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There are many different brands of Manuka honey on the market today. In single-flower stores, you may encounter the terms “single-flower Manuka,” “manuka,” “multi-flower Manuka,” or “manuka honey blend.” This can be very confusing, and if you only focus on the word Manuka you risk overpaying or missing out on the health benefits you are seeking. This article explains these terms and details the process for determining the authenticity of Manuka honey and what to look for when purchasing Manuka honey.
Why Is Manuka Honey So Special
But before we get into what manuka honey blends mean, we have to start at the beginning. What is Manuka honey and what makes it special?
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Manuka honey is honey produced by bees collecting the flowers of the Manuka tree (Leptospermum scoparium), which is native and mainly grown in New Zealand. Mānuka is the original Māori name for the tree, but the spelling without the makron has been popularized and accepted worldwide. The Manuka tree has white flowers and a strong earthy smell and taste.
Manuka honey contains a key compound called methylglyoxal that distinguishes it from other types of honey produced around the world. According to research, methylglyoxal concentration is directly related to the antibacterial properties of Manuka honey.
Manuka honey is more viscous than other honeys and is typically dark cream or dark brown in color. It is also rich in other nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, flavonoids, enzymes, phenolic acids, minerals and proteins that contribute to the many benefits of Manuka honey, such as wound healing, anti-tumor, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. [One]
You may be wondering, “What’s so special about Manuka honey?” In addition to its extensively studied health and wellness properties, three factors scientifically distinguish it from other types of honey. they:
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Dr. Peter Molan, a biochemist at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, made a very interesting observation while studying the properties of honey, which arises from the “hydrogen peroxide” produced when the glucose oxidase in honey interacts with water. He found that Manuka honey was special and unique in that it exhibited a different property that he called “non-peroxide activity” (NPA). He initially measured NPA by observing the inhibition of bacterial growth in honey samples.
This particular study investigated the antibacterial activity of New Zealand honey with and without the presence of hydrogen peroxide. In the case of Manuka honey samples, Staphylococcus aureus was inhibited after neutralizing the effect of hydrogen peroxide. This and subsequent research by Dr. Molan has brought global attention to Manuka honey as a wellness and healing product. 
In 2008, Professor Thomas Henle from the Technical University of Dresden began investigating what produces the antibacterial effect in Manuka honey. He identified methylglyoxal (MG) as the compound directly correlated to the non-peroxide activity of manuka honey. It was this discovery that enabled the development of a method for measuring MG concentration, which relates to the purity and potency of honey. This laid the foundation for more consistent and accurate results and quickly established itself as the primary testing standard for producers and packers.
Methylglyoxal is formed through a natural process as honey ripens. It is produced through the conversion of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) during the ripening process.  Levels of methylglyoxal can be measured directly, making testing faster and more repeatable. The higher the MG grade, the more potent the honey.
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Leptosferrin is a special and unique compound found only in Manuka flower nectar. It is used as an indicator of authenticity and is also known to contain anti-inflammatory properties.
The growing market coupled with the high relative price of Manuka honey has resulted in many questionable practices in the industry, such as honey adulteration and misleading labeling practices. In response, the New Zealand government established a regulatory framework used to control the labeling of Manuka honey. They set two honey levels based on key indicators: single-flower Manuka honey and multi-flower Manuka honey.
The framework uses five markers to authenticate and distinguish between single-flowered Manuka honey, multi-flowered Manuka honey, and non-Manuka honey. We use four chemical properties and one DNA marker unique to the Manuka flower. In the industry, these tests are referred to as MPI 5 markers.  
Through these standards and testing requirements, the New Zealand government regulates the labeling of all honey packaged and exported from New Zealand. The terms “manuka honey,” “single-flower Manuka honey,” “multi-flower Manuka honey,” or “manuka honey blend” now have defined regulatory meanings established to protect consumers.
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Single-flower manuka honey had higher concentrations of various markers, indicating that bees foraged more on manuka flowers than on other flower types. Alternatively, it means that the packer has not diluted the Manuka honey with other honeys. For Manuka honey to be classified as monofloral honey, it must pass the MPI 5 mark described below.
If these threshold levels for MPI markers are not reached, it is classified as multi-flowered Manuka honey. Single flower Manuka honey has different levels of potency regarding health properties depending on the amount of MG content it contains.
Manuka honey blend (Multifloral Manuka honey) is produced when bees forage on various honey sources, including Manuka flowers. It can also be created by extracting Manuka honey and then mixing it with other types of honey.
By placing beehives in areas where Manuka flowers are abundant, beekeepers can obtain pure single-flower Manuka honey. Unfortunately, in some parts of New Zealand there are other plants that bloom at the same time as manuka. When that happens, bees can mix the manuka’s nectar with other flowers to create a manuka honey mixture, which is less potent than pure single-flower manuka honey. The government carefully regulates what can be called Manuka honey and Manuka honey blends, using a scientific grading system described below.
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Multi-flower Manuka honey generally has lower MG levels than single-flower Manuka honey and may have some health benefits. For a honey to be classified as multifloral Manuka honey, there are thresholds it must pass in terms of MPI 5 markers, including:
As previously mentioned, MG concentration is related to the antibacterial and other health properties of Manuka honey. MG concentration is usually 100-1000 or more. MG concentrations above 800 account for less than 10% of the honey produced each year in New Zealand, making these honeys more expensive. Most studies conducted on Manuka honey used honey with MG content above 250 mg/kg.
Many Manuka honey brands (including Bees & Trees Manuka Honey) realize that displaying actual test results for MG concentration on the label is the clearest and most transparent way to communicate the purity and strength of the Manuka honey in their bottle. These brands may include MG250+, MG400+, MG550+, etc. The numbers following ‘MG’ indicate the methylglyoxal concentration (mg/kg). The higher this concentration, the better the antibacterial and other health benefits of honey.
There is another legitimate way to rate the activity level of Manuka honey, and that is the UMF rating system. UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor”, a term trademarked by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association of New Zealand. It is used to indicate the authenticity, potency and purity of Manuka honey and is directly related to the MG content in the honey. The UMF scale range is 0-20. UMF grade honey was also tested for HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural – an organic compound formed from the breakdown of fructose) and leptospherin.
What’s So Special About New Zealand Manuka Honey?
Brands utilizing the UMF rating system can display a 5+, 10+, or 15+ UMF rating to designate the purity of the honey and its antibacterial and other health properties. Some non-UMF brands try to hijack this system by using words like “Active,” “Bioactive,” or “Factor” followed by a number like 10+ or 15+. In most cases these values do not match the UMF rating system and these honeys typically fall at the very low end of the MG content scale (e.g. below 100MG), so don’t be fooled by this approach.
If this all seems complicated and confusing, you’re not the only one. There’s a lot of information here. We will try to summarize it and put the various parts together. The main goal is to be able to read labels, recognize fair value, and appropriately select the best honey based on what you are trying to achieve.
The MG content of multifloral Manuka honey is very low, typically 50-100 mg/kg. Most scientific and medical research on Manuka honey begins with honey that is MG250+ or higher. Honey with lower MG content may still have health and wellness benefits, but there is no evidence-based support for that idea. Additionally, the price of this honey should be low enough to reflect the lack of MG content (i.e., low levels of actual Manuka honey in the bottle).
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