Manuka honey – now you can be sure you’re buying the real deal

The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UHMFA) has been working with Fera, the joint venture between Capita and Defra, to identify genuine – and fake – Manuka honey.

Manuka honey is well known for its health benefits, touted as a ‘superfood’ – to cure anything from sore throats to digestive problems – and even as a celebrity-endorsed skin treatment. But, unlike many natural remedies, it’s one that is actually backed up by academic research, particularly when it comes to its antibacterial properties. But only if it is genuine Manuka honey…

The Manuka honey scandal

Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush and, because of its rarity and health-giving properties, one jar can cost anything up to £35 a pot, making it big business. Such big business in fact, that there are stories of hive thefts, Manuka turf wars and sabotage through mass bee poisonings. And then there was the fake honey scandal. Back in 2015, The Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), the leading independent New Zealand authority on Manuka honey, revealed an estimated 10,000 tonnes of Manuka honey was being consumed globally each year (1,800 tonnes in the UK alone). But production of the genuine honey was set at just 1,700 tonnes each year. So with far more on sale than was actually being produced, it was clear that there was a lot of mislabelled – or ‘fake’ – Manuka honey on the shelves. And it’s still an issue today.

So how can you tell whether your honey is real or fake?

The UMFHA recently announced that it can prove what is (and isn’t) genuine Manuka honey. After more than four years of scientific research with Fera Science, Capita’s joint private/public sector venture with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), it has discovered a number of unique signature compounds found only in authentic Manuka honey.

There are over 200 signature compounds that, in combination, are unique to Manuka honey. The UMFHA then selected the top 18 compounds from that 200, that can be used to determine whether a honey product is Manuka or not. At the top of this list were three key identifiers: Leptosperin, Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and Methylglyoxal (MG). Leptosperin is particularly important as it is very hard to synthetically manufacture, so is only present in real Manuka honey.

Manuka honey can only carry the UMFA quality mark once it has been tested by a designated independent laboratory to confirm that it contains the three signature compounds. This means that consumers can finally be assured that they are buying genuine Manuka honey.

We have been working with the UMFHA for over five years now and are proud to say that, as part of the world leading science programme, we have discovered three of the unique signature compounds that allow us to test and prove the authenticity of Manuka honey. Being able to now identify what Manuka honey is will enable us to run future clinical trials to prove its benefits.

Dr Adrian Charlton
Biochemist and head of the Food Quality and Safety Programme, Fera