How a Nutritionist Fell in Love With Manuka Honey
Frances Largeman-Roth is a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist we’ve long admired for her functional recipes and informative articles (you may know her from television!). We were honored to bring her to New Zealand as our guest to tour our facilities, learn about beekeeping, and learn the science behind genuine UMF™ Manuka Honey. Here are her reflections from that trip, how she uses Comvita products with her patients and clients, and a smoothie recipe your whole family will love.
Sweet, golden, soothing. These are all words that come to mind when you think about honey. And all types of honey possess these qualities, but there’s one special honey that does so much more than sweeten your tea.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling with a small group of journalists to New Zealand to witness the magic of how Manuka Honey is made. We were invited by Comvita, the world’s leading Manuka brand that was founded in 1974 by two beekeepers, Claude Stratford and Alan Bougen, with a mission to connect people to nature to promote healthy living.
Just a few hours after we arrived in Auckland, we flew in small groups by helicopter to Lake Tutira, which is in the beautiful Hawke’s Bay region on the eastern coast of the North Island. We toured the Manuka bushes, which have delicate white flowers and grow in moist soil in sunny areas on the tops of mountain ridges. Then we donned full beekeeper suits and got to explore (with supervision) the apiary, where the bees live, reproduce, and create the honeycombs from which the Manuka Honey is harvested.
After visiting the hives, we flew to Craggy Range, a local vineyard. I had the chance to sit and chat with Alan Bougen, the remaining founder of Comvita. At 71, Alan is enviably energetic-- still surfing, hiking and beekeeping. A self-described hippie, he and co-founder Claude connected in the 1970s over their shared love for nutrition and preventive health. Within a year of their first meeting, they had created a 50-hive apiary and began selling honey-based therapeutic products. The company grew over time and now employs over 500 people across nine countries. After hearing Alan’s inspiring story, to say that my curiosity was piqued about the Comvita products was an understatement.
The next day we visited the Comvita facility in Paengaroa, a rural village in the Bay of Plenty, to learn more about the different products their Manuka Honey goes into. I was blown away when we visited the company store, which was stocked with everything from cough drops and skin cream, to medical grade bandages. I picked up a few jars of Manuka Honey and realized that there was a huge range of prices for what seemed--at first glance--to be the same type of honey. One 8.8-ounce jar was about $24, while another was $130! Learning why there was such a difference between the two is where my education on Manuka really began.
Genuine Manuka Honey
New Zealand is a magical place (this was my second visit) and it was easy to get wrapped up in the romance of such a majestic and pristine country, but I was there to learn about what made Manuka—specifically Comvita’s Manuka—so special. The power of Manuka Honey comes from its UMF™ —Unique Manuka Factor—rating. UMF™ is the gold standard grading system that uses a scale from 5+ to 25+ to measure levels of Manuka’s signature compounds, which give this honey its unique wellness properties. Grading is overseen by the independent UMF Honey Association, and without this rating, there’s no telling whether your jar contains the active benefits of Manuka Honey (it’s also why the first jar I picked up was relatively inexpensive compared to the ultra-premium UMF™ 20+).
There are three compounds that are naturally found in genuine manuka honey: Methylglyoxal (an antibacterial compound), DHA (dihydroxyacetone), and leptosperin, the dominant plant compound in Manuka that is present only in the nectar of the Manuka flower. Leptosperin is unique to Manuka and can therefore be used to verify its authenticity and may also have bioactive properties. As the levels of these compounds increase in Manuka, the UMF™ level increases. You might use a UMF™ 5+ or 10+ honey in your tea or your daily wellness routine, while UMF™ 15+ and above is suitable for more targeted therapeutic use for supporting the immune and digestive systems.
You may have seen inexpensive products labeled as “manuka” honey at your local drug store or grocery store. It’s very difficult for consumers to know what they’re buying because there isn’t a uniform international grading system for Manuka. But you can know that you’re buying real Manuka Honey from New Zealand if the label contains the UMF™ mark, showing the range from UMF™ 5+ to over 20+. This rating value is verified by an independent lab that tests levels of the key bioactives in the honey. One other thing that the UMF™ mark signifies is that the Manuka Honey was not only harvested in New Zealand, but also tested, packed and labeled there. This is important because some brands buy the honey in New Zealand, but then package it elsewhere, leaving a lack of traceability and transparency.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with over twenty years of practice, I have seen health fads come and go, and have tested hundreds of products along the way. I only recommend products I trust and use myself to my clients and followers. When people ask me about Manuka Honey, I always suggest they use Comvita. There’s nothing quite like seeing how a product goes from field to shelf to help you fully appreciate its quality. Whether someone is looking for a honey with more than just sweetness, or they’re looking for immune support, anyone can benefit from adding some Comvita UMF™ Manuka Honey to their daily routine.
With so much recent focus on wellness and immunity in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s important to know the origins of products before you invest your money. I encourage you to spend a little time researching Manuka products to find ones that go beyond mere sweetness and provide real and verifiable health benefits.
And Now: The Recipe!
Try this healthy ‘Turmeric Twist’ smoothie recipe created by Frances, filled with her favorite inflammation-fighting foods!
- 1/2 cup coconut water
- 1/2 cup coconut milk (or other milk)
- 1 cup frozen mango chunks
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Comvita UMF™ 10+ Manuka Honey - 1 Tbsp or to taste
Add to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into an ice-filled glass and enjoy!
Frances Largeman-Roth is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, a New York Times best selling author and nationally recognized nutrition and wellness expert. Her latest book, Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen, was released in September 2020.
Frances was the Food & Nutrition Director at Health magazine for eight years. She contributes to several publications, including Today.com, Parents and MindBodyGreen. She has a particular interest in healthy food trends. Frances contributes expert quotes to national publications and helps healthy food brands share their message. She received her undergraduate degree at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at Columbia.