What are the different strengths of Mānuka Honey and what are they best for?

Mānuka Honey is renowned for its antimicrobial nature and healing properties, however not all Mānuka Honey is the same. Mānuka Honey comes in a range of different strengths and it is helpful to match the right strength with the right application.

Key terms explained

 

MGO - stands for Methylglyoxal Content. Methylglyoxal is the chemical compound that makes Mānuka Honey famous. Testing has derived the conclusion that methylglyoxal is active against bacteria because mānuka honey seems to be the only honey that continues to be an effective antibacterial without any hydrogen peroxide activity. It is composed of 1 methyl group, which is an alkyl derived from methane containing one carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms - CH3, and 1 glyoxal compound, which is a dialdehyde containing two oxygen double bonds - OCHCHO
 
NPA - stands for Non-Peroxide Activity. This is shorthand for non-hydrogen peroxide activity. The reason non-peroxide activity is valuable measurement is that it measures the strength of the Methylglyoxal. The bioactive Methylglyoxal on the other hand, is resistant to heat, body fluids, light, and enzymatic activity. Although other varieties of honey can record high NPA values unfortunately they are not as robust as Mānuka and degenerate under heat, light and enzymatic activity. This is why Mānuka honey is so special.
 
UMF - stands for Unique Mānuka Factor. This is a rating system that simply tells you how powerful the mānuka honey is. The higher the UMF number, the higher the level of active compounds. It is issued as a license if honey companies wish to use this rating system on their jars.
 
DHA - stands for dihydroxyacetone, a simple sugar. Dihydroxyacetone is the substance found in the mānuka flower nectar which is converted to MGO when the bees make honey. Dihydroxyacetone levels vary from mānuka flower to flower. This chemical compound consists of two OH groups bonded to the 2 ends of a 3 carbon chain with a double bond between the central carbon and an oxygen atom. It can also be referred to as 1,2-Dihydroxypropan-2-one. The DHA shares a unique relationship with the MGO. As Mānuka honey matures over time the DHA will reduce while the MGO will increase until these numbers are equal at which point the honey will strengthen no further.
What are the different strengths of Mānuka Honey?

 

The strength of Mānuka Honey is dependent upon the flower’s production of DHA and the bees’ production of methylglyoxal honey. The lower grade Mānuka honey is of mild strength and wonderful spread on some wholegrain toast or a spoonful added to a herbal tea. Whereas higher grade mānuka honey has more powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties and can be used for medicinal purposes such as aiding wound healing and reducing skin inflammation. Lower grade mānuka honey starts at approximately 2.5 UMF, also known as 50 MGO, and works its way up to 25 UMF or around 1200 MGO. To see how UMF and MGO compare check out our UMF to MGO calculator below.

 

UMF to MGO calculator

 

UMF 5 = MGO 83

UMF 10 = MGO 263

UMF 15 = MGO 514

UMF 20 = MGO 829

UMF 24 = MGO 1123
Why does Mānuka Honey come in different strengths?

 

Different mānuka flowers contain different levels of DHA. This affects the amount of methylglyoxal the bees will be able to produce when they make the honey. This means that the strength of your mānuka honey is kind of up to the bees! If your honeybees attend a flowering mānuka shrub that has low levels of DHA, unfortunately your mānuka honey will also have low MGO/UMF levels. However, if you are fortunate enough that your honeybees attend flowering mānuka with high levels of DHA, your MGO and UMF levels will also be super strong.

 

What are the different strengths of mānuka honey used for?

 

Firstly, all mānuka honey exhibits antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Why we are concerned with the different strengths of mānuka honey is that the stronger the honey (higher UMF/MGO) the more powerful the antibacterial and antimicrobial effects. This means the different strengths are suited for different purposes. The lowest grade of UMF 0 to 10 is the least antimicrobial and is therefore suitable for lower levels of bacterial infection, skin irritation, blemishes and wound cleaning. It’s also great on toast! The mid grade of 10 to 20 is more powerful and therefore a more therapeutic product. This is great for areas that require more urgent care and for fighting off colds and other bacterial infections. The highest grade of 20-25 is more powerful still and exhibits the strongest antimicrobial effect and is your best bet at fighting chronic infection using mānuka honey. We also highly recommend that with any infection it is hugely important that you visit a doctor urgently.
How do I choose what mānuka honey is best for me?

 

The Mānuka Honey that is right for you depends entirely on what you need it for. The higher the UMF/MGO, the more expensive the honey can get (some jars have even been known to go for thousands of dollars!) So if you don’t need a powerful antimicrobial warrior, stick with the lower grades. However, if you feel that cold coming on or have a particular skin blemish you are trying to tackle, the higher the grade the more powerful effect it will have. One other thing to note - if you are taking Mānuka Honey orally to combat a throat infection / irritation make sure you try and let the honey sit in your mouth and on the back of your throat for as long as possible because most of the honey’s benefit is neutralized once it reaches the stomach and is denatured by stomach acid.