If you find yourself wanting to order a pot of manuka honey online or alternatively find yourself in a shop staring at a range of different manuka brands, you will quickly start to find that the world of manuka honey it is not quite as simple as clicking and ordering. Manuka honey is a serious business because of its unique antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
The UMF brand is a trademark organization that originated from the Active Manuka Honey Association. The UMF trademark is aimed at protecting consumers and is given to manuka honey that has been tested and verified to ensure it actually contains the special antibacterial qualities claimed (non-peroxide qualities). The UMF system was devised by Professor Peter Molan, although he is no longer involved with the trade organization. The UMF system is based on measuring the antibacterial performance of the honey.
UMF classification of manuka honey based on research
The world began to really take note of the potential health benefits of manuka honey thanks to the work of one man: Professor Peter Molan. Professor Molan headed up a unique research unit called the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, where he pioneered research into the antibacterial properties and health benefits of manuka honey.
What is it about manuka honey that makes it special?
All honeys have a natural antibacterial effect to a certain extent because it contains hydrogen peroxide. However, manuka honey is special because it has antibacterial properties that are caused by non-peroxide activity, and the compound that is responsible for this special property is called methylgyoxal. Bees play a role in this too because the substance is only created once the bees have turned the nectar from the manuka tree into honey. An additional factor about manuka honey is that this substance, methylgyoxal, becomes more potent in manuka honey, although why and how this happens is as yet unknown.1
Not all manuka honey is the same
Not all manuka honey contains this special so-called non-peroxide activity and this is the reason why the term ‘Active Manuka Honey’ was invented. Another reason why this is important to know is because the superior type of manuka honey is not affected by heat and light, so retains its antibacterial power, unlike other honeys. If you want to ensure the manuka honey you buy is of the special type it must be manuka honey with non-peroxide activity, which is sometimes abbreviated to ‘NPA’.
There is another rating system called the MGO system, which stands for methylglyoxal , which is the antibacterial substance in manuka honey that makes it special. If the pot of honey you buy has this MGO system, then you can be sure that at least it is Active Manuka Honey. However, the level of methylglyoxal does not produce a standard result because the purer the manuka honey, the more of the so-called synergist present, which increases the potency of the antibacterial activity and vice versa.2 For this reason the UMF trademark is considered a better guide to the actual antibacterial strength of manuka honey.
1 What’s special about Active Manuka Honey. Professor Peter Molan
2 How the antibacterial activity of manuka honey is rated. Professor Peter Molan