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Manuka Honey

A great benefit to New Zealand beekeepers

I can guarantee that if I am on a beekeeping stand at a show, or similar event, I will be asked several times about Manuka honey. I suspect that many other beekeepers have been asked a similar question. Why? The answer is quite simple, firstly an accidental discovery, secondly a clever publicity campaign.

It has long been known that honey has antibacterial properties, which is why it has been used to treat burns and wounds. All honey, whatever the source, contains hydrogen peroxide, a compound that kills bacteria. Another antibacterial component in all honeys is Methylglyoxal (MG). In the early 1980s it was accidentally discovered that honey from the manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) bush contains a much higher level of MG than is present in other honeys. MG at high levels will kill bacteria and viruses that are resistant to some antibiotics, the higher the concentration, the greater the effect.

Manuka grows wild in New Zealand and parts of Australia. Before this discovery, manuka honey was a problem to New Zealand beekeepers. It is thixotropic in the same way as ling heather honey is, making it difficult to extract. It was not easy to sell, so the price was depressed. The discovery of its antibacterial properties soon changed the fortunes of New Zealand beekeepers, with manuka honey becoming one of the worlds most sought after and expensive honeys, so much so that apparently around three times the amount of "manuka" honey is sold worldwide than is produced!

When I was young, New Zealand was known for some rather flavourless low priced honey, but they must be congratulated on making the most of an accidental discovery. Good luck to them!

I have consulted several sources of information to write the above.

Roger Patterson.