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.
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|
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.