What Is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey is gaining traction for its natural health benefits and healing properties. It's been touted for a laundry list of benefits—from skin-healing (wounds, eczema, even acne) to treating sore throats, sinus infections and ulcers. But what is manuka honey, how does it differ from your grocery store bear-shaped honey bottle, and which of its purported benefits are legit? We'll tell you.
What Is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey is a dark "monofloral" honey, meaning the bees who make it forage predominantly on one type of plant. In this instance, it's a manuka tree, which is native to Australia and New Zealand. Manuka honey is darker in color than many other honeys, which suggests that it delivers more good-for-you polyphenols and antioxidants.
Honey, in general, not just manuka, has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Those properties come from both its high sugar content and its low pH. How do those two qualities fend off infection? A high sugar concentration leads to lower water activity—and microbes need water to grow. So, limit water and you'll hinder microbe growth. Honey is also slightly acidic, so when it's used topically, it has the potential to lower the pH of a wound—and that promotes healing.
Read more: The Best Foods to Eat to Fight Inflammation
Health Benefits of Manuka Honey
Manuka honey, however, is often referred to as the "healing honey" and is thought to be superior to other honeys when it comes to its healing benefits, especially with wounds. That's because it's rich in a compound (called glucose oxidase) that—when used topically—helps produce hydrogen peroxide. (Yes, we're talking about that clear liquid that comes in a brown bottle at your local pharmacy that makes your cuts fizz and seems to accelerate their healing.) Manuka honey's ability to release hydrogen peroxide makes it that much more powerful in reducing and eliminating bacteria.
Research suggests that manuka honey specifically has the potential to help fight various bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella, a couple of Streptococcus strains, Helicobacter pylori, Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
There is also research that supports its use as a natural mouthwash—helping to reduce plaque (you may want to talk to your dentist first though, since manuka honey does have sugar). Another study found it to be an effective sinonasal rinse: when it was used twice a day (diluted in a saline), it was deemed safe—though not superior to antibiotics or standard saline rinses.
Where Can You Buy Manuka Honey?
Go to purchase manuka honey (which is widely available at Amazon, Costco and well-stocked natural-foods stores), and you'll often see the label bears a MGO or UMF rating. MGO is a rating of its antibacterial effect, and has research and FDA backing (manuka honey is approved by the FDA for use in some wound dressings and bandages). The higher the MGO, the more potent the honey. UMF (unique manuka factor) is a rating from the honey producers and may not be a reliable indicator of antibacterial potency.
You'll also notice that manuka honey is more expensive than the honey you're used to buying. And you'll find it available not only in a bottle or jar, but also in lozenges, capsules, blended with other functional foods, and made into topical gels.
Potential health benefits aside, manuka honey is tasty (it has a slightly sharp taste in addition to its sweetness) and typically has a lower glycemic index than other honey. Its texture, however, is not as smooth as most other honeys. Still, it deserves a spot in your pantry, as well as your medicine cabinet.
"I love using it in homemade tonics and elixirs. I'll make a concentrated concoction of herbal tea, spices, apple-cider vinegar and manuka honey to mix with club soda or hot water. It's a flavorful and nutrient-rich alternative to sipping on a soft drink or sugary latte," says Jamie Vespa, M.S., RD, of DishingOutHealth.com.