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Identifying Real Manuka

Manuka Honey Authentication

The Honey (England) Regulations 2015 and the EU Honey Directive specify that a honey to be labelled as having a specific floral original it must be wholly or predominantly derived from that floral source and have corresponding microscopic, physical, chemical and sensory characteristics (Codex Alimentarius Commission, 2001). Therefore, for a honey to be truly labelled as manuka honey it must come wholly or predominantly from manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) nectar. Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey contains unique and beneficial compounds, laboratory testing for these compounds is used to determine the purity and potency of manuka honey.

In New Zealand the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) enforces a scientific regulatory definition for exported manuka honey based on chemical fingerprinting and pollen DNA marker analysis (Burns 2018, McDonald 2018, Ministry for Primary Industries 2017). The definition requires minimum amounts of four specific phenolic compounds to be present in the honey:

  • 2-methoxybenzoic acid
  • 2’-methoxyacetophenone
  • 3-phenyllactic acid
  • 4-hydroxyphenyllactic acid
  • along with a manuka pollen DNA marker.

These compounds are produced naturally in the nectar of manuka flowers and therefore naturally occur in manuka honey (Smallfield 2018).

In addition to the compounds specified by the MPI definition, Comvita scientists, and others, have pioneered the discovery of other compounds unique to manuka honey including dihydroxyacetone (DHA), methylglyoxal (MGO) and leptosperin which are used to authenticate the purity and potency of manuka honey (Bong 2017, Bong 2018, Daniels 2016, Kato 2014, Lin 2017, Stephens 2017)

Characteristic Compounds Found in Mānuka Honey

Methylglyoxal (MGO)

is a compound which is principally responsible for Mānuka honey's unique non-peroxide antibacterial activity that is not present in other honey types. There have been cases of adulteration where synthetically made MGO has been added into honey to make ‘fake’ Mānuka honey. Therefore, measuring MGO alone is not a guarantee of the purity and quality of Mānuka honey1, 2, 3.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)

is a natural plant compound found in the nectar of Mānuka flowers. DHA converts to MGO over time in Mānuka honey as it matures2.

Leptosperin

is a unique natural plant compound found only in Mānuka honey. It is extremely difficult to make synthetically and is not commercially available. As this compound cannot be artificially added to Mānuka honey it is an excellent marker for authenticity4,5,6,7,8,9.

Lepteridine™ 3,6,7-Trimethyllumazine

is a unique natural plant compound found only in Mānuka honey and was discovered by Comvita Scientists. It is extremely difficult to make synthetically and is not commercially available. As this compound cannot be artificially added to Mānuka honey it is an excellent marker for authenticity8.

Comvita is the only company that tests for Lepteridine™ 3,6,7-Trimethyllumazine levels in Mānuka honey.

Unique Manuka Factor (UMF™)

The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF™) is an independently certified quality assurance mark for genuine New Zealand monofloral manuka honey. All UMF certified products must first meet the MPI definition of monofloral manuka honey, UMF™ provides additional assurance to consumers. UMF™ measures both the purity and quality of manuka honey based on the levels of three unique signature compounds: leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), and methylglyoxal (MGO). UMF™ testing is the gold standard independent quality certification for authentic manuka honey.

Manuka honey with nectar contribution from other floral sources exhibits reduced levels of the UMF™ signature compounds (leptosperin, DHA and MGO) which is proportional to the amount of non-manuka nectar incorporated into the honey. Unlike other manuka honey grading systems, such as the MGO™ based solely on MGO content and KFactor™ based on multiple non-specific manuka honey components, the UMF™ system incorporates the measurement of three key unique signature compounds for the authenticity of manuka honey. Therefore, the UMF™ certification provides assurance to consumers that the manuka honey purchased is genuine and true-to-label. Measuring only one compound, such as MGO, is not sufficient to ensure that compound is from a natural manuka honey source.

References