Australian Honey At Least As Potent As New Zealand Manuka, Study Finds

Australian manuka-style honey is as least as medically powerful as New Zealand manuka honey, a study has found.

Research by Nural Cokcetin at the University of Technology, Sydney, shows that more than 16 per cent of Australian manuka-style honeys she tested were actually more potent than the Kiwi product.

This story originally appeared on SMH.

Pavlova, Russell Crowe, rugby and now anti-bacterial honey are all on the growing list of rivalries between Australia and New Zealand.
However, New Zealand honey producers don’t seem worried. John Rawcliffe from New Zealand’s UMF Honey Association said that the global demand for manuka honey is so great it outstrips current supply.

Manuka honey has properties that mean it can be applied to burns, cuts and other injuries to fight infection. The honey is also used in cosmetic and other products.

Some claim it is useful for treating acne, gingivitis, sore throats, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and other ailments. However, these have not been tested clinically and those claims are not supported scientifically.

The active antibacterial agent in the honey – methylglyoxal – is proven to be highly effective in dealing with infection.

Dr Cokcetin, a lead author of the study, said: “One of the really special things about manuka honey is that it kills superbugs like golden staph.”

Professor Elizabeth Harry at UTS, one of the authors of the study, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis. Honey not only kills bacteria on contact, but we have shown previously that bacteria don’t become resistant to honey.”

The study shows that Australian honey produced by bees using the nectar from leptospermum, or manuka-type, bushes can produce concentrations of methylglyoxal higher than two control samples of “hospital-grade” New Zealand manuka honey.

It also shows a direct correlation between antibacterial activity and methylglyoxal levels and that these honeys can be stored for up to seven years without losing their efficacy.

Dr Cokcetin said: “The most exciting thing about this research is that it puts Australian manuka honey on the international radar. Lots of people have heard of New Zealand manuka, but not many are aware that we have more than 80 species of the same plant in Australia.”

In New Zealand, manuka honey is made by bees from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium, known locally as the manuka bush. It is the only leptospermum species in New Zealand. The same species is also native to Australia.

However, there are 82 other leptospermum species native to Australia, some of which also produce medically active honey.

Use of the name “manuka” to describe these honeys is controversial. Mr Rawcliffe has said New Zealand manuka deserves the same protection as champagne.

Trevor Weatherhead, executive director of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, said New Zealand doesn’t have a monopoly on manuka.

“If someone tries to put a trademark on it for exclusive New Zealand use, we’ll likely object,” Mr Weatherhead said.

Victor Goldsmith, general manager of Maori organisation Ngati Porou Miere said: “Manuka is a Maori name. [We will] resist any attempts by non-Maori, both domestic and international, to bastardise our names.”

Ngati Porou Miere has recently entered into commercial manuka honey production.

While many of the Australian honeys were more active than the New Zealand controls, there was also a huge range of methylglyoxal concentration among the 80 samples, from zero up to more than 1100 milligrams a kilogram.

Concentrations above 263 milligrams a kilogram of methylglyoxal are considered useful for medical purposes. More than half (45) of the 80 samples tested were of this quality.

Of the 80 Australian honeys, 22 were at least as active as the New Zealand honeys and 12 of them had methylglyoxal concentrations above 800mg a kilogram, among the highest concentrations achievable.

So why the large range? “That’s a very good question,” Dr Cokcetin said. “It’s something we are working on now.”

Dr Cokcetin said it appears to be a combination of nectar concentration of a methylglyoxal precursor called dihydroxyacetone, the species of the plant and the region they grow in.

The most potent manuka-style honeys were harvested in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, with some also in Queensland.

“Most of these samples were in honeys from Leptospermum polygalifolium, which is called jellybush,” Dr Cokcetin said.

Further studies will assist apiarists in harvesting honey with higher active ingredients.

The study is published on Thursday in PLoS One. It was partly funded by the Australian Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation and by Comvita NZ (a New Zealand honey producer) and Capilano Honey (an Australian honey producer).

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