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What's the Deal with Manuka Honey?

Photo: David W. Pimborough/Getty

Manuka honey has been touted as a cure for everything from acne to stomach ulcers. But what is it exactly, and does it really have health benefits?

What is manuka honey? Manuka honey is honey made by bees that pollinate the manuka bush in New Zealand. (All honey is classified by what plant(s) the bees pollinate—wildflower honey, clover honey, etc.) This honey, which has a strong, slightly bitter flavor, was used medicinally in New Zealand for many years before being exported and marketed to the rest of the world.

What does and doesn’t manuka honey do? All honey has antibacterial properties because it contains hydrogen peroxide. Most honeys also contain another antibacterial compound called methylglyoxal—manuka has been found to contain this compound in unusually high concentrations. That means that it may be more effective than other honeys as an antiseptic wound dressing. However, there is no good evidence that manuka honey cures cancer or lowers cholesterol or purifies skin—so the health claims about manuka are certainly overblown.

The upshot: Honey can be nutritious, and it can be an antibacterial wound or burn treatment—and manuka might be one of the healthiest and most effective honeys. But its price tag—which can reach $75 for 8 ounces—is hard to justify. Also, you can’t really be sure that manuka honey is really manuka honey. New Zealand produces 1,700 tons of the stuff every year, while about 10,000 tons are sold, meaning that a very large chunk of what is sold as manuka is not manuka. You’re better off buying honey from your local farmer’s market.