What’s so special about Manuka honey?

Manuka honey has grown in popularity worldwide. It is often referred to as therapeutic honey and thus commands a premium price. Is this merely a marketing spin? How different is Manuka honey compared to traditional honey?

From a specific type of flowers

Honey is produced by bees with the nectar of flowers. Honey derived from different flowers can have distinctively different flavours and chemical compounds. Manuka honey is derived specifically from the Manuka tree (Leptospermum species) flowers that are native to New Zealand and South East Australia. Manuka honey typically is thicker and has a darker colour compared to the traditional form of commercial honey [1].

Manuka flowers – the source of Manuka honey

Possess unique antibacterial activities

The UMF rating on the label of a Manuka honey bottle

What sets Manuka honey apart from other types of honey is its unique antibacterial activities. Although all types of honey possess antibacterial activities due to the presence of hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂). H₂O₂ is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that can also kill bacteria. However, H₂O₂ is not stable under heat and sunlight. Manuka honey contains another antibacterial active ingredient called methylglyoxal (MGO) that is heat and light stable [2,3].

The ability of manuka honey to fight bacterial is measured by its MGO content. The strength of manuka honey, as measured by partially or fully its MGO content, is denoted by either the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) or MGO ratings on its label. In general, the higher the MGO/UMF rating, the stronger the antibacterial activities of the product. The following table shows a mapping between UMF rating and MGO content [4]:   

UMF to MGO Mapping
UMF 5+ 83
UMF 10+ 263
UMF 12+ 356
UMF 15+ 514
UMF 18+ 696
UMF 20+ 829

* MGO is measured as methylglyoxal mg/kg (ppm)
It is suggested that, for daily consumption, Manuka honey with low UMF/MGO rating is enough. However, for therapeutic use, a higher strength Manuka honey is required [3].  

Evidence on health benefits

The research on Manuka honey started in the mid-1980s with Professor Peter Molan of Waikato University, New Zealand, began testing the activity of Manuka honey on a wide range of different bacterial species [1]. Research from in vitro, animal, and human trials over the years has shown that Manuka honey has many therapeutic effects. Among them include:

Topical application of Manuka honey heals wound
  1. Expedite wound healing – in addition to bacterial growth inhibition, glyoxal and MGO from Manuka honey can enhance wound healing and tissue regeneration through modulation of the immune system [5].
  2. Prevent dental caries and plaque – due to its antibacterial activity, Manuka honey-based oral products have been shown to be an effective alternative for the prevention of dental caries and gingivitis [6,7].
  3. Improve symptoms of coughing and sore throats – cough and sore throats are commonly caused by infection of bacterial pathogens. Several studies have demonstrated that honey can ease the symptoms of upper respiratory infections [8], inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes lining the digestive tract [9], and reducing the Streptococcus bacteria responsible for sore throats [10].
  4. Prevent and heal gastric ulcers – Gastric ulcers is normally caused by the Helicobacter pylori bacteria. The H. pylori bacteria is known to be susceptible to the antibacterial activity of Manuka honey [11,12].
Manuka honey kills the H. pylori bacteria that causes gastric ulcers.

There are many other potentials uses of Manuka honey due to its antibacterial activities which have not be studied.  With the overuse of antibiotics over the last several decades, there is now a growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. In fact, new medical guidelines in the UK on common cold and cough are now recommending the use of honey as one of a potential first-line of defence, to reduce the reliance on antibiotics. Manuka honey is a very promising remedy indeed.


Manuka honey differs from other types of honey due to its unique MGO content which possesses strong antibacterial activity. Current evidence supports its use not only as a health food but also as an antibacterial agent. So, always keep a bottle of Manuka honey at home, it can be a very useful natural home remedy!

Having a flu? Manuka honey can be your first line of defence!


[1]        D.A. Carter, S.E. Blair, N.N. Cokcetin, D. Bouzo, P. Brooks, R. Schothauer, E.J. Harry, Therapeutic manuka honey: No longer so alternative, Front. Microbiol. 7 (2016) 1–11. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.00569.

[2]        N. Martini, Manuka Honey, J Prim Heal. Care. 8 (2016) 277–278. doi:doi:10.1071/HC15909.

[3]        Manuka Honey – Information and Measuring Methods, (n.d.). http://www.return2health.net/articles/manuka-honey-info/ (accessed September 21, 2018).

[4]        Manuka Honey UMF vs MGO Calculator | ExportX, (n.d.). https://export-x.com/manuka-honey-umf-to-mgo-calculator/ (accessed September 21, 2018).

[5]        K. Niaz, F. Maqbool, H. Bahadar, M. Abdollahi, Health Benefits of Manuka Honey as an Essential Constituent for Tissue Regeneration, Curr. Drug Metab. 18 (2018) 881–892. doi:10.2174/1389200218666170911152240.

[6]        R. Singhal, M. Siddibhavi, R. Sankeshwari, P. Patil, S. Jalihal, A. Ankola, Effectiveness of three mouthwashes – Manuka honey, Raw honey, and Chlorhexidine on plaque and gingival scores of 12-15-year-old school children: A randomized controlled field trial., J. Indian Soc. Periodontol. 22 (2018) 34–39. doi:10.4103/jisp.jisp_356_17.

[7]        A.-D.A. Atwa, R.Y. AbuShahba, M. Mostafa, M.I. Hashem, Effect of honey in preventing gingivitis and dental caries in patients undergoing orthodontic treatment., Saudi Dent. J. 26 (2014) 108–14. doi:10.1016/j.sdentj.2014.03.001.

[8]        M.N. Shadkam, H. Mozaffari-Khosravi, M.R. Mozayan, A Comparison of the Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and Diphenhydramine on Nightly Cough and Sleep Quality in Children and Their Parents, J. Altern. Complement. Med. 16 (2010) 787–793. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0311.

[9]        J. Bardy, A. Molassiotis, W.D. Ryder, K. Mais, A. Sykes, B. Yap, L. Lee, E. Kaczmarski, N. Slevin, A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial of active manuka honey and standard oral care for radiation-induced oral mucositis, Br. J. Oral Maxillofac. Surg. 50 (2012) 221–226. doi:10.1016/j.bjoms.2011.03.005.

[10]      M. Sela, D. Maroz, I. Gedalia, Streptococcus mutans in saliva of normal subjects and neck and head irradiated cancer subjects after consumption of honey., J. Oral Rehabil. 27 (2000) 269–70. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10784339 (accessed September 21, 2018).

[11]      N. al Somal, K.E. Coley, P.C. Molan, B.M. Hancock, Susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to the antibacterial activity of manuka honey., J. R. Soc. Med. 87 (1994) 9–12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8308841 (accessed September 21, 2018).

[12]      S.B. Almasaudi, N.A. El-Shitany, A.T. Abbas, U.A. Abdel-dayem, S.S. Ali, S.K. Al Jaouni, S. Harakeh, Antioxidant, Anti-inflammatory, and Antiulcer Potential of Manuka Honey against Gastric Ulcer in Rats, Oxid. Med. Cell. Longev. 2016 (2016) 1–10. doi:10.1155/2016/3643824.

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