Manuka honey is one of the rarest and most expensive honeys in the world, and seems to be getting more in demand every year.
The reason you're on this site is probably because you've heard of its potent antibacterial and healing qualities. It is one of the world's true superfoods, safe and nutritious to add to anyone's daily diet, and used as a natural remedy for many ailments such as treating wounds, clearing up skin, treating common colds and flus, and improving digestive health.
Obviously, this means manuka honey is naturally more expensive than regular honey, sometimes up to 5x the price for a small jar.
Unfortunately, it's inevitable that with a prized product such as this one, fakes and imitations will eventually find itself onto the market.
In this article, we'll give you some useful information on how to avoid buying fake manuka honey, and some brands that you can trust to be pure and authentic.
What is a "fake" manuka honey?
The reality is, most honey labelled as manuka is probably "real" to some degree, in that it does contain honey that has been produced from the nectar of manuka flowers.
However, not all manuka honey is created equal.
In fact, there is such a huge gap between different brands and products, which is why grading and authenticating has become such an important part of the industry.
We consider a "fake" manuka honey to be a product that is labelled incorrectly, or in a misleading way.
The amateur consumer can't be expected to know the ins and outs of manuka honey grading systems, so it's easy for them to be tricked by labels that "sound" authentic but are actually not graded well at all.
It also makes things more complicated that there is no one single grading system. New Zealand and Australia both have manuka honey industries that produce good honey, but they use different grading systems, and sometimes multiple different grading systems within each country.
What makes a manuka honey "real"?
What distinguishes manuka honey is not actually its antibacterial activity.
It's common knowledge that all honey contains at least some antibacterial action due to its hydrogen peroxide content. Even as far back as the Egyptians and Romans, honey was used as an antibacterial agent, and manuka flowers weren't even discovered yet.
What makes manuka honey have a higher antibacterial potency than regular honeys is its non-peroxide activity (NPA). The compound responsible for this known as MGO, or methylglyoxal, found only in honey made from manuka flowers.
Manuka honey that is high in purity has high levels of NPA, and to simplify it as much as possible:
The higher the NPA content, the higher the MGO content, the better quality the manuka honey.
How do you know what the NPA or MGO content is?
That's where manuka honey gradings come in. The UMF grading system is the most comprehensive, which tests for all the required components of a real manuka honey (you can read more about the UMF system here). Producers that submit their products to proper grading can be purchased with confidence, whereas manuka honey producers that try to obscure or avoid disclosing their MGO/NPA content should be avoided.
What Are Some "Fake" manuka honey brands?
Wedderspoon Manuka Honey
To be clear - we don't actually consider Wedderspoon Manuka Honey to be "fake". We are confident Wedderspoon does make "real" manuka honey, as in, their honey is likely to consist mostly of honey made from real manuka flowers in New Zealand.
The issue we have with Wedderspoon is they invented their own grading system known as KFactor, which we find a misleading for two reasons.
First, they call their gradings KFactor 12 and KFactor 16.
However, when looking into these two grades, it becomes clear these numbers are insignificant. They could have just as easily called them KFactor A and KFactor B.
However, using the numbers 12 and 16 makes it looks like they have actually quantified some level of potency, and also makes them look more similar to the UMF grades (when they are not similar at all).
Here's why we're not fans of the KFactor system. The two grades are defined as follows:
- KFactor 16 = A honey that is "wholly or mostly" from manuka plants.
- KFactor 12 = A honey blend that has a variety of plant sources, but has a significant amount from manuka plants.
Notice how neither of these measure NPA or MGO content! Even if a honey were to be from 100% manuka nectar, that doesn’t automatically mean the honey has NPA or MGO or any level of antibacterial activity (which is why it needs to be tested/graded).
Therefore, we find the KFactor system lacking and also quite misleading, as it doesn't actually provide any information as to how pure the honey is and whether it indeed contains any of the important compounds like DHA, MGO, NPA, or leptosperin.
We have a more in-depth review of Wedderspoon here.
Trader Joe's caused quite a stir down in New Zealand when the industry discovered they had been selling "UMF 10" Manuka Honey, despite never having sent a bottle for grading to the UMF Association.
Trader Joe's quickly apologised and changed their label from UMF 10+ to simply 10+ as you can see in the picture above.
While technically not breaking any rules, we still find this labelling very misleading, especially as they include no explanation of what this 10+ actually means. We can only assume they're hoping some less-informed customers might assume it's UMF 10 graded manuka honey and purchase it.
To be clear - we're not actually sure whether or not this is real manuka honey, because we have no idea of knowing what's actually in the jar. It hasn't been authenticated by any of the established grading systems, so for all we know, it could be pure, high quality manuka honey. However, judging by the price, it's very unlikely.
Anyway, as far as we know, Trader Joe's has discontinued this product, but you still see it being sold here and there, especially on places like eBay and Amazon.
Trader Joe's still sells New Zealand honey, but has changed its label to something a little more "acceptable":
"Creamed Multi-Floral New Zealand Honey" sounds quite fancy, but all it means is honey from New Zealand that could be made from any combination of nectars. They've also removed the 10+.
Obviously, this honey might fool one or two people into being Manuka Honey because it's labelled as "New Zealand" honey, but we needn't tell you this is definitely NOT a real manuka honey.
That's not to say it's a bad product, but simply it's definitely not a manuka honey. If you're after simple table honey, it could be perfectly fine.
Full disclaimer: We don't know for sure these manuka honeys are fake, and in reality, it's very possible they are at least partly real manuka honey, made from manuka nectar in New Zealand.
However, they have not been authenticated as real manuka honeys by the UMF, MGO or AMHA grading systems, and therefore, cannot be bought with confidence.
Do these honeys have any levels of MGO or NPA? We don't know! That's enough reason to avoid them.
If you are looking to purchase manuka honey and would like to enjoy the many benefits this superfood offers, we highly recommend buying a UMF graded product. You can check out our review list of the top manuka honey brands here!