The story of honey is as old as some of the oldest stories we know.
The Bible describes a land where milk and honey flow. A prosperous land, well equipped with everything one could ask for.
People (and animals) have loved eating the stuff since time immemorial, and our love for it reaches back to ancient civilizations.
Considering its longstanding culinary use, honey doesn’t seem to be having any difficulty in its old age. It’s beloved all over the world today.
Nowadays, lots of different sorts are available, and each one has specific unique characteristics. They all differ in flavor, color, intensity, and texture.
Yet, they all share the same mode of production: bees that collect pollen and nectar from flowers produce honey.
It is a truly natural product that has always been popular – not only as food, but also as a medicinal product.
One type in particular, Manuka, has become a well-known representative of healing honeys. In this article, we’ll also take a look at this very special type and its particular qualities.
Varieties of This Sweet Golden Goo
The various sorts basically differ in origin (flower nectar or sometimes a sweet product known as honeydew, which I’ll cover in more detail later), color, and flavor.
However, all kinds share the same general ingredients. They consist of approximately 80 percent sugar (glucose and fructose in varying relations), plus natural substances from the different kinds of nectar, which are responsible for variations in color and flavor.
There are liquid and firm varieties available. The consistency depends on the content of glucose and fructose, and the way in which the honey is processed through filtration, mixing, the addition of heat, and so on.
A higher amount of glucose leads to quicker crystallization, meaning it becomes firm and opaque with time.This is not a sign of good or bad quality, simply a matter of preference. Firm, crystallized honey can be warmed up to become liquid again, too.
The three basic categories of honey are:
1. Single origin
Nectar mainly comes from one specific plant –such as clover, for example.
Nectar that the bees collect comes from different plants. The resulting varieties can vary a lot in flavor and appearance, such as wildflower types.
Nectar is collected from a specific region or territory, such as a special mountain area or the California coastline.
A Note of Caution:
Always be sure not to feed any honey to babies and toddlers less than 3 years old, or immune compromised individuals. Because it is a raw, natural product, it can contain bacteria that small children and immune compromised people can’t process.
Now, let’s take a look at how the origin influences the colors and flavors of the different types.
In general, the darker sorts have a stronger and more distinctive aroma. They not only taste less sweet, but they are typically rather tangy with a bitter, malty note.
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Forest, fir, or pine honey are a few additional dark varieties.
In areas where flower nectar is not available, bees will sometimes collect honeydew, the sugary metabolic product (or secretions) of specific scale insects that live on plants, or even invasive spotted lanternflies. This can be found on the pine needles or leaves of trees. In some areas, products of this type cannot legally be classified as honey.
Varieties that are lighter in color usually have a mild, floral flavor, and a color that ranges from nearly clear to white, pale yellow, golden, orange, or red.
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Depending on how the nectar is collected, you will find single origin and multi-flower varieties in this group.
Here, you’ll find an overview of some of the most common sorts:
|Acacia||fluid||golden yellow||mild, floral notes|
|Alfalfa||moderately thick||yellow to amber||less sweet than other varieties, spicy nuances|
|Avocado||silky, smooth, rich||dark amber||complex with warm, toasty notes|
|Buckwheat||thick, rich||dark, ebony colored||malty, spicy, intense|
|Blueberry||smooth, buttery||amber||toasty with herbal notes|
|Chestnut||gooey, thick||amber to very dark brown||malty and herbal, less sweet than other varieties|
|Clover||crystallizes quickly, spreadable, smooth||white to pale yellow or amber||floral and mild|
|Eucalyptus||thick, rich||light to dark amber||herbal nuances with cool and complex flavor|
|Forest||gooey, rarely crystallizes||amber to dark brown||less sweet than other varieties, spicy and intense aroma|
|Orange Blossom||smooth, creamy||light to medium dark||fruity, mild floral notes|
|Sage||smooth, rarely crystallizes||light amber||delicate, fruity to herbal nuances, less sweet than other varieties|
Some of the information found in this table (and elsewhere in this post) was sourced from “Taste of Honey: The Definitive Guide to Tasting and Cooking with 40 Varietals” by Marie Simmons, available on Amazon. It’s a great read, especially if you’re interested in learning more about adding various types of honey to your culinary repertoire.
Liquid, Whipped, and Honeycomb
Besides dark and light types, you can also differentiate between production processes. Most of what you will find available for sale belongs to the liquid nectar group, wherein the honeycombs are spun in a centrifuge to retain the actual product.
This liquid type is available in two varieties: raw or cold packed, and pasteurized. While the raw version includes pollen and minerals (particularly if it has not been filtered) and is therefore very popular, pasteurized sorts offer their own advantages, and they do not crystallize so quickly. But as crystallization is a natural process, this is more a matter of personal preference.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that most types do tend to crystallize over a certain time period anyway.
Pasteurization of honey is like the process done to make dairy products safer for human consumption, but it is not used for the same reason.
Since honey is high in acid with a low moisture content, it doesn’t provide a nice environment for potentially harmful bacteria to thrive. Some types of yeast can sometimes survive, so pasteurization kills these, but as I mentioned above, it mostly just helps to prevent crystallization.
The whipped variety provides a special texture, too. This type of processing is used when the honey already contains sugar crystals. By whipping in air, it will keep its smooth and spreadable texture over a longer period.
Comb honey is a true specialty, because it is sold in its original wax reservoirs, cut into pieces. This not only looks great, but it also offers you a direct connection with and experience of the natural product. Sometimes, you can find fluid sorts that contain individual pieces of honeycomb, too.
A Natural Sweetener for Lots of Recipes
Honey is not only a delightfully sweet spread to put on toast, it can also be used in drinks, cakes, or sauces.
Why not substitute sugar with it in some baked goods? Considering that the natural product has a stronger sweetening power, you can reduce the amount of required granulated sugar. Approximately 1/3-1/2 cup of honey can replace 1 cup of sugar (1).
The only thing you have to keep in mind is that your cake, for example, might brown a bit faster than it would otherwise. So keep an eye on your goodies in the oven, and cover with aluminum foil if the surface is getting too dark. Plus, consider that it provides more moisture than sugar, so you might need to add a little less liquid than usual.
If you have a look at the chart above, you’ll see that the flavors offered by various types can differ a lot. Make use of these tasting notes when you make a variety of sweet and savory dishes like:
- Sauces, dressings, and vinaigrettes for salad
- Glazes and sauces for roast chicken, duck, fish, or beef
- Anything made with goat cheese, feta, or fresh cream cheese varieties
- Cakes, other types of baked goods, or desserts
Tips for Storing
Actually, honey is quite undemanding. Kept correctly, it could probably outlast most of us.
If you want this sweet gold to retain its color and consistency, keep it cool and in a dark place, away from direct sunlight. Since it attracts moisture, store it in a dry place, well-sealed in the containers or jars it is sold in.
Some varieties may crystallize or thicken, but this doesn’t mean they are not edible anymore. Due to its makeup, these things just happen. Most blossom honeys crystallize between 2-6 weeks of storage, while acacia typically stays fluid for up to 12 months.
Firm, creamy sorts should be stored at 50-53°F (10-12°C), thin and fluid varieties between 64-68°F (18-20°C).
Now, let’s take a closer look at one special sort that has become famous, due to its unique antibacterial properties. By consuming Manuka honey, you can combine your desire for something sweet with a potentially healing effect.
If this isn’t a practical coincidence, I don’t know what is!
What is Manuka, and What Makes it so Special?
This specific kind is made of the flower nectar of New Zealand’s Manuka shrub, a relative of the famous Australian tea tree.
It is amber-colored, with an intense spicy aroma and a slightly herbal nuance. Its texture is tenderly melting and creamy.
This sort has been researched by scientists to find out whether the natives of New Zealand, the Maori, are right about its excellent healing qualities. And indeed, compared to other varieties, they are outstanding.
This has to do with one particular substance that Dr. Thomas Henle from the Institute of Food Chemistry at Dresden’s Technical University in Germany found in 2008.
The most important substance that could be identified through scientific study is methylglyoxal (MGO).
While most honey has an MGO content of one to two milligrams per kilogram, the research team found Manuka contains 300 to 700 milligrams per kilogram. A thesis written by Dr. Elvira Mavric would finally support the theory that MGO is directly connected to an antibacterial effect.
What conclusions could be drawn from this? Let’s take a look.
The Impact of MGO on Quality
To emphasize the specific nature of the Manuka type, we have to take a look at the content and significance of MGO.
As was described above, every sort of honey contains MGO – just not in such high quantities. Thanks to Dr. Mavric’s thesis, the following statement could be made: “A higher methylglyoxal level means that the antibacterial activity is higher, too.”
However, MGO levels can vary depending on the amount of time that the product has spent in storage, increasing over time. A lot of research still remains to be done to accurately determine the relevant health outcomes and effects.
According to this post from Healthy with Honey, though MGO is in fact a potentially toxic compound, it is also found in many foods and beverages like coffee and soy sauce. Though some experts claim it is safe for consumption at any level, more research is needed to prove this, and some recommend that high-quality Manuka is safe for external use only.
Not all Manuka honeys are alike, and it’s possible to find varieties with different levels of MGO. The MGO level indicates the antibacterial quality of the product. This rating is included on products that are bottled in Germany in particular.
But there is another way for you to find out about the quality. The UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) is an exclusive figure found on the label of Manuka products bottled in New Zealand. So, if you want to make sure you’re buying the real thing, keep an eye on the label, and see whether it includes one of the protected trademarks MGO or UMF. If so, you can feel certain that you are getting the genuine product.
If you find either value on a product label, here’s a chart to explain how they compare (2, 3):
|Minimum MGO||Manuka Honey Benefit||UMF|
|30||Insignificant levels of activity||-|
|83-250||Some levels of activity, used for general well-being||5+|
|263||High levels of activity, good antibacterial properties, used in prevention and for general well-being||10+|
|354-400||High levels of activity, good antibacterial properties, used in prevention and for general well-being, used for digestive healing and treating other ailments||12+|
|514-550||High levels of activity, good antibacterial properties, used in prevention and for general well-being, used for digestive healing and treating other ailments||15+|
|692||High levels of activity, good antibacterial properties, used in prevention and for general well-being, used for digestive healing and treating other ailments||18+|
|829||Superior levels of activity, very good antibacterial properties, used in topical applications||20+|
Possible Applications for Manuka
Of course, you don’t need to use the honey for its healing powers exclusively.
As this particular type is not as heat-sensitive as most of the others, it is the best choice to add to a mug of hot milk or tea, to enjoy the soothing warmth.
Nevertheless, its antiviral and antibiotic qualities indicate that it may be a great natural remedy to have on hand to soothe colds, coughs, or sore throats.
The easiest way to benefit from these potential healing properties when suffering from problems with one’s gums or oral cavity, coughs and sneezes, or sore throats, is to take a teaspoon of the sweet stuff and melt it in your mouth as slowly as possible. This should be done at least three times a day.
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And, for sure, don’t forget about all the fabulous things you would use regular types for – it’s great for those applications too! Might I suggest keeping it simple like Winnie the Pooh, and enjoy a paw of honey right from the jar?
Honey is a more varied product that one might think. Lots of different sorts can be found, all of which provide different flavors. Also, the consistency is not all alike, but depends instead on the sort of nectar that was used to produce it, as well as the methods used in processing.
If you store it correctly, you will be able to enjoy it for a long time and prepare amazing sweet and savory dishes. Or you may make use of the potentially beneficial qualities of New Zealand’s specialty honey as a natural remedy.
Were you already familiar with manuka? Or aren’t you a fan of the sweet and sticky syrup at all? Share your experiences, thoughts, and comments below!
For Further Reading
1. Biesalski, Hans Konrad, Stephan C. Bischoff, and Christoph Puchstein.”Ernährungsmedizin: Nach dem Curriculum Ernährungsmedizin der Bundesärztekammer.” 4th edition, 2010, page 72.
2. “MGO Manuka Honey.”http://www.manukaonline.com/mgo-Manuka-Honey-benefits.html
3. Grey, Paul. “Manuka Honey MGO and UMF Ratings Compared.” 29 May 2014.https://export-x.com/2014/05/29/manuka-honey-mgo-umf-ratings-compared/
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credits: Shutterstock, Winter Park Honey, Langnese, Andrews McMeel Publishing, and Manuka Health.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.