So what is so special about UMF Manuka honey? Many of you are curious about my thoughts and take on the expensive label and here you have it.
We all know all types of honey produce an antiseptic molecule called hydrogen peroxide which is derived from glucose oxidase, an enzyme added by the bees. However, one floral varietal called Manuka differentiates itself with an additional antibacterial prowess for treating cuts, burns, stomach ulcers, skin infections and more. I'm certain that there are also other indigenous varietals that have an exceptionally high medical value in various parts of the world, but New Zealand's Manuka has been given an unmatched amount of attention in terms of empirical studies and research, accreditation and certification since 1982.
For decades, the prestigious, expensive registered trademark Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) dominated the market even though many suppliers tried to trick consumers with similar labels such as UMP, UMV, etc.
It was well known that some non-peroxide activity (NPA) was present in Manuka honey, but nobody knew what the system of UMF actually quantified and measured until the MGO labeled Manuka honey finally made its appearance in the market in 2008 and revealed to the world that Methylglyoxal was the mysterious ingredient responsible for the exceptional anti-bacteria action of Manuka honey. Supposedly, the higher the MGO level in honey, the greater the antimicrobial effect and MGO 100+ is the equivalent of UMF 5+. However, UMF Manuka products are still able to command a much higher price than Manuka indicated with MGO or NPA levels. For instance, a bottle of UMF 20+ can cost more than twice the price of a bottle with NPA 20+. A 500g lower-end brand of UMF 20+ licensed Manuka honey can cost about S$70 (approx. 56 USD) and a high-end brand of UMF 20+ of the same size can charge more than S$200 (approx. 160 USD). The price range is amazingly wide, even when these honeys are certified in the same way by the same UMF association. And because the average Joe and Jane only recognize the label "Manuka", the huge price differential in Manuka products has led to much confusion and misunderstanding.
The UMF association has claimed that due to the complex interactions with other components in honey, MGO, unlike UMF, does not directly correspond with the degree of antibacterial strength. Thus MGO 400+ is actually not the equivalent of UMF 40+, but UMF 12+. Much as UMF proponents have tried to influence Manuka suppliers to endorse only the UMF label by insisting that the UMF label is the best measure of Manuka's healing ability, my stance remains that the choice of honey for anyone is all about weighing factors related to assurance, individual's importance placed on certification, and price. When you know that there are people who would love to eat honey but cannot afford to do so, you can't help but to have a different perspective of branded foods, including extensively certified, exorbitantly priced honey which is not within the reach of everyone.
Please don't get me wrong, I am not trying to write off laboratory testing and certification of honey because commercial trademarks and the UMF labels can mean great assurance and give consumers peace of mind, but in some cases, when the honey ends up being so costly and luxuriously exclusive, and becomes far beyond the means of the masses to benefit from, no matter how superb the food is as a medicine, it bears little relevance to the average consumer. Also, my hunch is that Manuka honey is probably not the only medicinal grade honey in the entire world. Other honey sources which have not been researched and marketed the same way as Manuka may also have exceptionally (or even more exceptionally) valuable antimicrobial properties.
1. An introduction on The Miraculous Manuka Honey
2. Did you know that Manuka honey was once classified as a low grade honey and fed to the cattle? Find out more in: Manuka Honey as Medicine.
3. Read this article if you are overwhelmed and confused by the activity ratings of Manuka UMF, Active, Total Activity, MGO, and NPA - Manuka UMF and Other Activity Terms Explained
4. There are so many different types of honey. Which Honey to Buy?
5. If you are located in Singapore, check out Certified UMF Manuka Honey at Bee Healthy