Science or snake oil: is manuka honey really a ‘superfood’ for treating colds, allergies and infections?

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Sure it tastes nice, but what else can it do?

Nural Cokcetin, University of Technology Sydney and Shona Blair

Manuka honey is often touted as a “superfood” that treats many ailments, including allergies, colds and flus, gingivitis, sore throats, staph infections, and numerous types of wounds.

Manuka can apparently also boost energy, “detox” your system, lower cholesterol, stave off diabetes, improve sleep, increase skin tone, reduce hair loss and even prevent frizz and split ends.

Some of these claims are nonsense, but some have good evidence behind them.

Honey has been used therapeutically throughout history, with records of its cultural, religious and medicinal importance shown in rock paintings, carvings and sacred texts from many diverse ancient cultures.

Read more: Honey could be a potent medicine as well as a tasty treat

Honey was used to treat a wide range of ailments from eye and throat infections to gastroenteritis and respiratory ailments, but it was persistently popular as a treatment for numerous types of wounds and skin infections.

Medicinal honey largely fell from favour with the advent of modern antibiotics in the mid-20th century. Western medicine largely dismissed it as a “worthless but harmless substance”. But the emergence of superbugs (pathogens resistant to some, many or even all of our antibiotics) means alternative approaches to dealing with pathogens are being scientifically investigated.

We now understand the traditional popularity of honey as a wound dressing is almost certainly due to its antimicrobial properties. High sugar content and low pH mean honey inhibits microbial growth, but certain honeys still retain their antimicrobial activity when these are diluted to negligible levels.

Many different types of honey also produce microbe-killing levels of hydrogen peroxide when glucose oxidase (an enzyme incorporated into honey by bees) reacts with glucose and oxygen molecules in water. So, when honey is used as a wound dressing it draws moisture from the tissues, and this reacts to produce hydrogen peroxide, clearing the wound of infection.

The antimicrobial activity of different honeys varies greatly, depending on which flowers the bees visit to collect the nectar they turn into honey. While all honeys possess some level of antimicrobial activity, certain ones are up to 100 times more active than others.

How is manuka different to other honey?

Manuka honey is derived from the nectar of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) trees, and it has an additional component to its potent antimicrobial activity. This unusual activity was discovered by Professor Peter Molan, in New Zealand in the 1980s, when he realised the action of manuka honey remained even after hydrogen peroxide was removed.

The cause of this activity remained elusive for many years, until two laboratories independently identified methylglyoxal (MGO) as a key active component in manuka honey in 2008. MGO is a substance that occurs naturally in many foods, plants and animal cells and it has antimicrobial activity.

Australia has more than 80 species of native Leptospermum, while New Zealand has one, but the “manuka” honeys from each country have similar properties. There is currently a great deal of debate between the two countries over the rights to use the name “manuka”, but for simplicity in this article we use the term to describe active Leptospermum honeys from either country.

Read more: Manuka honey may help prevent life-threatening urinary infections

Can manuka honey kill superbugs?

The activity of manuka honey has been tested against a diverse range of microbes, particularly those that cause wound infections, and it inhibits problematic bacterial pathogens, including superbugs that are resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Manuka honey can also disperse and kill bacteria living in biofilms (communities of microbes notoriously resistant to antibiotics), including ones of Streptococcus (the cause of strep throat) and Staphylococcus (the cause of Golden staph infections).

Crucially, there are no reported cases of bacteria developing resistance to honey, nor can manuka or other honey resistance be generated in the laboratory.

There is good evidence manuka honey kills bacteria.
Ryan Merce/Flickr, CC BY

It’s important to note that the amount of MGO in different manuka honeys varies, and not all manuka honeys necessarily have high levels of antimicrobial activity.

Manuka honey and wound healing

Honey has ideal wound dressing properties, and there have been numerous studies looking at the efficacy of manuka as a wound dressing. Apart from its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity, honey is also non-toxic to mammalian cells, helps to maintain a moist wound environment (which is beneficial for healing), has anti-inflammatory activity, reduces healing time and scarring, has a natural debriding action (which draws dead tissues, foreign bodies and dead immune cells from the wound) and also reduces wound odour. These properties account for many of the reports showing the effectiveness of honey as a wound dressing.

Honey, and in particular manuka honey, has successfully been used to treat infected and non-infected wounds, burns, surgical incisions, leg ulcers, pressure sores, traumatic injuries, meningococcal lesions, side effects from radiotherapy and gingivitis.

Read more – Use them and lose them: finding alternatives to antibiotics to preserve their usefulness

What about eating manuka honey?

Most of the manuka honey sold globally is eaten. Manuka may inhibit the bacteria that cause a sore (“strep”) throat or gingivitis, but the main components responsible for the antimicrobial activity won’t survive the digestion process.

Nonetheless, honey consumption can have other therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and prebiotic (promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal microorganisms) properties. Although, these properties are not solely linked to manuka honey and various other honeys may also work.

What doesn’t it do?

There is a commonly touted belief that eating manuka (or local) honey will help with hay fever because it contains small doses of the pollens that are causing the symptoms, and eating this in small quantities will help your immune system learn not to overreact.

But there’s no scientific evidence eating honey helps hay fever sufferers. Most of the pollen that causes hay fever comes from plants that are wind pollinated (so they don’t produce nectar and are not visited by bees).

There is some preliminary work showing honey might protect from some side effects of radiation treatment to the head and neck that warrants further investigation. But other claims honey has anti-cancer activity are yet to be substantiated.

If you’re putting honey in your hair you’re probably just making a sticky mess.

There isn’t any robust scientific evidence that manuka lowers cholesterol, treats diabetes or improves sleep. Although one interesting study did show honey was more effective than cough medicine for reducing night time coughs of children, improving their sleep (and their parents’). Manuka honey wasn’t used specifically, but it may well be as helpful.

Claims that anything helps to “detox” are innately ridiculous. Similarly “superfood” is more about marketing than much else, and the cosmetic and anti-ageing claims about manuka are scientifically unfounded.

Final verdict

If consumers are buying manuka honey for general daily use as a food or tonic, there is no need to buy the more active and therefore more expensive types. But the right kind of honey is very effective as a wound dressing. So if manuka is to be used to treat wounds or skin infections, it should be active, sterile and appropriately packaged as a medicinal product.

The best way to ensure this is to check the product has a CE mark or it’s registered with the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (marked with an AUST L/AUST R number).

The ConversationManuka honey isn’t a panacea or a superfood. But it is grossly underutilised as a topical treatment for wounds, ulcers and burns, particularly in the face of the looming global superbug crisis.

Nural Cokcetin, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Technology Sydney and Shona Blair, General Manager, ithree institute UTS

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia's finest and rarest honey. From the Tasmanian Honey Company 750gms of pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey. $18.95 plus freight

Australian winter honey crop largest for many years says Capilano CEO

Honey production in Australia increased strongly over the winter of 2017, and conditions are looking good for spring as well.

So said Capilano’s chief executive officer, Ben McKee, in releasing the company’s annual profit results earlier this month.

He said that Australia had seen  the “largest ever winter honey supply for many, many years”.

The profit results show that Capilano increased its market share in Australia, over the last 12 months even though overall sales were slightly down for the year.

ben mckee capilanoThe company also managed to increase net profits after tax, to just over $AUD 10million for the financial year 2016/2017.

Remarkably, the increased profit was achieved despite both lower sales overall, and “a major customer” slashing some $3.4million in rebates.*

But it appears that some “creative accounting” connected to the Manuka honey assets Capilano bought from Kirks Bees last year was a big factor in the company’s profit result this year.

Capilano paid $6million for Kirks Bees back in August 2015. It said the purchase would provide a big boost to Capilano’s Manuka honey production.

Just on twelve months later, in late July of 2016, Capilano told the Australian Stock Exchange it had sold its Manuka beekeeping assets to a new company – Medibee Apiaries Pty Ltd – for some $9.225 million.

It said that Medibee Apiaries Pty Ltd is a joint-venture Capilano half-owns with New Zealand company, Comvita.

Or in other words Capilano sold Comvita a half share in the assets it picked up from Kirks Bees a year earlier – but at a price 50% higher than that which Capilano paid for those same assets just 12 months earlier.

But the most significant aspect of Capilano’s annual results statement this year is Ben McKee’s claims of a recent big boost in Australian honey production.

McKee said that more rain had been the main reason for the increased production levels.

“The improved rain patterns in key production areas has led to a notable increase in honey supply in recent months, with our largest ever winter honey supply for many, many years” he said.

McKee said that Capilano had boosted its stock levels again this year, and was holding nearly 6,000 tonnes of honey in its warehouses.

However the company also reported virtually no change in the total honey levy it paid on Australian produced honey, suggesting that most of the extra honey stored in its warehouse was imported.

Capilano has undoubtedly developed an increasing dependence on cheap imported honey in recent years, particularly from China.

And it has flooded the Australian retail market with that honey under various brand names, including Allowrie, Smiths and Barnes.

The labels on the bottles of those brands have, for the last four or five years, said that whilst its preference is to supply Austalian honey, it will sell imported honey so long as there is a shortage of local honey.

It will be a clear test of Capilano’s honesty to Australian customers whether or not the company now drops that statement from its imported honey labels.

*[Capilano says its two biggest customers accounted for 52% of all its honey sales last year. These are believed to be Australia’s two big supermarket operators – Woolworths and Wesfarmers (Coles). Woolies is very publicly in a price-led battle to win back customers lost to Coles, and it seems highly likely that it was Woolies who had formerly been paying Capilano the $3.4 million in rebates.]





Australia's finest and rarest honey. From the Tasmanian Honey Company 750gms of pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey. $18.95 plus freight

Beechworh Honey opens new shop in iconic Melbourne arcade

Melbourne’s iconic Block Arcade is now the home of a new destination for Australian honey lovers – a Beechworth Honey shop.

Like the Beechworth Honey Company’s “Honey Experience” and “Honey Discovery” centres in its home town of Beechworth in rural Victoria, the new shop has a full range of the company’s Australian honey products for sale.

IBeechworth Honey's new shop in the Block Arcade Melbournet also offers tastings of a diverse range of Australian varietal honeys and of the Bee Cause range of honeys the company introduced to the Australian market early last year.

Beechworth Honey’s cosmetic, drink, gift and other honey based products are also available to view and to buy.

A live honey display will also soon be on show in the store.

When we visited the new store last week there were multi-coloured honey hive boxes stacked outside in the Arcade proper.

Each stack of the boxes carried various messages both about bees and their plight overall, and about the role bees play in food security generally.

The company’s owners, Jodi and Steven Goldsworthy have become leading advocates in the Australian community for better understanding of the role bees play in pollinating the trees and plants that give us much of our fruit and vegetables.

Along with the new shop in downtown Melbourne, the company has recently launched a social media campaign linked to its web site at

Web site visitors are encouraged to learn more about the plight of bees and to donate to the Wheen Bee Foundation, which is said to be Australia’s leading honey bee research centre.

Supporting short videos have been uploaded to Youtube and other social media outlets will also be used to promote the overall message that bees need our help.

To view the new videos go to

Opening hours for the Block Arcade Beechworth Honey shop are as follows:

  • Mon: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Tue: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Wed: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Thu: 9.30am – 5.30pm
  • Fri: 9.30am – 7pm
  • Sat: 9am – 5pm
  • Sun: 11am – 5pm

Or, just head to shop 14 in the Block Arcade, 282 Collins St Melbourne Victoria 3000

Australia's finest and rarest honey. From the Tasmanian Honey Company 750gms of pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey. $18.95 plus freight

Creamed honey – a consumers guide

Creamed honey is many peoples favourite style of honey. It has a thicker texture than liquid honey, making it easier to handle in the kitchen, particularly for spreading on bread, pancakes and crumpets. It also has a much longer shelf-life than normal honey, because it doesn’t really crystallize or go hard.

But, if you asked them, most consumers couldn’t say why creamed honey is different from normal honey.

Some might say creamed honey is just crystallized or candied honey that has been ‘whipped’, like whipped cream, but with a giant and very powerful egg beater.

And they’d be partly right.

They’d be partly right because normal honey is definitely not whipped, or even stirred, when it is bottled. Indeed stirring usually introduce air bubbles into honey, which form a sort of froth or foam on the top of the honey as it settles. So stirring honey is, usually, actively avoided.

Likewise honey that has already crystallized is an important ingredient to creamed honey. But it would be a big mistake to think crystallized and creamed honey are the same.

Crystallization is a natural process with pure honey. It happens when honey re-absorbs water from the atmosphere that the bees had previously taken out inside the bee hive.  So when we open a jar a honey it starts re-absorbing water, which eventually facilitates the formation of natural sugar crystals.

Natural yeasts in raw honey mean that the sugar crystals and water eventually also ferment. That ruins honeys natural sweetness, so most consumers are unhappy when they find their honey is crystallizing; they may even think their honey has gone off, or gone bad.

Pasteurized, i.e supermarket honey, won’t ferment, of course, but it will still eventually crystallize, and possibly into large crystals that many consumers find crunchy and unpleasant to eat.

Creamed honey, however, is formed as a result of adding a small amount of crystallized honey into a batch of liquid honey, stirring it to spread the crystals as thoroughly as possible, and then leaving the mixture to set.

Creaming honey in this way is sometimes known as the Dyce method, after the Yale professor who patented the process back in the 1930’s.

However, just adding some already crystallized honey to normal honey doesn’t necessarily guarantee an acceptable creamed honey.

The process works best if the ratio of already crystallized honey to normal honey is 10% to 90% and if the resultant honey mixture is kept at a controlled temperature of around 14 degrees centigrade or 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using crystals as small as possible for the seeding is also important to producing a good quality creamed honey.

If these various rules are respected then the honey mixture will usually become wholly creamed after about a week.

Many commercial producers also make sure to pasteurize their honey before creaming it, to kill off any yeast or other spores naturally occurring in the honey.

They may also whip or crush their seed crystals to make them as small as possible. (This is particularly important because the creamed honey crystals will form at the same size as those used for the seeding.)

So there you have it. Creamed honey has been deliberately crystallized in a special and controlled way to give a product that, at its best, stores well for a long time, won’t ever ferment, retains all the sweetness of honey, and has a wonderful ‘melt in your mouth’ texture.








Australia's finest and rarest honey. From the Tasmanian Honey Company 750gms of pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey. $18.95 plus freight

Crazy moist honey cake

New York based cookbook author, Deb Perelman*, says this recipe produces a honey cake which is “warmly spiced and crazy moist and soft and plush with a little crisp edge about the corners”.

Certainly it should be moist, and its also a little crazy, with ingredients including not only a cup of warm strong tea (or coffee), but a 60ml shot of whisky as well.


3 and 1/2 cups (440 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons (8 grams) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (235 ml) vegetable oil
1 cup (340 grams) honey
1 and 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (95 grams) brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup warm (235 ml) coffee or strong tea
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh orange juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) whiskey (optional)
1/2 cup (45 to 55 grams) slivered or sliced almonds (optional)

Note: These quantities  make a mixture that fits into two * 23cm square or round cake pans.


Preheat oven to 180° C  (350°F) Generously grease pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, orange juice (and the whisky if you’re adding some).
Whisk (or mix in an electric mixer on slow speed), and then stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter.
Spoon batter into prepared pan(s).
Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds.
Bake for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the cake springs back when you gently touch it in the centre.
Let the cake stand fifteen minutes before removing from pan.

*Deb Perelman is the author of the New York Times bestseller – “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

For more go to


Australia's finest and rarest honey. From the Tasmanian Honey Company 750gms of pure Tasmanian leatherwood honey. $18.95 plus freight

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