Sweet Deceit

There’s another honey problem, and it’s not that the bees are going away.  Manuka honey has become the new frontier of consumer fraud!

What’s In A Number?

This article was prompted by one of our West Hartford fans asking a simple question: “What’s up with the numbers on the honey?”

If you’ve never seen it, some honey products have little numbers on the label.  These numbers are used to represent the purity and potency of manuka honey, a honey that is made from a specific plant in New Zealand.

There is an official quality grading system in New Zealand, called the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF).  They test for the presence and concentration of 3 main compounds: DHA (dihydroxyacetone), methylglyoxal, and leptosperin.  These factors are unique to manuka honey and are responsible for the therapeutic benefits.  In particular, they work as antibacterial agents and help when used topically on wounds.

Bootleg Manuka

What number do we want?  “The bigger the better, right?”  The costs seem to reflect that belief;  cost goes up as those numbers go up.  As always, there’s a gap between what you think you’re getting and what you are actually getting.

Typical to this industry, there is no regulation.  The term “manuka” can be used freely.  This means, quite simply, you can take normal honey and call it manuka.  You can take low potency manuka and label it as high potency manuka.  The numbers don’t matter.

We saw a product listed with one of our wholesalers that is 100+ manuka factors.  Look at that table again.  It doesn’t go past 28+!  That MUST be some magical manuka!

There is no requirement for manufacturers to submit samples to get UMF graded.  Companies may test, but the tests used outside of UMF in many instances are variable, so the true percentage of the potency can’t be ascertained.

Our Approach

The numbers on manuka honey products have become a marketing thing.  Trying to validate those claims as a consumer is nearly impossible.  

One thing you’ll notice about some of our manuka products is that they don’t have the UMF seal either!  “You hypocrites!”  No, not really.  

Our standards state that honey products should be sold in glass containers to prevent leaching.  We haven’t been able to find a quality UMF product sold in glass, not plastic.  

We buy our manuka honey products from a manufacturer who buys directly from a specific source in New Zealand.  They are overly transparent and share with us the results of a valid testing agency often.

What’s the difference between the different grades of manuka? 

We are digging through research to determine if any number over 10+ matters.  Based on our preliminary research, there may not be much difference, but we’ll keep you updated.

Manuka honey quality matters.

We are big fans of potent manuka honey for topical burns or wounds.  Internally, it doesn’t really differentiate itself from regular honey (at least based on our research).  We’ve also had great success with manuka honey lozenges for sore throats. 

Just beware when you buy:  look for the UMF logo, don’t focus on getting huge numbers (until we get you more data), and make sure you can trust that your natural products expert knows what’s going on with honey!

All of our Woodstock Vitamins products are Vitality Approved, so you can be sure that you’re getting quality products: pure, potent, and consistent batch to batch.

Just trying to keep it real…

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

Dr. Neal Smoller, Holistic Pharmacist

About Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist: and owner of Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in the most famous small town in America—Woodstock, NY. He’s also the host of the popular wellness podcast, The Big Mouth Pharmacist.”


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