Manuka Honey Explained to every Filipino | Benefits, Use, and Why it's So Expensive

What is Manuka Honey?

If you're interested in getting healthy, you've heard about manuka honey.

Honey, in general, is considered to be extremely healthy for us.

It contains antioxidants, antimicrobials, and anti-inflammatory chemicals that will help increase your healing rate, and it's a healthy, organic sweetener.

There are many different kinds of honey, and you can distinguish them by taste, texture, or color.

And at the top of it all is the coveted Manuka Honey.

Manuka honey is made from a plant that only grows in New Zealand almost exclusively. The plant, named Leptospermum scoparium bush, is a small flowering plant found in the forests of New Zealand. It's also called the manuka plant, named by the indigenous Māori from the start of their settlement in New Zealand.

While some of the shrubs can be found in Australia, most of the world's manuka honey comes from New Zealand.

Part of this is due to the trademark that New Zealand has applied for the term and honey "Manuka," and it includes a series of tests that can guarantee the authenticity and pureness of the honey, which was put into place on January 5, 2018. In 2019, Australia tried to argue against the claim by stating their right to the ability to profit and produce their manuka honey.

However, the Prime minister of New Zealand, Shane Jones, counter-argued against this by stating that the word Manuka is an aboriginal word of Polynesian indigenous origin and that if they were to wish to continue using it, they must find their own term for the plant.

The Manuka Plant Origins

The Manuka plant has a rich, culturally relevant history. It is said that the Māori first discovered it when they came to New Zealand and have since then discovered its many uses and benefits. From food to medicinal purposes, the plant is rich and considered the taonga or treasure of the Māori.

Its bark has been used to shape and create tools and many artifacts, its gum has been found to help treat burns or sore throats, and the honey made from the plant's flowers has many antimicrobial and medicinal uses.

It rose in fame and popularity after Maria Bamby, an English beekeeper in 1839, first brought the honey to the shores when she set up her hives on the East Coast of the North Island, where Manuka bushes were abundant.

While the healing benefits of Manuka have been known in traditional Māori medicine for ages, it wasn't until 1980 that biochemist Peter Molan confirmed the usefulness of honey for medicinal purposes.

This caused demands for the honey to spike up, and then in 1998, the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) was created and integrated by the Active Manuka Honey Industry Group, which is now called the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA).

What's the UMF?

The UMF is a unique testing and trademark system that focuses on the assurance of the quality and purity of manuka honey. It is globally one of the most recognized, comprehensive, and independently certified quality assurance systems for New Zealand mānuka honey. It was designed to certify and validate the honey's purity, freshness, potency, authenticity, and shelf life.

This is called the Four Factor Quality Testing, and it looks explicitly at four chemical compositions and one DNA centric one.

The test will look at Potency, Authenticity, Shelf Life, and Freshness.

It looks at the level of methylglyoxal (MGO), the major antibacterial component of Manuka Honey, which comes from the conversion of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical compound found in the Manuka plant, and NPA, or non-peroxide activity.

The higher the MGO content, the higher the antibacterial properties, which is why purer manuka honey tends to be much more coveted.

Most honey will have hydrogen peroxide as part of its elemental chemical composition, and it is the hydrogen peroxide that hashes out the antibacterial properties of honey. Honey will have low pH levels, high osmolarity, and hydrogen peroxide which, when combined with glucose oxidase enzymes, release the antibacterial properties of hydrogen peroxide (enough to inhibit minor infections!) without causing damage to the tissues as they kill the bacteria. The problem is that this compound is weak to light and heat. It also breaks down when in contact with blood, saliva, and serum, canceling out the honey's naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.

Manuka honey, however, has NPA that is derived from the MGO of the plant, which is also derived from the DHA during the ripening process. MGO has antibacterial properties that are unaffected by heat, light, and other things that destroy the effects given by hydrogen peroxide.

UMF will also test the honey for leptosperin, the DNA found in Leptospermum scoparium, the Manuka plant. The test will give ratings for the potency of the honey, ranging from 5+ to 26+. Manuka honey can be monofloral or multi-floral, and this is what accounts for its potency.

Monofloral means that the honey comes from the nectar of one species of flower, while multi-floral means that the honey came from the nectar of a multitude of different flowers, or has been mixed in with other types of honey during the processing. Anything under 5+ is multi-floral honey, while those above 5+ a monofloral honey.

Of course, the higher the number, the higher the concentration and purity!

Okay, I get why manuka honey is so cool. But does it have to be that expensive?

In its purest form, manuka honey can cost upwards of 99USD per 100 grams of product, which is 100 times the cost of regular honey.

Apart from its unique taste and texture (which is earthy, rich, and with a hint of chestnut, with a thick, creamy consistency that is smooth as butter), manuka honey is also notorious for being difficult to obtain.

Making up only 1% of the total amount of honey produced globally, it can also only be extracted by a specific kind of bee called European honey bees (Apis mellifera). Manuka plants range far and wide over forests and remote areas, so most bees have to travel quite a way (up to 6km! Can you believe that?!) to even get to the plant! The UMF tests are also shouldered by the bee farms and producers, which are sure to drive up costs.

The manuka plant also only blooms for 12 days, which makes it have only a 2 to 6 week period of harvesting time for all parties involved. According to John Rawcliffe from the UMFHA, the act of harvesting the plant's honey relies mainly on acts of luck.

There are many things to consider, like wind, weather, rain, and other natural causes that could affect how the plants blossom during the season. For some seasons, harvests are extremely low (with some producers bordering on none at all) because of natural causes surrounding the terrain.

Being the sole major producer of honey also causes rises in prices due to importation, operation costs, and production costs.

Because of the uniqueness of the honey, part of the role of the UMF is to safeguard and trademark the authenticity of the honey, which adds an additional premium to the cost of manuka honey. All of this hikes up the price and makes it the most expensive honey out in the market.

(Wanna hear more about why manuka honey is so expensive? Check out this Business Insider episode on So Expensive, and get yourself a Manuka Honey Crash Course Why Mānuka Honey Is So Expensive | So Expensive)

What Manuka Can Do for You?

Manuka honey is amazing at treating burns and other minor wounds.

It's a flexible and versatile ingredient for skincare, and it can help soothe skin irritation, dermatitis, and eczema. It's perfect for digestive and gut health, and it can relieve coughs and sore throats.

Studies also show that it fights infections and boosts healing.

Some studies also show that, unlike antibiotics, the antibacterial properties in manuka honey don't contain any resistant bacteria or "super drugs," which would cause the body to have resistance to antibiotics, nor would they need unique kinds of antibiotics to treat the resistance.

Because honey is a sugar, it can cause blood sugar levels to rise if there is excessive consumption.

For some, it might even cause allergic reactions due to the presence of pollen.

Another possible side effect of manuka honey might be to agitate the side effects of other medications and cause them to increase; however, unlike other honey, there has yet to be any conclusive study on how manuka honey affects medications.

Where can I get manuka honey in the Philippines?

The digital age makes it much easier to get imported products.

There are a lot of shopping sites, such as Lazada, that claim to sell Manuka and honey.

We even found a few in the area with a lot of. Of course, like all things on shopping sites, we advise you to take caution in the authenticity of the products you will be buying. Make sure to check them when they come to your doorstep.

The Manuka Health brand also has an official store here in the Philippines, and they have a wide variety of UMF scores and concentrations, ranging from ₱900.00 for their manuka honey blend up to ₱8,600.00 for their UMF 22+, 250g premium manuka honey.

PrimeLife Wellness also has its own Manuka Honey with an MGO score of 514 (equivalent to UMF 15+) in a 500g bottle for JUST ₱6,107.00. It's made by a highly respectable New Zealand company that gets only the finest raw materials in New Zealand to produce some of the best manuka honey products.

Manuka honey is a fantastic product made by nature.

The uses, benefits, and specifications in its chemical compositions and compounds cannot be found in any other all-natural product, making manuka honey the only one of its kind.

If you can, you should get yourself a bottle to try it out and experience the magical taste and effects of manuka honey for yourself.