Five-petaled white flowers and round buds on twigs bearing short spiky leaves. A dark bee is in the centre of one of the flowers.By Avenue – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Out of the 300 types of honey available today,1 Manuka honey has been generating the most buzz for its supposed benefits that you might not find in other honey varieties. Continue reading to learn what makes Manuka honey stand out, and how you can add it into your routine.

What Is Manuka Honey?

Manuka honey (Leptospermum scoparium) is produced by bees that tended to flowers of the Manuka plant (also known as tea tree)2 that grows in New Zealand’s North Island.3 Manuka honey is available either raw or processed.4

Compared to other types of honey, Manuka honey has been shown to be more potent and health-boosting because of its higher methylglyoxal (MG) concentration.5 This particular compound helps contribute to Manuka honey’s benefits (more on this to come later).

Although its steep price tag can throw some people off, various studies over the years prove that Manuka honey is quite beneficial for you, and is definitely worth the cost.

Health Benefits of Manuka Honey

Using this type of honey may be a wise decision on your part, because Manuka honey can help soothe sore throats, protect your body against the common cold and assist in relieving sinus infections.6 It can also help treat eye, ear and sinus infections, and even diabetes.7 Manuka honey’s antioxidant content can provide protection against tissue damage by neutralizing free radicals.8

Manuka honey may improve oral health by reducing oral pathogens found in plaque. It can also work wonders for the digestive system, as it can relieve bloating, mild digestive upsets, indigestion or gastric reflux, and may even help heal stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.9, 10, 11

Clinical trials discovered that Manuka honey can eradicate a whopping 250 clinical bacterial strains, including antibiotic-resistant varieties like MRSA, MSSA and VRE. Furthermore, researchers from the University of Southampton in the U.K. discovered Manuka honey’s potential in lowering infection risk and helping prevent biofilm (pathogenic bacterial colonies) development on catheters and other medical devices.

The researchers combined Manuka honey with bacterial cultures such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Proteus mirabilis to observe the honey’s effect on biofilm development. These bacteria strains were linked to the onset of urinary tract infections (UTIs).12, 13 According to the researchers:14

“After 72 hours … the highest dilution of honey — 16.7 percent — had reduced the stickiness of bacteria by 77 percent, and all other dilutions had reduced stickiness by at least 70 percent by that point.

In terms of biofilm growth, the researchers found all concentrations of Manuka honey had reduced growth after [four] hours; the highest concentration decreased growth by 38 percent after [four] hours, increasing to 46 percent after 24 hours.”

Manuka honey can also be good for your skin. If you’re suffering from acne, Manuka honey can provide anti-inflammatory effects,15 and lessen irritation too. Some studies have also proven that Manuka honey may heal eczema-affected skin.16 Lastly, Manuka honey can also be helpful during a pregnancy, since it can:17, 18

  • Serve as a remedy for morning sickness or nausea
  • Help keep sore throats at bay
  • Lessen allergic reactions
  • Potentially relieve heartburn, which is common during pregnancy

What Makes Manuka Honey Special in the First Place?

What sets Manuka honey apart from other honey varieties are its potent compounds that can help deal with infections and boost the body’s overall health.19 As mentioned above, Manuka honey has high methylglyoxal (MG) levels. This compound is also found in other types of honey, albeit in small amounts.20

In Manuka honey, MG develops after the conversion of dihydroxyacetone, a compound present in higher amounts in the nectar of Manuka flowers. A higher MG concentration can eventually lead to increased antibiotic capabilities. It’s said that higher MGO concentrations can lead to a stronger antibiotic effect.

The potency of genuine Manuka honey is rated via the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) rating.21 Dr. Peter Molan, a professor from Waikato University in New Zealand, discovered that some strains of the New Zealand Manuka plant contain highly effective, stable and powerful non-peroxide antibacterial properties.22

Molan then coined the term “UMF” to describe these properties, although no one has yet been able to determine the exact substance responsible for this honey’s antibacterial potential.

The UMF label is a global and authoritative standard, with a supply chain that’s independently audited and verified. No product can use the UMF label unless it complies with the stringent auditing process that will ensure the ratings and labels are accurate.

Manuka honey with the UMF label can be traced from the apiaries (or beekeeper’s yard) up through to the packaging factory. You can actually trace each jar back to the individual apiary that produced the honey, as well as the laboratory that tested its UMF potency.

How to Use Manuka Honey

You can certainly take Manuka honey orally, but did you know that it has topical applications, too? It can be used in:23, 24, 25, 26, 27

Wound dressings to help treat minor wounds and burns: Manuka honey is usually placed on top of wounds or burns to speed up their healing. Before applying this type of honey to wounds, however, consult a physician or health professional first since medical-grade Manuka honey that’s sterilized and prepared as a wound dressing must be used, and not typical Manuka honey.

Eye drops to assist with healing eye-related conditions: Manuka honey has benefits to the eyes, most likely because the Manuka plant itself has anti-bacterial properties.28

People who wear contact lenses and suffer from dry eye can use Manuka honey eye drops. There is also potential for Manuka drops to help ease blepharitis29 (inflammation of the eyelids30) and conjunctivitis or pink eye.31

Face masks to improve skin: A Manuka honey mask can exfoliate the skin and keep it healthy. Manuka honey may also act as a natural moisturizer that can improve skin hydration, since it can absorb moisture from the air and draw it into the skin. It possesses skin pH balancing, softening and brightening effects that’ll help your skin achieve a nice glow.

Spot treatments to help scars fade and brighten up your complexion: The antioxidants present in Manuka honey can assist with eliminating skin blemishes.

Comparing Manuka Honey Versus Raw and Regular Honey

You may be wondering how you can distinguish Manuka honey from other types of honey today, like raw and regular honey. The honey’s source is a key difference — Manuka honey specifically comes from the Manuka plant found in New Zealand. It doesn’t contain blends of other honey types, making the bio-active compounds in it fairly consistent. Meanwhile, both raw and regular honey are made by bees that source nectar from any plant.32

Manuka honey’s physical appearance is also different from those of raw and regular honey. Manuka honey colors vary from a light amber (light brownish yellow) with beige-cream undertones, to a medium-amber shade with a pale brownish undertone.33

Texture-wise, Manuka honey is thick and has a gel-like consistency under normal conditions. If it’s stirred, mixed or shaken, it’ll become less viscous, although the consistency will eventually return to its usual state. Manuka honey can form coarse crystals too, and has a slow crystallization time.

On the other hand, raw honey is opaque and milky, with colors varying from white to yellow or brown. Available in liquid or solid (creamed) form, raw honey often includes particles of wax, propolis and pollen,34 and has granules that can be melted in warm water, if desired.35 Meanwhile, regular honey is smooth and uniform in color.36

Lastly, these types of honey, after being extracted from the honeycomb, are processed differently. The final steps done by producers play a big role in the honey’s quality and potential benefits:

Manuka honey: Some brands may pasteurize and filter their honey. While these processes remove wax and other particles, important components like propolis and bee pollen may be eliminated as well, if the filter used is very fine.37

Manuka honey straight from the hive is a better option, although it is slightly heated first so the honey flows out from the honeycomb. Aside from antioxidants, high-quality Manuka honey contains amino acids, B vitamins and minerals like calcium, copper, iron, potassium, sodium and zinc.38

Raw honey: This type of honey isn’t heated or filtered, does not contain any artificial ingredients and retains health-boosting vitamins, nutrients and enzymes.39, 40

Regular honey: Avoid regular honey, since it’s typically pasteurized to kill yeast and prevent fermentation. By doing so, however, vitamins and enzymes are eliminated, therefore lowering the honey’s nutritional content.41

Regular honey might also contain antibiotics and artificial sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS) that can damage your health in the long run.42

Manuka Honey Nutrition Facts

What’s interesting about Manuka honey is that it has less sugar in every 1 tablespoon serving, compared to other types of honey. Check this nutrition chart for more details:

Manuka Honey Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 tablespoon

Amt. Per
% Daily
Calories 83
Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Trans Fat
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 20 g
Dietary Fiber
Sugar 0 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0% Iron 0%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

However, this doesn’t give you the liberty to consume as much Manuka honey as you want. Honey, albeit beneficial, still contains sugar that gives it its very sweet taste.

Because of this, excessive honey consumption can worsen pre-existing insulin resistance and other related conditions. To fully take advantage of Manuka honey’s (or even raw honey’s) benefits, it would be highly ideal to avoid ingesting it in copious amounts. Instead, use it in moderation, as to avoid worsening insulin resistance.

Where to Buy Manuka Honey

You can look for Manuka honey at your local supermarket or health stores like Whole Foods, or in:43, 44

Specialty food stores Vitamin and supplement shops
Sports nutrition shops Natural food shops
Local craft fairs or festivals Manufacturer’s websites

Look for the UMF label that measures the amount of non-peroxide activity (NPA) in the honey. This rating is audited and regulated by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) based in New Zealand. A higher number on the label means that the honey is more pure and active.45 Ideally, genuine Manuka honey should pass all six of the following criteria:46, 47, 48

Honey must possess the quality trademark “UMF” that’s stated on the front label. Honey is packed into jars and labeled in New Zealand. The honey is from a New Zealand company that’s licensed to use the quality trademark “UMF.”
Honey has the UMF Licensee’s brand name and license number on the front label. The label should possess both the rating number and trademark “UMF.”

If the number is on its own or without the UMF trademark, it’s not identified as genuine UMF Manuka Honey.

It is endorsed by the Official UMF Test Certificate that states the tests results for the batch number displayed on the label.

You can also look for Manuka honey products with a reference to NPA. This means that the honey was tested by independent laboratories for its non-peroxide activity that’ll indicate the antibacterial potency. NPA Manuka Honey manufacturers, however, aren’t permitted to use the UMF trademark since they do not pay the UMF licensing fee.49

Side Effects of Manuka Honey

Although you can certainly benefit from Manuka honey, there are side effects that you must watch out for:50

  • Allergic reactions, especially among people who are allergic to bees
  • Risk of increase in blood sugar levels (especially if used in high amounts)
  • Possible interactions with certain chemotherapy drugs

Manuka honey should not be given to babies under 12 months old. Honey is a known source of bacteria spores that can cause botulism,51 a rare and serious disease triggered by toxins from the Clostridium botulinum bacteria strain.52

As mentioned earlier, Manuka honey must be eaten in moderation. However, diabetic or prediabetic patients must refrain from consuming Manuka honey on a daily basis or consider eliminating it from their diet altogether. The high levels of MG and glucose may prompt increases in blood sugar levels and lead to diabetes complications.53