Monday 19 August 2013

Medical, Health & Fitness: Which Honeys and Manuka Honeys Are The Best?

Consumer Council head Wong Yuk-shan. Photo: David Wong
Image and caption from SCMP
I have always enjoyed reading researches, and the Consumer Council of Hong Kong has often impressed me the most.

In Issue 441, the Consumer Council released the findings of their research on 40 General Honeys and 15 Manuka Honeys available in Hong Kong's supermarkets, department stores and retail shops. According to the labels, these honeys are made in New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, UK, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Is Cheap Always Bad?
Image from Locky's English Playground
All 55 samples were subjected to multiple tests carried out by labs in Belgium, Germany and UK, namely,
  1. Safety Test: Test for the presence of ChloramphenicolNitrofuransStreptomycins, SulfonamidesTetracyclinesQuinolones and Macrolides.
  2. Added Sugar Test: AOAC998.12 test for C4 Sugar (corn syrup and cane syrup) and C3 Sugar (rice syrup, wheat syrup, chicory syrup).
  3. Origin Analysis: Use pollen to recover plant types thus the origins of the honeys and compare with the labelled origin.
  4. Common Quality Test: Test for the amount of moisture content, Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), diastase, invertase, sugar content and the level of fermentation.
  5. Manuka Honey Anti-bacterial Activity Test: Test for Methylglyoxal, MGO content and  (Non-Peroxide Activity, NPA; Total Activity, TA) as compared with the NPA and TA of a phenol solution.

All tests are based on the Codex Standard for Honey, CODEX. and full documentation can be downloaded from here.

Content Threshold
Not > 20%; Heather honey (Calluna): Not > 23%
Total Fructose & Glucose
Not < 60%;
Honeydew honey, blends of honeydew honey with blossom honey, Not < 45%
Not > 5g/100g
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Citrus spp., False Acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), French Honeysuckle (Hedysarum), Menzies Banksia (Banksia menziesii),Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida), Eucryphia milligani, Not > 10g/100g
Lavender (Lavandula spp),Borage (Borago officinalis), Not > 15g / 100g
Not > 40mg / kg
honey of declared origin from countries or regions with tropical ambient temperatures, and blends of these honeys, the HMF content shall Not be > 80 mg/kg
Diastase Activity
Not < 8 Schade units
honeys with a low natural enzyme content Not < 3 Schade Units
3.1      Honey sold as such shall not have added to it any food ingredient, including food additives, nor shall any other additions be made other than honey. Honey shall not have any objectionable matter, flavour, aroma, or taint absorbed from foreign matter during its processing and storage. The honey shall not have begun to ferment or effervesce.
No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign inorganic or organic matter.
6.1.8  Where honey has been designated according to floral, plant source, or by the name of a geographical or topological region, then the name of the country where the honey has been produced shall be declared.

The findings are truly amazing!!! For those of you who can read Chinese or knows someone who can, it is highly recommended that you purchase a soft copy of the report from the Consumer Council website to support what they do (I do!).

But for our English Playground readers, you definitely can benefit from the core of the matter.

First Choice (left) and Select (right)
Image from Consumer Council

For general honeys, among 40 samples, 16 samples earned a rating of 5-star, 12 others earned 4.5-star and 5 earned 4-star.

The best and cheapest of the 5 stars are:

  1. First Choice Pure Australian Honey, 400g, HK$8.4 / 100g
  2. Select Pure Honey, 400g, HK$8.5 / 100g

I live closer to ParkNShop than to Wellcome so I bought Select Pure Honey.

5 Star Waitemata (left), 4.5 Star Airborne (center) and 4.5 Star hnz (right)
Image from Consumer Council

As for Manuka honeys, among 15 samples, only 1 sample earned a rating of 5-star, 7 others earned 4.5-star and 5 earned 4 stars.

The 5 star Manuka is:
  1. Waitemata Manuka UMF®15 New Zealand Honey, 500g, HK$107.6 / 100g
But the cheapest among the 4.5 stars are:
  1. Airborne Manuka Honey Active NPA 8+, 500g, HK$39.6 / 100g
  2. hnz New Zealand Manuka Honey UMF®10+, 500g, HK$45.6 / 100g
Airborne Manuka Honey Active NPA 8+ couldn't earn a 5-star because it has been tested with an NPA lower than 8 while hnz New Zealand Manuka Honey UMF®10+ has an invertase lower than 28 units.

FYI, Active Manuka Honey Association, AMHA provides a rough conversion table for UMF : MGO.

3 3 30
6 6 100
10 10 250
13 13 400
16 16 550
Source from Consumer Council

So if you are not a big fan of bigger NPA / UMF / MGO numbers, you can simply go for the cheaper 4.5-star ones.

Last but not least, I have some facts from the research article for you.

Some Facts of Manuka Honey from the Consumer Council's Research Article

  1. There isn't enough evidence to show that the consumption of general honeys or Manuka honeys heals / cures / prevent diseases or strengthen our immune system.
  2. Diabetes patients should go easy on honeys.
  3. Honeys and its ingredients might cause allergic reactions to some people.
  4. Tonnes of evidence shows that honey helps curing wounds and cuts mainly due to its anti-bacterial properties.
  5. Manuka Honeys with MGO do have anti-bacterial properties, but it is not a property solely possessed by Manuka Honey, for example, certain medicinal honeys.
  6. The viability of honey for external use should not be equated to that for internal use, that is, its anti-bacterial properties may not sustain inside our body. Evidence from large double-blinded clinical trial experiments are absent at the moment.
  7. The level of nutrients in honey isn't of much difference from normal sugar.
  8. Overconsumption of honey will increase the risk of obesity, similar to that of normal sugar.
  9. Infants below the age of 1 should not consume honey, as infection by Clostridium botulinum pores causing infant botulism is possible.

Baby with Infant Botulism
Image from

This report on honeys by the Consumer Council has stirred massive responses from the honey companies. If you want to read them, please see Resources below.

Hydroxymethylfurfural, HMF
Methylglyoxal, MGO
Non-Peroxide Activity, NPA
Unique Manuka Factor, UMF
viability -- (n) ability to work as intended or to succeed 
equate to sth -- (phrasal verb) to be the same in amount, number, or size:
Clostridium botulinum -- (n)[S] a Gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium that produces several toxins. The best known are its neurotoxins, subdivided in types A-G, that cause the flaccid muscular paralysis seen in botulism. They are also the main paralytic agent in botox. C. botulinum is an anaerobic spore-former, which produces oval, subterminal endospores and is commonly found in soil.
Infant botulism -- (n) n humans, a rare but sometimes fatal paralytic illness. Foodborne botulism is an intoxication caused by consuming food contaminated with the botulinum toxin;

Health and Fitness: Manuka Honey (1st Suggested Cure for Mouth Ulcers) @ Locky's English Playground

List of standards @ CODEX Alimentarius

Standard for Honey @ CODEX Alimentarius

Calluna @ Wikipedia

Consumer Council

NZ vows to look into Hong Kong's manuka honey test findings @ South China Morning Post

There's something funny going on with honey, says Consumer Council @ South China Morning Post

News : National : Hong Kong consumer body questions NZ manuka honey @ Radio New Zealand

Manuka Honey Test Finds Rogue Ingredients @

Worrying manuka honey test brings call for action @ Otago Daily Times Online News : Otago, South Island, New Zealand & International News

NZ Honey Comes under Scrutiny in Hong Kong @ Scoop News

No Sugar Added @ Comvita

Clostridium botulinum @ Wikipedia

Infant botulism @ Wikipedia

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