What makes Manuka Honey so expensive? This was a question that sprang to mind yesterday evening. I was looking through an apiary site close to the house. Just a routine check that we are doing for the hives over Autumn. Making sure the hives are well fed and disease free.
While I was inspecting one particular hive (Edinburgh), I had an unnerving feeling that a bee was in my suit. This unnerving feeling soon progressed into a very-nerving feeling when said bee turned tail and stung me right on the tip of the ear! A brief yelp was quickly followed by an instinctive slap to my own ear which only happened to escalate matters as I happened to be holding my steel hive tool in the same hand that I used to slap myself on the side of the face! Rather dazed now, I stumbled away from the hive and bent my head down to see whether I had managed to draw any blood. It was at this point that I realised that in fact my hood had not been properly zipped up in the first instance and that the intruder had been accompanied by an entourage of initially curious and now rather pissed comrades. Now, whilst an experiences beekeeper and accustomed to the odd sting, I believe that every beekeeper should be entitled to a moment or two of weakness. While normally unflappable in such a situation, on this occasion I became extremely flappable and screamed and flapped my way down the bank only to crash my right shin onto the side of the bike and twist my left ankle as I stumbled further down the bank and into the creek. A few more slaps to my own face and fumbling for the zip to my vail and I finally composed myself.
As I assessed my almost entirely self-inflicted wounds and pondered the prospect of going back up the hill to finish the task that I had started, I muttered to myself “this had better be bl**dy worth it”.
So, is Manuka Honey worth these literal blood, sweet and (I am not too ashamed to admit) tears? What is the process involved in producing this honey and why is it so sought after throughout the world despite its price. quality manuka.
Well, the real answer is found in the three letters M G and O. This acronym stands for Methylgloxal and is the component unique to Manuka Honey, unique mānuka factor and is responsible for its unique and really amazing antimicrobial properties. This is what you are paying for when you look at the jars on the shelf and why the products with a higher MGO rating are more expensive. https://www.umf.org.nz factor honey association umfha.
In order to insure that these levels are authentic and can be trusted, the New Zealand government has a requirement on all Manuka Honey is to produced to be tested for authenticity before it can be called Mono floral Manuka Honey. The honey is then further tested to ascertain the exact levels of MGO (and other key compounds) present in the honey. Finally, the honey is stored in a controlled environment for up to 18 months to allow the honey to age. This aging process allows the MGO levels to ‘grow’ to their full potential. All of this requires a great deal of skill, care and understanding of how this unique honey is best handled.
The Manuka Tree is endemic to New Zealand and grows in the most steep and infertile soils. As a result, to access the sites for the Manuka flower the hives need to be placed in locations that are difficult to get to and in many instances can only be accessed by four wheel motor bikes. Furthermore, the flowering season for the Manuka will normally only last 4-6 weeks. In Taranaki, this occurs throughout January and the quality and volume of the Manuka flower can be impacted by the wind, rain, temperature and flowering of other plants at that time of year.
There is so much that has to fall into place that some years there is no yield of Manuka Honey at all despite the effort, care and in some instances embarrassing and painful work that goes into the production of each jar.