The benefits of honey have been known to us for time immemorial. From the ancient Egyptians to our modern skincare brands, honey has been a part of our everyday lives ranging from beauty products to medicine. Yet, how much do we really understand the different types of honey and how useful they really are to us?
What is honey?
Most honey comes from nectar in plants, especially ones with flowers. This nectar is extracted by bees. The bees swallow this nectar and bring it back to their hive. In the hive, they disgorge the nectar and store it in the honeycomb.
With time, inside the honeycomb, the nectar breaks down into sugars. That is how honey is formed.
In recent years, the proliferation of Manuka honey has broken into the mainstream at eye-watering price points. While we may be aware that Manuka honey is better than the other generic types of honey found on supermarket shelves, do we really know why it is better or what the difference is?
This is the most common honey found in supermarkets and shops. It is affordably priced and easily accessible. But what is it?
Regular, or pasteurised honey, is clear and smooth. The pasteurisation process improves the honey’s appearance, increases its shelf-life, and kills yeast cells that can affect the taste of the honey. It stores well as a result of the pasteurisation and can be kept for a long time, unopened.
However, some people believe that the process of pasteurisation destroys the antioxidants and nutrients in honey which in turn negates its health or healing benefits.
In other words, while regular honey travels and keeps well, consuming it may have limited effects on health given that most of its beneficial properties are already destroyed.
For example, pasteurisation of honey removes bee pollen and studies have shown that bee pollen contains:
- antioxidant properties
- anti-inflammatory effects
- antibacterial and antifungal action
- pain-relieving properties
Bee pollen also contains amino acids, vitamins A and C, and small amounts of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and sodium.
Some regular honey products contain added sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup.
Some products labelled as “honey” may not be 100 per cent real honey, but may contain sweeteners, such as brown rice syrup.
This has led some to invest in honey that is considered higher quality.
Raw honey comes straight from the honeycomb. The beekeeper will usually just filter the honey to remove small bits of debris, including pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees. They do not pasteurise the honey.
Raw honey appears cloudy or opaque because it contains these extra elements. It is still safe to eat.
Raw honey would not have endured high heat treatments and as such the natural nutrients that it has would have been preserved. While no conclusive studies have confirmed that raw honey is more nutritious than regular honey, some small studies suggest that raw honey may offer extra health benefits.
Raw honey also contains bee propolis, which is the sticky substance that bees use to build their hives and hold the structures together. This glue-like substance not only helps the bees, but some scientists believe that it has health benefits as well.
Studies have shown that bee propolis may have
- anti-inflammatory effects
- anti-cancer and antiulcer action
- antifungal effects
Bee propolis also contains B vitamins, vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium and beneficial enzymes.
With this in mind, more discerning consumers may prefer this option despite the price point being higher than regular honey.
Unlike other honey, the nectar meant for Manuka honey is extracted exclusively from the Manuka plant. That’s why the colour of Manuka honey is a bit dark or just more pigmented compared to the general honey colour, which is either golden or amber. Manuka honey is also thicker in texture.
Given that the Manuka bush only grows in specific areas such as New Zealand and Australia, it is a honey that requires importation. Its rarity adds to its price point.
Studies have indicated that Manuka honey is very powerful in fighting bacteria. It is known to have a UMF (Unique Manuka Factor), which indicates the level of its activity as an antibacterial agent. The more the UMF, the more powerful the Manuka honey is against bacteria.
But is Manuka honey the only honey that has this factor? What about raw honey?
Manuka Honey versus raw honey
Both raw and Manuka honey contain higher nutritional properties and more health benefits than commercially processed honey. With this in mind, it is difficult to conclusively single out any type as superior since both of them share identical qualities.
However, there is no fixed standard for measuring the quality standards of raw honey. So, there is no way to check its potency before consuming it. On the other hand, Manuka honey is tested by experts to check whether it has all the antibacterial properties or not. Users can check the UMF rating on the label of this honey to make sure they have purchased the best honey.
Manuka has superior antimicrobial properties than raw honey. It contains hydrogen peroxide which is a very strong antibacterial agent. So, it is more effective against viral infections than raw honey. Raw honey has medicinal benefits but the overall health benefits of Manuka honey will outweigh them. Some doctors even prescribe this honey to chemotherapy patients, who are suffering from inflammation in the throat after the therapy. It is more effective in healing wounds, sore throats, acid reflux etc.
In a nutshell, both Manuka and raw honey offer countless benefits. Manuka honey is expensive but does have more medicinal benefits. On the contrary, raw honey is more accessible. Perhaps, the best way to incorporate honey in your daily diet is to take raw honey. Raw honey offers much of the benefits that other kinds of honey can offer and can be especially helpful for allergy sufferers. As it is not pasteurised, it is certainly more nutritious than processed honey.
However, if you want the honey to cure sore throat or inflammation or wounds, you should spend a little more money and buy Manuka honey. Because Manuka honey has some unique features and benefits that are unmatched in other kinds of honey.