UMF vs. MGO: Which is the Better Indicator of Quality?

Manuka honey is a renowned natural remedy with incredible antibacterial properties. Its effectiveness against bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA is undebatable. However, there is a myriad of grading systems and authentications that can make choosing the perfect Manuka honey a daunting task. Two notable ones you’ll often encounter are UMF™ (Unique Mānuka Factor) and MGO™ (Methylglyoxal).

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In this blog, we’ve broken down the complexities of MGO and UMF to help you understand their significance in the quality of Manuka Honey. Not only will this demystify these grading systems, but it will also enable you to make informed decisions when purchasing Manuka honey.

Understanding MGO in Manuka Honey

Methylglyoxal (MGO) is a chief component in Manuka honey that distinguishes it from regular honey. While MGO exists in all kinds of honey, the concentration in Manuka honey is nearly 100 times higher. This compound is measured in milligrams per kilogram, with the concentrations ranging between 80mg/kg and 1800+mg/kg.

Dr. Peter Molan of the University of Waikato, NZ, first discovered the unique antibacterial properties of Manuka honey in 1981. He coined the term “Non-peroxide Activity” (NPA) to represent this attribute. According to Dr. Molan, this activity is primarily due to the presence of MGO and is essential to Manuka honey’s quality. He established the “Molan Gold Standard”, a grading system to assess the quality of Manuka honey based on its methylglyoxal content.

However, in 2008, Dr. Molan’s further research revealed that MGO alone does not account for Manuka honey’s entire non-peroxide activity. The presence of other elements within the honey interacts with MGO, altering the way it reacts with bacteria. Consequently, the antibacterial activity is not directly proportional to the MGO content. For instance, honey containing 300 mg/kg Methylglyoxal exhibits roughly double the non-peroxide antibacterial activity of honey possessing 100 mg/kg Methylglyoxal, not triple as one might assume.

In 2014, Dr. Dee Carter of the University of Sydney’s School of Molecular Biosciences confirmed this in another study. Moreover, MGO can be manufactured industrially, and unscrupulous producers can synthetically boost MGO levels to create fake Manuka honey. Thus, relying on MGO measurements alone does not guarantee the quality or authenticity of Manuka honey products.

Understanding UMF in Manuka Honey

UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) is an alternative grading system that aims to resolve the authenticity issue concerning MGO. This rating system, backed by the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), is an internationally recognized and independently certified quality assurance standard for New Zealand Manuka honey.

Unlike MGO, the UMF grading system examines a total of four significant compounds from each batch of honey — not just Methylglyoxal, but also Leptosperin, Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), and Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF). These additional compounds serve various crucial roles in determining the quality, origin, and overall effectiveness of Manuka Honey, as illustrated below:

  • Methylglyoxal (MGO): primarily responsible for Manuka Honey’s antibacterial properties, as discussed before.
  • Leptosperin: a compound found in Manuka flower nectar, helping to distinguish Manuka Honey from other types of honey.
  • DHA (Dihydroxyacetone): ensuring the longevity of the MGO content in Manuka honey.
  • Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF): an indicator used to ensure the honey hasn’t been overheated or stored too long, preserving its quality.

The UMF grading system offers a more comprehensive approach than merely measuring MGO, and it adheres to New Zealand government standards for quality. The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is responsible for the testing and certifying of all Manuka honey meant for export. All retail products with the UMF quality mark are traceable back to official UMFHA licensed suppliers and producers, ensuring their authenticity and provenance.

UMF Rating Scale

The UMF rating system includes a scale ranging from 5+ to 25+, with the following definitions:

UMF™ GradesMGOLeptosperinDHAHMF
UMF™ 5+83 mg/kg>100 mg/kg150 mg/kg<40 mg/kg
UMF™ 10+261 mg/kg>150 mg/kg250 mg/kg<40 mg/kg
UMF™ 15+512 mg/kg>200 mg/kg400 mg/kg<40 mg/kg
UMF™ 20+826 mg/kg>200 mg/kg500 mg/kg<40 mg/kg
UMF™ 25+1197 mg/kg>200 mg/kg500 mg/kg<40 mg/kg

Selecting the Right UMF Rating for Your Needs

The choice of Manuka honey greatly depends on your individual health goals. To ensure the authenticity of the Manuka honey you’re purchasing, it’s suggested to look for a UMF™ seal on the package along with the MGO rating. Keep in mind that authentic UMF-certified Manuka honey must possess a minimum rating of UMF 5+.

The scale segregates into three potency levels.

UMF 5+ to 10+: At the lower end of the scale, these honeys deliver a natural sweetness and contribute to supporting a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. However, they offer the lowest levels of potency among the UMF range.

UMF 15+ to 20+: At the medium-range, these honeys play a more significant role in supporting everyday health and wellness. This range of UMF-rating represents more potency compared to the lower category.

UMF 25+ and above: These represent the superior range, offering high potency levels and exhibiting more therapeutic benefits. If you seek extraordinary health advantages, this range may be an excellent choice for you.

If you’re primarily seeking health benefits, it is advisable to pick Manuka honey with a UMF rating of 10+ or greater. One last piece of advice is to always go for Manuka honey licensed by the UMFHA (Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association). This certification guarantees you’re purchasing good quality, genuine Manuka honey that comes from New Zealand.

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