If you’ve visited any Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods lately, you might have noticed an abundance of honey and honey-based products lining the shelves. Honey, or apiculture (the technical term of beekeeping), is big business these days due to the variety of health benefits found in bee pollen to the sweet golden nectar of honey itself. Used as a natural sweetener in lieu of processed sugar and sweeteners, honey is even Goop approved, dubbed as a natural elixir and “nectar of the gods” by beauty experts with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Kourtney Kardashian and Meghan Markle who swear by the sweet stuff’s restorative powers.
Historically, honey has been used for centuries. Dating back thousands of years to ancient Egypt and ancient China, honey has been used as traditional forms of medicine, aiding in everything from digestive issues and sleep deprivation to allergies and anti-aging. Even today, China remains the largest consumer of honey products due to its natural uses of antibacterial and antiseptic properties found in its syrupy wake.
While there are literally hundreds of types of honey to choose from, not all honey is created equal and knowing the basics between regular honey, raw honey, and Manuka honey (the relative darling of the wellness and celebrity world right now) is equally important. Here’s a look at the major differences between regular honey, raw honey, and Manuka honey.
Simply put, regular honey is any honey that has been pasteurized or filtered. During the pasteurization process, similar to the pasteurization of milk, cheese, or butter, honey is heated at high temperatures to kill any yeast that may be present in order to prevent fermentation. It’s pretty easy to tell regular honey from raw or Manuka honey because of its translucent color and syrupy consistency. According to the website Benefits Of Honey, “a lot of honey found in the supermarket is not raw honey but ‘commercial’ regular honey […] which has been pasteurized (heated at 70 degrees Celsius or more, followed by rapid cooling) for easy filtering and bottling so that it looks cleaner and smoother, more appealing on the shelf, and easier to handle and package.”
Raw honey, on the other hand, is any honey that hasn’t been heated or filtered. Think of it as hive to shelf. While there’s no official FDA definition for raw honey, according to the National Honey Board, raw honey is defined as “honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.” While raw honey is better in terms of preserving the vitamins and natural enzymes that you won’t find in processed, regular honey, the characteristics and consistency can vary greatly. Your best bet, if you don’t want to buy just based on a label, is to get it straight from farmer’s market/beekeeper as it really doesn’t get much fresher than that.
Taking your honey education one step further, one of the healthiest types of honey available on the market today, Manuka honey (pronounced Mah-noo-kah) is honey that is derived from the nectar of the Manuka bush, a plant that’s only grown in New Zealand and Australia. Long been hailed for its medicinal and antibacterial properties, today, this medical grade form of honey is being used in everything from treating topical cuts, burns and common colds to helping cure acne and general skin care to being served in high-end restaurants and sold in health food stores around the world. It also carries a hefty price tag to match.
One of the largest purveyors of Manuka honey, New Zealand-based health company Comvita makes everything from honey-based adhesives to throat lozenges and moisturizer. “We started using honey-based treatments as an alternative option for patients and noticed it was making such a big difference topically,” Heidi Darcy, a registered nurse and Comvita’s communication manager said. “Of course, some people still need conventional medicine treatments but I think there’s so much opportunity for honey to work with conventional forms of treatments so that it can really improve people’s lives.” Darcy pointed to the unique properties found in Manuka including leptosperin and methylglyoxal. How do you know if what you’re getting is the real deal? Look for a jar of honey that’s UMF or Unique Manuka Factor.
“Honey’s something so simple, people could put it on and use it at home if they got any little nick or cut, they could put it on so that it doesn’t get to the infected stage and you don’t have to use the antibiotics, and then we can keep the antibiotics for when we really need them,” Darcy said.
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