The buzz on honey

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Navigating the plethora of honey options can be a challenge not to mention deciphering the difference between UMF, MGO and NPA ratings. Tanya Hollis investigates.

With so many choices and varying health claims for honey, you need the right information to feel confident you are getting what you pay for. The first step is to identify what you want the honey for. A tasty spread for your breakfast toast need not cost as much as a high-rated Manuka honey to assist with digestive and immune complaints.

Valued since ancient times as both food and medicine, honey is known to be rich in beneficial combinations of bioactive plant compounds and antioxidants.  It is a healthier sweetener for those managing blood sugar levels. Researchers also found that eating any good quality honey could have a prebiotic effect by boosting the number of beneficial gut bacteria.


What to look for when buying honey

In nature, hives can reach temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius, so keeping honey below this level ensures its health-giving properties are retained. This may be referred to on the label as raw or cold-extracted honey.

Choosing organic varieties means the honey meets the high standards required to achieve Australian certification. This requires that bees are kept at least 5km away from crops treated with pesticides and from industrial or waste sites.

Next along the scale is Manuka honey, which is produced from bees feeding on Leptospermum scoparium; a shrub native to Australia and New Zealand.  It is this honey, used for hundreds of years by the indigenous people of both countries, which scientists have found to have greater antibacterial potency than normal honey.

The antibacterial properties of Manuka honey – also referred to as its non-peroxide activity (NPA) – have long been expressed as a percentage of phenol equivalent, a scientific measure of antiseptic strength. That means Manuka honey carrying a rating of NPA20+ has the same minimum antibiotic strength as a 20 percent mixture of phenol.

In New Zealand, the trademarked Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) is the standard rating system. And while it carries a different name, it is an equivalent measure to NPA. So a jar of Manuka labeled UMF15+ carries the same strength as another labeled NPA15+.

More recent research has attributed Manuka honey’s unique properties to high concentrations of a naturally occurring chemical called methylglyoxal (MGO). As a result, many Australian Manukas are now rated by the parts per million of methylglyoxal contained in the honey.

Comprehensive conversion charts are available online. As a guide, the Manuka rating spectrum starts at NPA/UMF5+ (equal to MGO83+) and range up to NPA/UMF26+ (equal to MGO 1282+).

If it’s daily immune support and general wellbeing you’re after, Manuka rated up to UMF/NPA 15+ (MGO 514) is likely to meet your needs. For more severe conditions, higher ratings may be recommended. As always, it is best to consult a health professional before making your choice.

Australia and New Zealand are world renowned for their pure, therapeutic quality Manuka. Choose honey sourced locally for extra quality assurance.

At home, store all honey in a cool, dark spot and keep the container properly sealed to avoid contamination.

Honey Australia

Growing up in the fertile Cudgegong River valley in central west New South Wales, Nathan and Nicholas Maiolo watched their father meticulously working hard to create high-quality honey products. When the brothers joined the business full time in 2004, they helped take their father’s vision to the world with their company, Honey Australia, is now producing and packing up to 500 metric tonnes of honey annually for customers in Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the United States.

Their Australian Certified Organic products range from raw honey, gourmet blends with lemon, cinnamon or ginger, infusions of bee pollen and eucalyptus honey and Australian and New Zealand sourced Manuka honeys that sell for up to $250 for 250 grams.

And with customers shelling out hundreds of dollars for their top quality products, the Maiolo brothers are determined to honour that faith by developing a traceability system allowing people to check the source of their honey.

“Very soon every jar of BeePower Manuka honey will be labeled with a batch code which can be used to trace your honey back to the region that it was harvested and packed. The online tracking service will also provide a lab report for specific quality measures including MGO/NPA levels to ensure that our BeePower Manuka honey is absolutely authentic and true to label.” Nicholas explains.

To meet the demand, Honey Australia has a network of dozens of family beekeepers on Australia’s east coast and in New Zealand.

“Being part of a family company we’re able to support a network of other families to put food on their tables and develop the next generation of honey farmers.”

Note: Honey should not be given to children under 12 months.

About Tanya Hollis
Tanya Hollis is a Victorian writer specialising in health and sustainability.  See more at www.tanyaholliswrites.com

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