Emily Laurence
Manuka honey is not like standard honey. This specific variety of honey is produced by bees in New Zealand who pollinate local manuka plants. These flowers bloom for only six to 12 weeks out of the entire year, so sourcing the honey is truly a frenzy. According to the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, which tests and verifies manuka honey brands as authentic, the nectar and bees give manuka honey its unique health properties.
It’s also about double the price as what you’ll find in a bear-shaped bottle. For that reason, I wanted to know if the manuka honey benefits were truly worth the splurge and to learn more about what sets it apart from the traditional honey already in my pantry. Here, registered dietitian May Zhu, RD, explains more about what manuka honey is and how to use it.
“Something that really sets manuka honey apart from standard honey is that it’s high in antibacterial properties,” Zhu says. Specifically, manuka honey is rich in compounds like methylglyoxal (which is associated with antibacterial benefits). Because of this, it can potentially help protect someone from getting sick, fighting off any nasty bugs that make their way into your body. “Manuka honey has proved the front-runner of honeys for non-peroxide antimicrobial activity,” an article published in the journal Microbiology reads. “I do think that even though there are some promising studies, more research needs to be done to really make a strong connection between manuka honey and helping prevent sickness,” Zhu addds.
Zhu says manuka honey also has more antioxidants than traditional honey. Specifically, it’s full of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant connected to helping the body function more efficiently while protecting it against everyday stressors and toxins. This means that if consumed on a regular basis, manuka honey may help protect against diseases and cognitive decline.
Remember how Zhu pointed out manuka honey’s antibacterial properties? That comes in handy when it’s used topically, too. A 2018 review of studies found that manuka honey can kill bacteria, reduce inflammation, and help with tissue regeneration—which explains why it can be found in so many skin-care products. While the evidence doesn’t necessarily support using manuka honey for serious injuries, it could be something that’s helpful for smaller cuts and skin issues.
Although it’s not exactly a powerhouse source, Zhu says manuka honey does have trace amounts of nutrients including vitamin B, iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Just like the other benefits listed, standard honey has these properties as well, but manuka honey contains higher amounts of said minerals. Especially if you follow a plant-based diet, vitamin B, iron, and zinc are nutrients you want to be extra conscious to get enough of, so manuka honey can help in this way. (So long as you’re not vegan, of course.) While it’s not going to be “the” source to get your fill of these nutrients, every little bit helps!
“There’s some studies showing that manuka honey could potentially be good for your gut because it helps kill harmful bacteria and pathogens,” Zhu says, though she adds that this is another area of research where more studies need to be done to establish more solid data. If you do are experiencing prolonged digestive distress, you’ll want to go to the doctor and not just down spoonfuls of manuka honey, but it’s a pretty promising potential benefit.
Manuka honey is a go-to skin soother, both calming and moisturizing. This is because it’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties benefit the outside of your body just as much as the inside. It bears repeating: All honey has these properties, but they are more pronounced in manuka honey.
While manuka honey is clearly beneficial, Zhu points that it does contain sugar (like all honey), so it’s still a good idea to be mindful of your intake. One teaspoon of manuka honey has four grams of sugar. “If you’re diabetic, you especially want to be conscious of your manuka honey intake because it could affect your blood sugar levels,” Zhu says.
Also, since manuka honey tends to be more expensive, you want to make sure what you’re buying is the real thing; honey fraud is real. Certified manuka honey is verified by independent auditors. You can know if a manuka honey has been tested and verified because it will say it is certified on the label. The primary manuka honey certifier is Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association and any products that have met their standards will say “UMF certified” on the label.
Okay, you know the benefits, risk factors, and how to buy manuka honey that’s legit. The last thing you need to know is what to do with it.
This is one of the most common ways to use manuka honey, especially if you are feeling sick and want to benefit from its antibacterial properties. Zhu says just a teaspoon is enough and it may help to soothe a sore throat or help calm an upset stomach.
You can also incorporate manuka honey right into your meals as it’s safe to eat both uncooked and cooked. Some ideas for how to use it straight out of the jar include spreading it on toast with cinnamon and butter, putting it into your oatmeal, or on waffles. Because it’s sweet, manuka honey also works as a sugar substitute in some baked goods, although because it is a bit expensive, you may want to save it for special occasions and use standard honey more regularly.
Since manuka honey can assist in wound healing, you can also apply right onto any small cuts. To do this, first clean your wound with water. Then, spread a fourth of a teaspoon of manuka honey right onto the bandage before applying it. You can also buy special wound gels with manuka honey at the drugstore.
If you want to experience manuka honey’s beauty benefits, take a cue from Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness and make an exfoliator. Simply mix it with ground-up oats, apply it to your face, and then rinse it off. That’s literally it!
There’s good reason why the manuka honey benefits are so hyped up. But whether or not you choose to pay extra for it is a personal decision, based on your health goals and budget. If you’re looking for something to use medicinally and are willing to pay extra for it, manuka honey may be perfect for you. But if you’re more looking for an alternative to white sugar to have on hand for all the baking you do—or you use honey very sparingly—standard honey may be more your speed. Either way, you’re body will benefit. And that’s the sweet truth.
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