How to Choose Manuka Honey: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need

Manuka flowers

Finding the best manuka honey is more challenging than it should be. You have to pay attention to the grading systems and the various grades out there, along with other indicators of quality. How you plan to use the honey will also impact the best choice of grade.

Thankfully, the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

Once you know how to choose manuka honey, finding the right product is simple. To do that, you need to know what to look for

So, this guide highlights the key criteria to consider and how to get the best manuka honey for your needs.

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Why Manuka Honey Matters

How to Choose Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is widely considered the healthiest type of honey. It offers all the health benefits of regular honey. But, manuka honey is also distinctive.

For one thing, it is much darker than other types of honey. It also has an intense and rich flavor. This can be surprising initially, but many people enjoy it. As with other honey, the color and taste will vary from batch to batch.

The honey is also mostly produced in Australia and New Zealand. It is then imported to the United States and other countries. This is one reason that manuka is more expensive than other honey varieties. 

Manuka is popular because it has strong antibacterial properties. This mostly comes from the compound methylglyoxal (MGO) (1), although other components also play a role (2). 

MGO isn’t nearly as significant in other types of honey. This makes manuka much more powerful for fighting infections.

Manuka has substantial antibacterial impacts, more than other types of honey

Which Manuka Honey is Healthiest?

Manuka honey

Objectively, the best manuka honey will always be the one with the highest grade. This should have the most antibacterial properties and the highest potential for health benefits.

But, that’s only partially accurate.

At a personal level, the best manuka choice is going to depend on how you plan to use the honey. After all, there is a large jump in price as you go up the manuka honey grades. If you’re not wanting the antibacterial benefits, then paying for the higher grades mightn’t make sense.

So then, we need to consider how you're going to use your honey. 

Medicinal Manuka Honey Uses

These are situations where the antibacterial aspects of the honey are significant. As a result, higher levels of antibacterial activity are going to be more powerful. Some such uses include the following:

  • For fighting a cold or an infection
  • Applied to the skin to promote wound or burn healing
  • For improving digestion or colon health
  • As a cough or sore throat remedy
  • For treating acne, hives and eczema

In these situations (and many more) the antibacterial impacts are critical. So, you need honey that has these effects. This is where manuka honey's grading system can be very useful.

Manuka Honey

Other Uses

There are, of course, other reasons to use the honey. These include any uses where the antibacterial activity simply isn’t relevant. 

For example, some people just use manuka honey as an ingredient in cooking, partly because of the flavor.

Some other common uses include:

  • An alternative sweetener
  • An ingredient in a salve for soothing the skin
  • Part of a face mask
  • As a component of the diet
  • To lower overall inflammation
  • For these purposes, the grade of manuka honey won’t matter. Instead, you can choose whichever one works for your needs. For example, if you're using honey to make apple cider vinegar more bearable, the grade isn't too relevant. The same is true if you're combining it with lemon in a drink. 

    Even so, it’s best to stick with raw manuka honey, rather than refined. Raw honey tends to offer more health benefits and often has increased enzymatic activity. Raw brands often have a greater focus on quality too – which is desirable.

    What About Multiple Uses?

    Most people don’t buy manuka honey for a single purpose. Instead, you might use it in a combination of ways – some medicinal, some not.

    You can certainly use a higher grade of honey for non-medicinal uses. But, the reverse isn’t true. This creates two options.

    • You can use a higher grade manuka honey for both situations. This is best if you don’t plan to use large amounts for non-medicinal uses.
    • You can buy the higher grade for medicinal purposes and use a lower grade of honey for regular use. This is powerful if you plan to regularly use honey in cooking or in skin care, for example,

    Either approach is effective. The goal is to decide based on your own needs and budget.

    The higher manuka grades are inherently healthier. But, the best choice is going to depend on your needs

    Manuka Honey Grades and Systems

    Manuka honey and bread on a table

    The next topic is the honey grades themselves. How do you actually determine whether one brand is better than another?

    Basically, manuka honey is significant because it has non-peroxide activity (NPA). This means it has antibacterial impacts that are unrelated to the compound hydrogen peroxide. The higher this activity is, the better the antibacterial impacts.

    Multiple grading systems are used to compare manuka honey brands. The most powerful are the ones that consider NPA levels.

    • Unique Manuka Factor (UMF). This system looks at the overall antibacterial performance of the honey, including NPA and peroxide effects. This provides the best overall indication of antibacterial outcomes, although it doesn’t differentiate between the sources of the activity.
    • MGO. MGO is short for methylglyoxal and the standard simply measures MGO activity in the honey.
    • KFactor. This is an independent grading system. It focuses on the quality and purity of the honey, rather than the NPA.
    • Bio Active. This grading system doesn’t measure NPA either. Instead, it is similar to KFactor, with a focus on quality rather than antibacterial activity. Of the two, KFactor is more open about how the scale is calculated.

    Both UMF and MGO measure the NPA levels. This makes them both powerful for medicinal and non-medicinal uses. UMF is considered the industry standard and is the most common approach. In contrast, MGO is only used by the company Manuka Health New Zealand.

    Of the two, UMF is more reliable anyway. Research shows that MGO levels do not show all of the NPA activity in honey. Some authors have even claimed that the MGO scale is misleading marketing for that reason (3).

    The other standards don’t measure NPA. This means they’re only suitable for non-medicinal uses.

    Honey that is high on the KFactor or Bio Active scale could still have high antibacterial activity. However, there’s no way to know, as the KFactor and Bio Active scales aren’t testing for that.

    For medicinal manuka uses, you need to rely on the MGO or the UMF scale

    What Grade of Honey Should You Choose?

    Creamed Manuka Honey

    As a general rule, higher manuka grades are better for health. But, UMF ranges from 5+ to around 25+, while MGO goes from 30 and goes past 800. As such, the best number will vary depending on what scale you’re considering. The exact levels look like this (4):

    UMF

    MGO

    UMF 5+

    83

    UMF 10+

    263

    UMF 12+

    354

    UMF 15+

    514

    UMF 18+

    692

    UMF 20+

    829

    The other scales can’t be directly compared because they don’t measure NPA levels.

    So, which is best?

    • For non-medicinal uses, you can choose any grade
    • For medicinal uses, pick at least UMF 10+/MGO 261
    • If you plan to dilute the honey, make sure you choose a higher grade than you would otherwise
    • Higher grades will offer more benefits. So, pick the highest that is practical for your needs and budget

    If you’re considering non-medicinal uses only, the KFactor rating may even be more powerful. As the site Nourishing World explains, this system considers a range of outcomes, including the following:

    • Purity
    • The presence/absence of chemical residues
    • Consistency of pH levels
    • Phenolic compounds
    • Antioxidants
    • Live enzymes

    The system doesn’t consider antibacterial levels – so it’s not relevant for medicinal uses. Still, the scale acts as a good measure of quality. That aspect is significant for making sure you get the best honey.

    Specific Uses

    The grade of honey you use may also vary depending on the situation, like in the examples below. These are just general guidelines. Even so, they’re a good place to start and offer extra insight.

    • Improving the immune system. If you’re trying to keep yourself healthy, UMF 10+ should be more than enough. This gives you the antibacterial benefits you need without costing a large amount. The same is true for general health benefits.
    • Supporting digestive health. This use actually requires a higher UMF, ideally around UMF 20+. The reason is that honey gets diluted when you ingest it. So, you need a higher grade of honey to see full benefits.
    • An active infection. Choose higher grade honey (e.g. UMF 15+ or 20+). Your body is currently fighting an infection, so a low grade of honey may not be strong enough.
    • Reducing acne, healing burns, etc. Here, UMF 10+ should be sufficient. A higher grade will be more beneficial but isn’t strictly necessary.

    The best grade of honey depends on your needs, but higher grades offer more antibacterial impacts

    Other Factors to Consider

    Bees making honey

    Manuka honey grades are critical. The higher the grade, the better the antibacterial impacts. But, there are some other aspects too.

    • Raw versus refined. Raw honey offers better enzyme activity and more health benefits. High grade honey should be raw anyway but it’s still worth checking this. Reliable companies will offer details about their processes and whether the honey is raw.
    • The company. As with olive oil, some companies produce fake manuka honey. Some of these have questionable quality, while some also mix in other types of honey. This is a pattern that the site Kiwi Importer discusses in detail. As such, it’s important to choose high-quality brands and focus on ones that are transparent and get good reviews.
    • Pure honey. Even if you’re not worried about antibacterial properties, it’s important to find a product that only contains manuka honey. Some brands include multiple sources of honey and this won’t always be obvious. Read the labels carefully and always pay attention to reviews.

    Aspects like the purity, whether the honey is raw and the company behind it are also relevant when choosing manuka honey

    Where to Buy Manuka Honey

    Containers of Manuka Honey

    Once you know what to look for, finding good manuka honey is easy. You simply need to pay attention to the labels and look for the best manuka honey grade for your needs.

    The honey is also popular, so there are many different places to purchase it.

    One of the best choices is to look online (that’s true for other honey as well). This allows you to easily compare the different products and their ratings. You can normally find details about the company and their methods as well.

    Many people simply stick to Amazon for their broad selection and ease of use. Some honey companies also allow you to order from their sites. And, of course, you can easily find manuka honey in local stores.

    Manuka honey is easy to find, such as online or in local stores

    Final Thoughts

    When you’re choosing manuka honey, the highest grades will always be the most powerful. But, if you’re mostly adding your honey into tea or using it on your skin, a lower grade may be equally beneficial.

    As with any product, the goal is simply to match what you’re getting to your own needs. Thankfully, there are many options to choose from.

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    How to Choose Manuka Honey

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