that this honey is successful against bacterial resistance and cures such wounds that do not heal with traditional antibiotic remedy(5).

Curing Wounds:

Like all honey, Manuka honey also helps to cure wounds (4). Manuka honey is acidic in nature and has a pH between 3.2 and 4.5. These acidic properties help to heal the wounds. The acidic properties also help block enzymes that break down the proteins and peptides needed to repair the body by itself. Since there is a high proportion of sugar in Manuka honey, it also helps to protect wounds.

Manuka honey contains low moisture and draws the wound fluids, which in the process removes the waste material and speeds up healing activity. It also removes water from the bacteria cells since bacteria need water in its cell to survive, draining of the same kills it.

Antiviral properties:

The natural antibiotic properties of honey have been known for ages. Recent studies have found out that Manuka honey's capacity to eliminate germs comes from hydrogen peroxide combined with the enzymes produced by bees. Manuka honey also has MGO, a substance derived from the nectar of Manuka flowers, and it attacks the micro-organisms with more power and helps to heal both chronic and minor wounds.

The proven remedial qualities of MGO have made the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to approve bandages with Manuka honey for both prescription and OTC (Over the Counter) sales.

Skincare:

It is proven that Manuka honey can reduce irritation and inflammation in the skin caused by acne. To get the best results, the honey should be applied on the acne(3) in a thin layer and kept on for a minimum of fifteen minutes. The honey mask, if kept for a more extended period, gives better results.

Manuka honey is also used to soothe eczema. Apply Manuka honey in equal proportion with beeswax and olive oil at least three times a day to get the desired result.

Digestive benefits:

There are digestive benefits from taking one to two tablespoon of Manuka honey every day. The honey can be eaten with your food or directly. If added with food, consider eating it as a spread over a slice of whole-grain bread or by adding it to your yogurt. You can also have Manuka honey added to your tea.

Manuka honey cures your sore throat. If you want to be cautious about your immune system, take a tablespoon of honey every day.


Nutrition Facts

The health-promoting effects of honey depends on the specific type of honey, where it’s harvested and how it’s processed. Not only does raw/unpasteurized Manuka honey have an appealing taste, it provides an array of nutrients that can generally help support healthy immune function.

Manuka is especially high in compounds such as methylglyoxal (MGO) and hydrogen peroxide, as well as B vitamins, amino acids and certain trace minerals like calcium and copper. These compounds and nutrients have led manuka honey to be associated with a long list of health benefits.

Naturally occurring MGO is a key compound in manuka honey that makes it so different from other kinds of conventional honey, since MGO is believed to support the health of certain tissues and general metabolic function.

Raw manuka honey features:

  • Methylglyoxal (MGO)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Amino acids
  • B vitamins (B6, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid)
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

The amount of manuka honey that you should aim to consume as part of an overall diet ranges depending on both your nutritional needs and health goals. To make the most of its nutrient and carbohydrate content, it’s best to include it in your diet along with quality sources of protein, fiber and healthy fats.


What Is Manuka Honey—And Should You Be Eating It? - Recipes

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

It’s not just anecdotal it’s medical science. Raw honey, especially manuka honey, has unique qualities that make it an amazing medicament for the mouth – not to mention the rest of the body.[1] Several recent peer-reviewed articles describe the newest research and come to the same conclusion: manuka honey is at least an adjunctive medicine for the mouth.[2]

Manuka honey wears many hats, especially for wound healing.[3] It can be a toothpaste, an antibiotic, an antiviral, an antifungal, a regenerative agent, an anti-cancer substance, an antioxidant, a prebiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and so much more. I’ll discuss what it is, how it works in the mouth, how to use it, and brands to buy (including the one I use personally).

What is Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is a single flower honey, which comes from the manuka tree. It is native to New Zealand and southeastern Australia. To make manuka honey, beekeepers introduce European honeybees to areas that have a large concentration of wild growing manuka trees during their 6-week blooming period. Manuka trees are grown in a relatively pollution-free environment without exposure to industrial chemicals or pesticides.

Manuka honey looks and tastes differently than other honeys. It is thicker than other honeys because of high levels of specific types of proteins. Typically, it has a dark cream or dark brown color, and the flavor is considered to be “more earthy” than other raw honeys.

As with almost all honeys, Manuka honey is roughly 80% sugars and 17% water, with the last bit being comprised of minerals, organic acids, enzymes, etc. Its sugar content is made up of about 31% glucose, 38% fructose, and a mixture of more complex sugars that are harder for the body to breakdown. Honey contains 4% to 5% fructo-oligosaccharides, which are excellent prebiotics to feed beneficial bacteria in the gut.

All honeys contain about 200 biologically active chemicals. These raw and unfiltered honeys are a good source of amino acids, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, but Manuka honey has up to four times the nutritional content of all other flower honeys. Most of the pharmacological effects of honey come from polyphenols, which are found in large concentrations in honey.

But Manuka honey has concentrations of a unique compound. Manuka has non-peroxide bacteriostatic properties that are the result of methylglyoxal (MGO).[4] This biologically active compound is not present to any great extent in other honeys, and it enhances wound healing and tissue regeneration by its immunomodulatory properties.

In 2017, Niaz et al published a review of the tissue regenerating effects of manuka honey.[5] The authors stated that their research showed, “Manuka honey can inhibit the process of carcinogenesis by controlling different molecular processes and progression of cancer cells.”

Oral Benefits

More than 100 systemic diseases and more than 500 medications have oral manifestations, with 145 commonly prescribed drugs causing dry mouth. And honey, especially manuka honey, can have beneficial effects on these oral manifestations.

For those of you who are fact-checkers, here are a few peer-reviewed papers proving honey has significant medical applications when used in the mouth:

  • Honey exerts antibacterial effects on nearly 60 species and prevents the development of resistant strains of bacteria. [6],[7],[8]
  • Manuka honey is effective in preventing growth of biofilm organisms, reducing the production of acids, and reducing gingivitis.[9]
  • Randomized controlled trials indicate honey helps prevent dental caries and gingivitis following orthodontic treatment.[10]
  • A double-blind, randomized controlled trial demonstrates that manuka honey and raw honey are as effective as chlorhexidine as a mouthwash.[11]
  • Manuka honey controls odor and inflammation in wounds secondary to squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity.[12]
  • Tualang honey has cytotoxic effects on cultured oral squamous cell carcinomas.[13]
  • Multiple reports indicate honey is beneficial in the treatment of radiation induced mucositis in people undergoing curative radiotherapy for their head and neck cancer.[14]
  • Honey is helpful in treating radiation induced xerostomia in people undergoing curative radiotherapy for their head and neck cancer.[15]
  • Honey enhances wound healing in non-healing or recurrent wounds in the head and neck area after radiotherapy.[16]

Practical Applications

Because Manuka Honey is thicker than regular honeys, you probably will use smaller amounts.

Toothpaste: Put about 1/2 teaspoon of manuka honey in your mouth and spread it around all your teeth using your tongue. Then use an electric toothbrush as you would normally brush.

Healing oral soft tissue lesions: Swish 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey around your mouth for a minute or so, and then swallow. Use as often as necessary.

Lips and corner of mouth: Apply manuka honey to dry lips and sore corners of mouth as needed.

Systemic benefits: Eat about 1/2 teaspoon of honey 2-3 times a day for systemic benefits like improving a cough and cold symptoms from upper respiratory infections, preventing gastric ulcers, and improving digestive symptoms.

A mouthwash: If you feel you need to “freshen” your mouth, swish with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey and then swallow.

Dry mouth: If you have dry mouth or xerostomia, swish with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of honey as needed and then swallow.

Purchasing Options

The New Zealand government’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) created the first global standard and scientific definition for manuka honey in early 2018.[17] This is the only government-regulated and approved standard for manuka honey in the world.

As of February 5, 2018, all honey labeled as manuka honey and exported from New Zealand is now required to be tested to show that it meets the MPI standard before it can lawfully be exported. The test results from the certifying lab must accompany the export documents for the manuka honey ensuring that product packed in New Zealand is genuine.

Brands of Manuka Honey

(NOTE: I do not receive any compensation from any company whose products I recommend.)

My favorite is “Manuka Honey KFactor16” from Wedderspoon[18], which I use personally.

There are other manuka honeys that I have not personally tried but are highly rated by others. They are:

  • Kiva Raw
  • Manuka Doctor Bio Active
  • Comvita Premium
  • Happy Valley Honey
  • Manuka Health 100% Pure
  • Pacific Resources Fancy Grade

Raw honey – especially manuka honey – has been shown to be an effective adjunctive medicament for the mouth. It seems that Mother Nature may know best. Give it a try. I have, and I have been very pleased with the results.


Allergic Reactions

Manuka honey is a natural product, but it contains substances from bees and the flowers they visit that are foreign to your body and may cause an immune system or allergic reaction. Normally, your immune system protects you by identifying foreign substances or organisms then acting to destroy, sequester or inactivate them. Sometimes, however, your immune system overdoes it by overestimating the threat and overreacting. The immune system responds to an allergen by releasing histamine, whose side effects include itching, swelling, hives, rashes and runny nose -- allergy symptoms.


Manuka Honey Reviews

While I’d heard of Manuka honey before now, I had never bothered to try it until it was basically prescribed to me! It was just so expensive, but craving sweetness as I was, I decided it was worth a try. But I wanted to do some investigating first. After learning all about MGO, UMF, and the New Zealand vs. Australia debate, I felt like an informed enough buyer to purchase the right kind of Manuka honey (yes, there are many different types!).

Once I’d reintroduced coffee with success, I bit the bullet and finally invested in a jar of Manuka honey, the first one from Australia. I loved it! It’s quite sweet, and was very different from any other honey I’d had. My body still seems fine with the one tablespoon daily, as prescribed by my doctor, so I decided to find a favorite. I bought two other brands of Manuka honey with the same specifications, each of those from New Zealand. I’ll start with my favorite: Manukora.

1) Manukora, UMF 20+/MGO 830+

Even in a warm room on a summer day, this honey is very viscous it’s got undertones of tobacco and sweet tarts candy, which I sweat is a good thing. The combination stops it from tasting cloyingly sweet, but the kick of sweetness at the beginning quickly mellows out into herbal marshmallow root flavor that had me really savoring the teaspoon I started with. Overall, this honey tastes the most satisfyingly sweet to me, rather than merely addictive (like most sweets are). I’m on my 3rd jar, as of posting this!

2) Good Natured, MGO 820+/NPA 20+

None of these Manuka honeys tasted very honey-like to me, but this one definitely came the closest to the clover stuff most of us grew up on. It’s very sweet and liquid, melts into your mouth, and punches you in the taste buds with sweetness. When tried by itself, it’s lightly fruity and a little addictive. This was my second-favorite to serve in my morning coffee because it blended in more as sweetener than honey, if that makes sense.

3) New Zealand Honey Co., UMF 20+/MGO 829+

Holy spearmint, Batman! This honey is definitely the most unusual-tasting of the three it even smells different. At first, it tasted like fennel and mint had been ground right into it, but eventually I put my finger on what it really tastes like: root beer. It tastes exactly like if root beer had a baby with honey I kid you not. The sweetness level and overall flavor stay relatively consistent throughout, and it tastes the least sweet of the jars, without a doubt. It’s moderately viscous, and interesting and tasty, but for having with my coffee it’s not the best choice.


Manuka Honey Nutritional Information Chart

Vitamins Minerals Nutritional Content
(Per 2 Teaspoons)
B6 Calcium 33 calories
Thiamin (B1) Magnesium No fat
Riboflavin (B2) Copper No cholesterol
Niacin (B3) Iron 8 grams of carbohydrates
Pantothenic Acid (B5) Zinc 1 gram of protein

Manuka honey also comes loaded with antioxidants. There are not many calories in Manuka honey and there is no fat or cholesterol. Manuka honey has a good glycemic index (GI), which means that its sugar is absorbed slowly and digested more easily. It goes without saying that there are many Manuka honey health benefits.


How does honey heal the skin?

“The healing property of honey is due to the fact that it offers antibacterial activity, maintains a moist wound condition, and its high viscosity helps to provide a protective barrier to prevent infection. Its immunomodulatory property is relevant to wound repair too….Honey is an ancient remedy for the treatment of infected wounds, which has recently been ‘rediscovered’ by the medical profession, particularly where conventional modern therapeutic agents fail. The first written reference to honey, a Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Aristotle (384-322 BC), when discussing different honeys, referred to pale honey as being “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds”.” [1]


A Spoonful of Honey the Trick to Fighting Off the Flu?

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

What would you say if I told you that there’s a food out there that can fight the flu without any of the harmful side effects linked to anti-influenza drugs such as “Tamiflu” ( oseltamivir ) or “Relenza” ( zanamivir )? I use this food all the time. I drizzle it on my yogurt, and it is also a tasty addition to biscuits, muffins, and especially pancakes. I even love putting a few drops in my tea with some lemon juice.

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? I’ll give you a hint: tiny insects make it in a hive-shaped factory. That’s right. I’m talking about the medicinal benefits of honey.

Everyone enjoys something sweet on occasion. I know I do. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I came across a recent study that explains how honey has displayed potential anti-influenza properties. It’s definitely a win-win situation.

So what’s this sweet honey study anyway? Let me tell you.

The study was published in the Archives of Medical Research, and as I read through the study, I noticed there’s one honey that was more powerful than the rest. It’s the “Superman” of honey, if you will. Manuka honey is its name.

The study observed the H1N1 influenza strain known as A/WSN/3, which researchers have been very familiar with for quite some time now. In the study, Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells were infected with the virus strain two days later, the cells were exposed to various varieties of honey. The honey types tested included soba (F. esculentum buckwheat), asacia (R. pseudoacacia ), renge (A. sinicus ), kanro (honeydew), and Manuka (L. scoparium ).

All five types of honey displayed antiviral activity, but Manuka did come out on top as the most effective. With Manuka being so powerful, it was also tested to determine its ability to reduce the growth of the influenza virus. The Manuka honey worked perfectly as an influenza pre- treatment by stopping the virus in its tracks. There were also noticeable virus reductions when the MDCK cells were treated with Manuka during and after the infection.

What makes Manuka honey, and other kinds of honey, so powerful when it comes to their antiviral abilities? Phytochemicals, particularly the flavonoids and phenolic acids, definitely have an influence.

But the healing properties of Manuka honey don’t end with influenza. It also has antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antifungal capabilities. Manuka is also known for its ability to heal minor burns and wounds when applied topically. The honey can also be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, such as poison ivy, psoriasis, acne, eczema, and, ironically, bee stings.

I also recall a 2013 study published in the renowned scientific journal PLOS ONE. For a 24- to 72-hour period, the researchers treated cancer cells with various Manuka honey concentrations. The results linked Manuka honey to reducing cancer cell growth in skin, colon, and breast cancers. Pretty amazing results, even as a starting-off point for more research.

A spoonful of honey can also have many benefits when eaten. It may help you reduce digestion issues such as acid reflux, bloating, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome. It may also treat sinus infections and diabetes, boost your immunity, and lower high cholesterol. Additional research is needed to fully support some of these benefits however, see for yourself. Enjoy a tablespoon of Manuka honey in your favorite tea, or even just in a glass of hot water with some lemon.

Where can you purchase a jar of this miracle honey? I got some Manuka honey at my local health food store the other day however, most grocery stores carry it as well. You can find it in the honey aisle, even though, in my opinion, its medicinal properties make it better suited for the supplement section.