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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Nature's Country Gold Manuka Honey, Hamilton, New Zealand

Manuka flowers
If you are into honey you've probably heard of Manuka honey: That it is from New Zealand and Australia; That it has health benefits including antibacterial properties, and That it is a rich, dark honey with an earthy taste. All true, as far as I can tell. But what exactly is Manuka?

To begin with it is pronounced "May new ka," (Mānuka) and it is a shrub/small tree (described as a scrub-type tree) that grows to 2-5 meters tall, but can grow taller. It is evergreen with dense branches, small prickly leaves and white (and sometimes pink) flowers. Its scientific name is Leptospermum scoparium, but it is also known as manuka myrtle, New Zealand teatree or just tea tree. 

Of note, there is another scrub-type bush, the Kanuka (Kānuka, Kunzea ericoides), that closely resembles Manuka and grows in the same areas. It has soft leaves, however, and produces a pale honey (that, unfortunately does not have the level of antibacterial qualities of Manuka). To verify that Manuka honey is Manuka honey (with all of those medicinal qualities), laboratory testing is done. To be labelled Manuka honey, at least 70% of its source must be pollen from Leptospermum scoparium.

Manuka shrub
 So what are the medicinal qualities of Manuka honey? Well, apparently all honeys have mild antiseptic properties because they all contain hydrogen peroxide (news to me!), but Manuka honey has additional antibacterial  properties (referred to as non-peroxide effects). In 1996 TradeNZ, in conjuncion with the Honey Research Unit (yes there is one!), established a standard for the classification of antibacterial honey activity, the UMF  (Unique Manuka Factor) industry standard. Within different batches of Manuka honey there can be 100-fold differences in non-peroxide effects activity. The UMF rating tests the antibacterial performance of honey and compares it to a phenol standard (a disinfectant). A UMF rating of 10 (equivalent to a 10% solution of phenol) is the minimum activity needed to get a UMF rating and this honey is called "Active Manuka Honey." Beware of "Active Manuka Honey" that does not have a rating- it may not be as active as you think. Active Manuka honey is effective in topically treating skin ailments, including dressing wounds and treating boils, burns, and cuts (something the native Maoris have always used Manuka honey for, apparently). It has also been reported to be effective in topically treating fungal skin conditions (particularly where that is a bacterial infection associated).

Apart from the UMF ratings there are the MGO ratings, which tests the level of methylglyoxal, the active ingredient responsible for the anti-bacterial properties of Manuka honey. The higher the MGO rating, the higher the level of anti-bacterial activity. 
Manuka Assam tea blend

According to one wiki listing for Manuka, the bush was called 'tea tree' because Captain Cook used its leaves to make tea. Its leaves are still used to make tea today and you can order Manuka tea online (just google Manuka tea). Its taste is reported to be similar to Rooibos (red bush) tea.

Of interest, native parakeets ingest Manuka leaves and bark, as well as apply leaves and bark mixed with preen gland oils to their feathers to combat parasites, and Manuka sawdust is used to smoke fish and meats to give them an unusual flavor. 

My Manuka honey (which comes courtesy of friends Robert and Monique who were visiting New Zealand recently) is produced by Nature's Country Gold out of Hamilton, New Zealand. Nature's Country Gold is a family affair started in 2005 (starting with 120 hives and now expanded to 1200) by Adrian and Lania Pohio. They collect and distribute Manuka, Rewarewa, Wild Flora, and Coastal Farmland honey (see their lovely website for more information). In addition, their son, Hayden, created Boosta energy bars, using their honey. 

Nature's Country Gold Manuka Honey
The non-peroxide UMF activity level of my honey is 5+, not high enough to make it worthwhile to slather on a burn, but with a little added anti-bacterial omph that might sooth a sore throat. 

Although it looks dark from the jar it is a bit deceptive because the jar is a dark brown. It is, in fact, a rich caramel color, very creamy and thick, coming off in sheets. I can easily get a huge swirl on a toothpick. In fact I broke a few toothpicks because it was so thick! It takes a second or two to melt, as do creamy honeys, and it is a little gummy as it melts. It isn't too sweet and has a mild  molasses flavor ending with a subtle molasses and eucalyptus (a little hint of menthol) presence at the end. Definitely too tasty to put on a wound (!) but would be lovely in hot tea or milk (to sooth a sore throat). In fact, it would be lovely on buttered toast as well as anywhere else you might like honey with a distinct flavor. 


  1. A very good and informative article indeed. It helps me a lot to enhance my knowledge, I really like the way the writer presented his views. manuka health gold

  2. Like me there are also many people who think that manuka honey is like a normal honey and no one know what manuka honey is ? Manuka honey is an expensive honey because it is a mono-floral honey which is made by bees. These bees only interact with just one species of flower. Manuka honey is not only delicious in taste but it also has many powerful health benefits.