Such is the attraction and golden aura of New Zealand’s magical native manuka honey that one British supermarket was forced to resort to padlocking its pricey pots of the nectar under tagged security cassettes to protect them from swarms of shoplifters.
And when a Cornish company became the first manuka manufacturer in the UK five years ago, its indulgent pots were price tagged at £55 a jar – a whopping A$117.
Yet, incredibly, a survey discovered that while 58 per cent of Brits believed this “superfood” was better than ordinary honey, they had no idea why and 70 per cent did not know what the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) number on the front of the pots meant.
Today, manuka is no longer a new fad and we are all pretty savvy to this sticky indulgence, which tastes delicious on toast and is known for its healing properties. There are a variety of ways to enjoy it and it is a little less of a top-shelf luxury item.
Yet what is the magic about manuka and how can it really help heal?
The manuka is a small tree with aromatic leaves and is native to New Zealand and Tasmania. The honey is produced when bees pollinate the flowers of the bush.
Not all honey collected from the manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium) has antibacterial properties. It is laboratory tested first to determine whether it is active.
The higher the activity, the higher the rating – and the price.
In Australia, the tree used to make manuka honey is called the jelly bush. Australian jelly bush honey has been found to share the same properties as manuka honey, according to researchers from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, with both possessing the high level of additional non-peroxide, antibacterial components, which are stronger than other hydrogen peroxide types of honey.
Manuka honey is dark in colour with a strong flavour, which has been described as earthy, oily and herbaceous, and characterised as florid, rich and complex.
Most honeys contain a naturally occurring active agent – believed to aid good health – which is destroyed when exposed to heat and light.
Manuka contains an extra special ingredient, which does not lose its potency when exposed to such elements.
Manuka’s special quality is known as UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) and the higher the UMF, the more potent the honey and its powers.
The main medical use for manuka honey is on top of a wound. According to doctors, manuka honey’s high sugar content creates a waterless environment in which the bacteria that are infecting a wound are unable to survive.
The antibacterial qualities help to promote faster healing in deep wounds, while the active enzymes in the honey cause dead skin cells to lift off the wound, leaving a clean area for new growth.
Manuka is increasingly used for burn treatments, as it decreases the likelihood of the patient needing skin grafts; the skin regenerates faster and with less scarring when the honey is used.
A 2013 research report by The University of Technology in Sydney (UTS) reported that manuka honey was highly effective in the treatment of chronic wound infections. The research was particularly important, as the treatment of chronic wounds is becoming increasingly difficult due to antibiotic resistance, according to Professor Liz Harry, a lead researcher from the ithree Institute at UTS.
“Honey is an excellent example of where years of evolution can provide an effective, long-term medical solution and our research supports the claim that bacteria will not become resistant to honey,” Professor Harry said.
The study examined manuka, kanuka and clover honeys to determine which was the most effective at inhibiting the growth of four types of bacteria commonly found in chronic wounds.
On an everyday basis, a teaspoon of manuka honey on a small amount of bread three times a day can aid reflux, indigestion and gastritis. It also has immune-boosting and soothing properties – such as for a sore throat – and has been traditionally used for hay fever, although mainstream medicine doesn’t fully support this theory any more than claims it aids sunburn and asthma.
To find out more about this story, as well as other health and wellness features, pick up a copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly Health magazine on stands now with Rachael Finch on the cover.