Manuka Honey: Decoding UMF™

EDUCATION

4 Minute Read

Essential Takeaways

UMF™ is a New Zealand manuka honey grading and certification system provided by the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA).

Such certifications are in place to protect the manuka honey industry from counterfeit honeys.

UMF™ graded honeys are tested for the presence of five essential components. Tests also determine whether the honey is monofloral or multifloral.

MGO and UMF™ are different. In fact, MGO is one of the components that is tested for in UMF™ graded honeys. Some honey jars may display MGO levels, without being UMF™ graded, as MGO can be tested separately.

So you’ve probably heard some of the buzz around manuka honey.

But you may be wondering what all those letters and numbers on the jars mean?

Being the rare type of honey that it is, manuka honey has a few different quality marks to help consumers differentiate between brands and their products. The price tags differ too.  

You might have seen UMF™ and MGO before, but what do they mean, exactly?

We’ll decode it all, right here.

In this guide to decoding manuka honey:

  • What UMF™ is and why it’s important
  • The difference between UMF™ and MGO and what the numbers mean
  • How to use the UMF™ grading system to choose your manuka honey
  • FAQs about manuka honey and UMF™

Let’s get started.

What is UMF™?

UMF™ stands for Unique Manuka Factor. It’s essentially a quality mark.

The UMF™ quality mark certifies that a jar of honey:

  1. Contains manuka plant compounds, and,
  2. Those manuka plant compounds are from New Zealand manuka plants.

As you can see, the UMF™ is trademarked, and is tested and awarded only by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA).

Read more: UMF™ Honey and the UMFHA

Each UMF™ label will also show a grading (number), and this, amongst other things, dictates the price tag:

Why Is UMF™ Important?

Manuka honey has been studied for years for its potentially unique, beneficial properties.

On our blog, we explore its uses in skincare, wound care, for acne, help with scars, and even hair, all backed by scientific research.

Having featured in some of the world’s oldest medical journals, scientists believe that what sets manuka honey apart is its higher levels of antibacterial properties.

This is thought to be the key differentiator that makes manuka honey special and explains the need for an official grading system to ensure purity and transparency in the production process.

Because unfortunately, there are plenty of fakes on the market. 

What Are The Factors That Make Up UMF™?

To be considered genuine manuka honey, there are a few key components that must all be present:

  • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) - a DNA marker from the manuka flower nectar.
  • Methylglyoxal (MGO) - a powerful protein-glycating agent*, produced when DHA interacts with enzymes provided by the honeybee, and linked to anti-bacterial properties.
  • Leptosperin - a compound in manuka flowers and nectar, linked to anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) - an organic compound when honey sugars are reduced by the Maillard reaction.
  • Manuka DNA - a DNA marker from the manuka pollen.

”Protein glycation is a reaction between protein amino groups and monosaccharides.”

How do these UMF™ factors come to exist in manuka honey?

If you’re interested in understanding the science behind these a little more, check this out.

The manuka flower and nectar contain a compound called Leptosperin. Manuka nectar also contains the DNA marker DHA.

Honeybees visit the manuka flowers and collect the nectar.

Enzymes in the honeybee’s crop (a separate stomach), react with the DHA to produce MGO.

Looking for these components in the final manuka honey product helps to prove that it’s genuine.

They can also reveal whether the honey is monofloral or multifloral.

If you’re interested in understanding the science behind these a little more, check this out.

The manuka flower and nectar contain a compound called Leptosperin. Manuka nectar also contains the DNA marker DHA.

Honeybees visit the manuka flowers and collect the nectar.

Enzymes in the honeybee’s crop (a separate stomach), react with the DHA to produce MGO.

Looking for these components in the final manuka honey product helps to prove that it’s genuine.

They can also reveal whether the honey is monofloral or multifloral.

Monofloral: has been made predominantly with the nectar of the manuka plant.

Multifloral: has a higher component of other floral varieties and less manuka.

Needless to say, the former is the purer, rarer, and more expensive of the two types.

All New Zealand Honey Co. manuka honey (UMF™ 5+ and above) is monofloral.

So MGO isn’t the same as UMF™?

No, it’s not. It tells us something different.

The MGO or methylglyoxal level is what indicates antibacterial properties, so the higher the MGO, the more potent these properties are. Which is good.

The MGO level is not certified in the same way as UMF™ is, so without UMF™ on the label, you may not have a genuine article.

“UMF™ is a complete and advanced grading system. It includes the measurement of MG (MGO) (methylglyoxal) levels, but also includes additional testing of authenticity markers of the manuka honey.”

MGO can also be faked.

Synthetic MGO has been added to honeys to increase their value, so measuring the MGO level alone isn’t a guarantee of quality or purity.

Decoding The Numbers

On our products, you’ll find a number for both the UMF™ grading and the MGO level (measured in mg/kg).

Generally, the higher the MGO number, the more potent the honey.

It is purer and more potent, with higher levels of the potential health benefits manuka honey is famed for.

These are the concentrations that must be in place for the different gradings to be assigned:

Source.

You should always be able to verify that your UMF™ honey has the certification to back it up. Find out how to check it here.

Choosing manuka honey gradings for a specific purpose

You can use the grading system to find the most appropriate honey for your particular use, whether that be by itself, with food, or otherwise.

Typically, we recommend the following:

Rating Typical consumer Typical uses Ideas & Information
UMF™ 5+ At the start of the spectrum, UMF™ 5+ is great for daily or regular consumption for both children and adults. A natural energy boost, it has a relatively mild flavor, so is easy to add to other foods for a little extra sweetness.
UMF™ 10+ Next up on the spectrum, UMF™ 10+ is also great for teens and the family to eat on a regular basis. These could be used with spreads, in drinks, baked goods or for breakfast.
UMF™ 15+ UMF™ 15+ offers a little extra MGO kick for mixing into foods, making your own wellness masks at home, simply consuming from the spoon, or adding it to your morning rituals. This is our most popular grading, loved by families and young adults. With a little more MGO, they will also be beneficial for topical applications on the skin, though you may want a higher concentration for acne or wounds.
UMF™ 20+ The start of the premium grades, UMF™ 20+ is the first step up for people wanting to do more with Manuka than just eat it. This is popular with mums, young professionals and people with acne, scars, and wounds. Whether you want a strong dietary supplement or milder support agent, UMF™ 20+ is a very good option.
UMF™ 24+ Getting into the more potent gradings, UMF™ 24+ is almost the strongest on the market and gives you a big boost of MGO. It’s commonly applied externally, but you can still eat it from the jar if you like! The higher price point of this means it’s popular with people especially seeking out health benefits from honey. Delicious in food but potentially more effective as an antibacterial agent, this is a good complementary acne, wound, or scar support ingredient.
UMF™ 26+ UMF™ 26+ is our highest grade. It will give you the highest potency of MGO, hence this one is great for medicinal uses and preventative health. This is our best manuka honey for antibacterial activity, making it ideally suited to medicinal uses - but only with the permission of your doctor. Being the most pure, it is also used in many religious practices. It really is for eating from the spoon, savouring, storing, gifting, or collecting.

START YOUR MANUKA JOURNEY

See the full range here.

UMF™ FAQs

  • Is UMF™ the same as MGO?

No. Methylglyoxal (MGO) is the compound in manuka honey associated with antibacterial properties. UMF™ is an internationally-recognised grading system that certifies the authenticity of manuka honey by testing for multiple compounds, not just MGO.

  • Who decides on the UMF™ of a jar of manuka honey?

The UMFHA is the official body that certifies batches of honey to award them a UMF™ grading.

  • Why is manuka honey so expensive?

Manuka honey is scarce due to the short bloom of the Manuka flower (2 - 8 weeks) and its difficulty to harvest from remote areas. It has many perceived health benefits, making it a desirable but rare product and therefore, more expensive than other honeys. Read more about this here.

  • What’s the difference between UMF™ 5+ and UMF™ 26+?

UMF™ 5+ contains less concentrated beneficial compounds compared to UMF™ 26+.

.
  • What is Manuka Honey UMF™ 10+ manuka honey good for?

Any grading above UMF™ 5+ contains concentrated levels of beneficial MGO. UMF™ 10+ manuka honey is good for general health and boosting energy. It can also be applied to skin to help calm inflammation and lock in moisture.

  • How do I know that my honey is authentic, raw, and unpasteurised manuka honey?

As a minimum, it must have the UMF™ label, with a number and appropriate labelling, and it must originate from New Zealand.

  • Where can I buy manuka honey UMF™ 20+ and above?

You can buy all your certified, raw, GMO-free genuine manuka honey products right here.

Your wellness journey starts with a spoonful a day.

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FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.