MGO stands for methylglyoxal, a naturally occurring compound found only in manuka honey.
MGO is the compound associated with manuka honey’s unique antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, MGO labels and ratings are not regulated. So it’s difficult to verify an authentic product using MGO alone.
UMF™ gradings exist to solve this problem. A jar of manuka honey that has both an MGO rating and UMF™ grade has been rigorously tested and certified as genuine monofloral manuka honey from New Zealand.
If you’ve ever looked for a jar of real manuka honey, you’ve probably come across an MGO rating.
83+, 829+, 1450+; what do the numbers mean?
It might surprise you to hear that MGO is not unique to manuka honey.
In this article, we’ll be exploring what MGO means on manuka honey, where it comes from, how to choose the right amount when buying genuine manuka honey for you, and other labels to look for when buying manuka honey.
In this guide to MGO and manuka honey:
What does MGO mean on genuine manuka honey?
How is MGO produced in manuka honey?
What does MGO in manuka honey do?
What’s a good level of MGO?
The difference between MGO and UMF™
Choosing your perfect MGO level
What Does MGO Mean On Manuka Honey?
MGO stands for methylglyoxal.
Methylglyoxal is a naturally occurring compound found in raw honey. It’s the main factor associated with its beneficial antibacterial and antioxidant properties².
The MGO rating on a jar of manuka honey indicates its content; the higher the rating, the more methylglyoxal in that batch.
It’s measured in milligrams per kilogram of manuka honey. So if the jar says MGO 829+ then there’s at least 829mg/kg of methylglyoxal in the honey.
Although regular honeys do contain MGO, the concentration found in manuka honey can be around 100 times higher¹ .
And that makes a difference when using it for health and wellness (but more on that later).
Is higher MGO better in manuka honey?
Higher MGO ratings are better if you want more antibacterial activity in your manuka honey.
If you only want a daily dose of goodness from your honey, then lower MGO ratings are fine.
How Is MGO Produced in Manuka Honey?
We have bees themselves to thank for producing methylglyoxal in manuka honey.
During the digestive process, bees break down manuka nectar from manuka flowers with enzymes in their stomach³.
There is a naturally occurring compound in the nectar called dihydroxyacetone (DHA)⁴, and some of this is converted to MGO as a result.
“The non-peroxide antibacterial activity of mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium, Myrtaceae) honey results from the chemical conversion of the triose sugar dihydroxyacetone (DHA).”
That process continues after the honey is collected, too. For around 12-24 months after the harvest, DHA levels continue to decrease, raising MGO concentrations.
And a higher MGO concentration means higher levels of antibacterial activity⁵.
The amount of MGO produced varies and depends on a few different factors:
“Floral nectar can be variable in composition, influencing pollinator behaviour and the composition of honey derived from it. Mānuka nectar yield and composition are strongly influenced by plant genotype, flower age and the environment.”
While MGO is considered the key beneficial compound in manuka honey, its unique antibacterial properties are not as effective on their own.
Scientists believe that the combination of methylglyoxal together with the other beneficial phytochemicals found in manuka honey (like phenols, flavonoids, and defensins) is what makes it a true powerhouse wellness product⁶.
So how does it work, exactly?
What Does MGO In Manuka Honey Do?
“MGO is still regarded as the major antimicrobial constituent [in manuka honey] and various manuka honey grading schemes for commercially sold honey are based in large part on MGO concentrations.”
Methylglyoxal’s antibacterial properties have been proven to inhibit harmful bacteria in the body:
“High MGO levels in manuka honey are the main source of antibacterial activity. Antibacterial MGO causes alterations in the structure of bacterial fimbriae and flagella [their “legs”, or means by which they move] which would limit bacteria adherence and motility.”
As a naturally occurring compound with these valuable antibacterial properties, scientists have studied the medical application of MGO in the hopes that it will prove a useful tool in the fight against the antibacterial-resistance crisis⁷.
Their positive findings have led to manuka honey being used to treat serious infections like MRSA⁸:
“Manuka honey is broad in spectrum, able to inhibit a diverse range of bacterial and yeast pathogens, and equally effective against multidrug-resistant bacteria.
It is used in modern wound-care formulations and has been shown to eradicate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from wounds. Methylglyoxal was identified as the dominant active antibacterial component of manuka honey.”
So manuka honey as a delicious food is just the tip of the sticky sweet iceberg.
There are so many exciting ways it can be used to boost health and wellness, and even heal some of the most dangerous wounds.
Here are some of our other articles that go into depth about how manuka honey, thanks to its MGO content, can be used in treating and managing health conditions:
What strength of manuka honey do I need?
If you’re looking for a general health and wellness boost, then any grade of manuka honey will be beneficial.
If you have a specific medical complaint and you want a natural remedy, opt for the higher MGO levels.
Keep reading for more examples of which MGO rating is best for which use.
What Is A Good Level Of MGO In Manuka Honey?
The best manuka honey to buy with the right amount of MGO for you all depends on what you want from your honey.
Are you looking to buy manuka honey for a daily wellness boost to support your general wellbeing? Or perhaps a powerful ingredient to promote skin care and skin health?
If so, the lower MGO ratings will be great for you:
Do you have a specific, but relatively minor condition you’d like to manage with the help of natural manuka honey? Or perhaps you’d like more health benefits from your daily wellness boost?
For these purposes, the mid-range MGO ratings are better for you:
Do you have a more serious condition you’d like to treat*, or would you just like the maximum wellness punch from natural honey?
In these instances, it’s best to opt for the highest MGO ratings with maximum antibacterial effects:
*Remember, always consult your doctor before using anything for medical purposes, even a natural product like our manuka honey.
Still unsure what’s right for you?
We’ve created a quiz to help you figure out which grade of manuka honey is right for you.
But wait - there’s one vital thing to know before you choose the right manuka honey for you.
MGO content is not regulated.
So if you’re looking for certified and authentic manuka honey from New Zealand, make sure you look for a UMF™ grade too.
The Difference Between MGO And UMF™
So what’s the difference between the MGO rating and the UMF™ grade you see on a jar of manuka honey?
One is a chemical compound found in honey, and the other is an independently verified certification scheme that proves the authenticity and quality of New Zealand manuka honey products.
UMF™ (Unique Manuka Factor) tests for four chemical markers in a jar of raw manuka honey. MGO is one of these markers.
The other three markers indicate whether the honey is made from manuka nectar, how fresh it is, and how long its shelf life is likely to be. Certified jars must meet certain criteria for each of these in order to earn a UMF™ grade.
And higher UMF™ grades correlate to higher MGO levels.
UMF™ was founded by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) to protect the authenticity of genuine NZ manuka honey.
Here’s how UMF™ and MGO ratings compare:
Which grade of manuka honey is best?
The best grade of manuka honey for you will depend on your individual needs.
The higher grades contain more antibacterial activity, so they are best suitable for more clinical and serious uses, such as healing burns.
The lower grades contain less MGO, which is reflected in the price tag - so they are better for everyday uses such as cooking.
Our quiz can also help you decide.
So is UMF™ better than MGO?
UMF™ is a better assurance of authenticity and quality for manuka honey exclusively, because it is highly regulated and takes MGO content into account.
Other honeys can contain MGO but at much lower concentrations. So judging which label is “better” depends on what you want to know about the honey.
Trust New Zealand Honey Co. for authentic manuka honey
Our manuka honeys have both a UMF™ grade and an MGO level.
You can be sure that you’re getting genuine, 100% pure monofloral manuka honey from New Zealand, rich in all the good stuff that makes manuka honey famous.
¹ Identification and quantification of methylglyoxal as the dominant antibacterial constituent of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honeys from New Zealand, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.
² Methylglyoxal, the major antibacterial factor in Manuka Honey, Cosmetics Journal.
³ DHA and MGO: The most common testing in manuka honey, Analytica NZ.
⁵ Studies on the formation of methylglyoxal from dihydroxyacetone in Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) honey, National Library of Medicine.
⁶ Antibacterial activity of varying UMF-graded manuka honeys, National Library of Medicine.
⁷ Why use manuka honey? The Veterinary Nurse.
⁸ Effect of methylglyoxal on multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Frontiers in Microbiology.
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