When it comes to superfoods, manuka honey just may be your new go-to sugar substitute. Its popularity has recently skyrocketed, which could explain why the honey selection at your grocery store has suddenly tripled. But what is it about this syrupy golden substance that makes it so in demand? The health benefits of manuka honey are numerous — but there's something you need to look for on the bottle to take full advantage of its germ-killing properties.
What is manuka honey?
Manuka honey is named after the manuka bush, which grows predominantly in New Zealand and Australia. The mankuka bush is where the bees gather nectar and pollen to create honey, which is then called manuka honey.
A man named Tony Holmes, who claimed to be a beekeeper, described the taste of manuka honey as, unique and strong, with a "slightly bitter taste, [that] is very typical of darker honey, like heather, buckwheat, and other dark honey — all of which have a very strong and distinct taste — like sorghum, or molasses, but more honey-like. To summarize, you’d have to taste it for yourself, but it’s not 'light and sweet' like an acacia or clover honey."
How do you use manuka honey?
Manuka honey — like regular honey — is touted for its ability to fight infection and mend wounds. "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," a 2011 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine reported.
How To Pick the Best Manuka Honey
When it comes to choosing the best manuka honey, you want to look at the methylglyoxal (MGO) level, chemist James Gawenis, PhD, told Good Morning America. MGO is the ingredient that gives manuka honey its germ-fighting powers; the higher the MGO, the more expensive the honey. “If it doesn’t have the MGO levels, then you may as well buy sweet clover honey for less than a tenth of the price you’re paying for manuka honey," Dr. Gawenis said.
To know if your honey's MGO levels are high enough, pay attention to the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) number. UMF numbers correspond to the honey's antibacterial properties and range from five to 20; the higher the number, the better and stronger the antibacterial properties. A UMF number of 12 is considered medical grade, according to Frances Largeman-Roth, RD.
The next time you're in the store and you're trying to decide which bottle to buy, make sure you're checking the label for the honey's MGO level or UMF number. Manuka honey can get a bit expensive, but if it's high-grade honey, you'll get your money's worth.