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Chinan honey is at least as potent as New Zealand manuka, study finds

Samples of honey from n leptospermum, or manuka, bushes being tested. Photo: UTS Co-authors of the study: Professor Elizabeth Harry (left), Shona Blair and Nural Cokcetin (right) from the University of Technology, Sydney. Photo: Vanessa Valenzuela/UTS
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Sampling nectar from a leptospermum ‘manuka’ honey bush. Photo: Vanessa Valenzuela/UTS

n manuka-style honey is as least as medically powerful as New Zealand manuka honey, a study has found.

Research by Nural Cokcetin at the University of Technology, Sydney, shows that more than 16 per cent of n manuka-style honeys she tested were actually more potent than the Kiwi product.

However, New Zealand honey producers don’t seem worried. John Rawcliffe from New Zealand’s UMF Honey Association said that the global demand for manuka honey is so great it outstrips current supply.

Manuka honey has properties that mean it can be applied to burns, cuts and other injuries to fight infection. The honey is also used in cosmetic and other products.

Some claim it is useful for treating acne, gingivitis, sore throats, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome and other ailments. However, these have not been tested clinically and those claims are not supported scientifically.

The active antibacterial agent in the honey – methylglyoxal – is proven to be highly effective in dealing with infection.

Dr Cokcetin, a lead author of the study, said: “One of the really special things about manuka honey is that it kills superbugs like golden staph.”

Professor Elizabeth Harry at UTS, one of the authors of the study, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis. Honey not only kills bacteria on contact, but we have shown previously that bacteria don’t become resistant to honey.”

The study shows that n honey produced by bees using the nectar from leptospermum, or manuka-type, bushes can produce concentrations of methylglyoxal higher than two control samples of “hospital-grade” New Zealand manuka honey.

It also shows a direct correlation between antibacterial activity and methylglyoxal levels and that these honeys can be stored for up to seven years without losing their efficacy.

Dr Cokcetin said: “The most exciting thing about this research is that it puts n manuka honey on the international radar. Lots of people have heard of New Zealand manuka, but not many are aware that we have more than 80 species of the same plant in .”

In New Zealand, manuka honey is made by bees from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium, known locally as the manuka bush. It is the only leptospermum species in New Zealand. The same species is also native to .

However, there are 82 other leptospermum species native to , some of which also produce medically active honey.

Use of the name “manuka” to describe these honeys is controversial. Mr Rawcliffe has said New Zealand manuka deserves the same protection as champagne.

Trevor Weatherhead, executive director of the n Honey Bee Industry Council, said New Zealand doesn’t have a monopoly on manuka.

“If someone tries to put a trademark on it for exclusive New Zealand use, we’ll likely object,” Mr Weatherhead said.

Victor Goldsmith, general manager of Maori organisation Ngati Porou Miere said: “Manuka is a Maori name. [We will] resist any attempts by non-Maori, both domestic and international, to bastardise our names.”

Ngati Porou Miere has recently entered into commercial manuka honey production.