Inside Our Food

Manuka Honey and Jarrah Honey | How It’s Made

Manuka honey has been widely hailed as a natural remedy, but how is Manuka honey made?

A hive of bees can create bioactive honey when certain conditional and environmental requirements are met, including the presence of specific flowering flora. Manuka Honey and Jarrah Honey are prime examples which have gained credibility in the medical community for their medicinal uses.  

How Active Honey is Made: The Basics

"Active honey" refers to honey which is certified to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

The key feature which facilitates the production of active honey is the local flowering plants, which are the dominant food source for foraging bees. During warmer months, flowering local vegetation gives bees the opportunity to create excess honey stores. After bees extract nectar and pollen from flowers, the flowers’ active chemical components are then transferred and transformed into their bioactive honey form.

Learn how bioactive honey is used in modern medicine

Active honeys are created when a single plant species of flowering plant is utilised as the primary food source, which creates a mono-floral honey. Mono-floral means that the chemical characteristics of a honey are closely linked to a single species of flowering plant. A multi-floral honey, on the other hand, will be diverse in its chemical composition, indicating that bees had a variety of nectar sources during honey stockpiling.1

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is a mono-floral honey derived from Leptospermum scoparium - commonly known as mānuka or tea tree - originating from New Zealand and south-east Australia. This active honey is particularly valued for its non-peroxide antibacterial activity (NPA). This NPA antibacterial agent is considered relatively stable as it is not as sensitive to heat and light, making it a viable medical treatment option.

What does MGO on Manuka honey packaging mean?

Methylglyoxal (MGO) is the chemical compound that makes Manuka honey unique. Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is a chemical found in the nectar of Manuka flowers, and it is converted into MGO after bees extract and bring the nectar back to the hive for processing.2 The higher DHA levels in flowers, the higher the levels of MGO, which provides a reliable metric standard for Manuka honey’s grading valuation and resulting medical strength and efficacy.3 That’s why you’ll often find MGO levels marked on Manuka Honey packaging (e.g. 240 MGO or 300+ MGO).

The future of Manuka honey

In recent years, Manuka honey has gained significant interest from international investors, commercial enterprises, landowners, and beekeepers alike. What was once a small wild harvest industry is rapidly growing with plantations and plant geneticists aiming to produce superior DHA-producing plants and high-grade honey.

Jarrah Honey

Jarrah Honey is also a mono-floral honey derived from the Australian Jarrah tree (Eucalyptus marginata). The bioactivity levels in Jarrah honey occur through the enzyme known as glucose oxidase, which produces low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (the source of antibacterial activity). 

Hydrogen peroxide is bacteriostatic, meaning that it can inhibit the reproduction of bacteria. However, certain aerobic bacteria can produce an enzyme to break down the Hydrogen peroxide, reducing its effectiveness. So, the medicinal and economic value of Jarrah honey is often lower in comparison with Manuka honey.

What does TA on Jarrah honey packaging mean?

Jarrah honey is graded according to total activity (TA), or peroxide activity (PA).4 So you’ll often see TA levels marked on Jarrah honey packaging (e.g. 20+ TA or 15+ TA).

Factors That Influence Honey’s Bioactivity

There are 3 key factors that can impact the bioactivity in honey:

Vegetation factors

Individual plant genetics such as flower size, plant maturity, flowering times and duration can significantly influence the honey produced and the corresponding level of activity. Plant geneticists worldwide are now working to breed super plants with favoured traits such as longer flower periods or larger flowered plants for honey production. 

Environmental factors

Factors such as climate, temperature, and rainfall can all influence nectar and pollen yield in local vegetation, subsequently impacting honey production. From year to year, if certain environmental conditions are not met (i.e. sufficient rainfall), some plant species may fail to produce adequate nectar volumes to support honey production. These environmental factors directly influence local vegetation and flowering, as well as bee behaviour. Hence, annual production and supply of active honey can be highly dependent on local and regional weather conditions, which in turn can lead to significant price fluctuations for consumers. 

Bee behaviour

Worker bees tend to favour location and closer proximity to the hive when gathering food. However, depending on local conditions and honey bee variety, they have been known to travel several kilometres to reach a desired food source. If feed is abundant, bees also favour some nectar types over others. Bees also become more active in clear, warm to mild conditions, which can also influence honey production.

In the hope of trying to avoid a bee sting or two, not many people actually get to experience the beauty and complexity of the honey process first-hand. However, if you do ever get the chance, I urge you to try and learn more, because it truly is a magnificent plant-animal interaction, and you will forever hold a new appreciation for the honey we eat.

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