New Zealand-made Manuka honey, revered for its (unofficial) health benefits ranging from wound healing to treating gingivitis, has been all the rage in recent years.
However this high-priced, high-profile superfood, loved by countless celebrities and health aficionados, has a dark side: some of the brands found on our supermarket shelves — sometimes sold at prices as high as £45 a jar — may not be Manuka honey at all.
Putting honey to the test
Honey exports from New Zealand surged to a massive £147m in just 8 years as a result from sales of honey labelled as Manuka. Authentic Manuka honey is produced by placing beehives near flowering wild Manuka bushes that only grow in New Zealand.
Honey farmers use helicopters to seek out bushes and drop bee hives beside them. However, with such intense competition for the best spots some landowners have started to cultivate Manuka plantations.
According to Paul Dansted, a director at New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries, there had never been a legal standard or test for Manuka. Since there is no robust, standardised scientific definition of Manuka honey, there also is no industry standard test to ensure that products labelled as Manuka are in fact the real deal…
So, you can see the massive window of opportunity for unscrupulous honey producers who want to cash-in on the Manuka-bandwagon.
That’s why John Rawcliffe of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, which represents New Zealand’s Manuka producers, paid a privately run UK research agency, called Fera, to develop the world’s first test able to identify real Manuka from fake products.
Using an analytical technique called mass spectrometry the researchers at Fera identified four unique compounds that they can use to accurately profile real Manuka.
Recently, the researchers tested individual UK brands labelled as Manuka and found that the upmarket London grocer, Fortnum & Mason’s honey, costing £12.95 for 280g, failed their test because one key indicator was too low and another too high to match the Manuka profile.
The high street health shop Holland & Barrett’s Real Honey Company 15+ Manuka, costing £25.99 for 250g, also failed the test. A cheaper product, Nelson 30+ Honey, costing £8.26 for 250g from Amazon, didn’t make the cut either.
As a result, Fortnum & Mason removed all the stock from its shelves even though the company said that its honey had been certified by an independent laboratory. Holland & Barrett on the other hand insisted that it had carried out its own checks and “was confident our Manuka products are genuine”.
Real or fake… it looks like Manuka is caught up in a honey trap… and if there is anything that conclusively points to the fact that your expensive jar of super-duper Manuka may not be what’s printed on the label then it is this: an estimated 10,000 tons of supposed Manuka are sold around the world each year. However, New Zealand produces only 1,700 tons of the real thing.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Bee careful: that £45 honey may be fake, published online 05.02.2017, thetimes.co.uk