UMF stands for “Unique Manuka Factor” and is a grading system developed by the UMF Honey Association in New Zealand. Manuka honey produced in New Zealand can be eligible to receive a UMF certificate.
If you ever wondered “what is UMF”, in this article we answer all your questions related to UMF. Now let’s talk about real Manuka honey from a real Manuka honey bush.
What is Genuine Manuka honey?
Unlike most honey that grows all over the world, Manuka honey comes from the Manuka bush that grows only in New Zealand.
That is also where Manuka honey is produced. Manuka flowers bloom mid-year with intense fragrance and flavor. Once they are ready, bees pollinate the flowers and do their magic.
The UMF Honey Association grants UMF licenses to Manuka honey manufacturers who meet their rigorous standards. The UMF license is what makes genuine Manuka honey.
Every batch of honey is tested by the UMF Honey Association to identify authentic Manuka honey produced in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Honey Discovery
A 1981 study by researchers from the Honey Research Unit at University of Waikato discovered that a few strains of Manuka honey are very stable and possess exceptional natural properties unlike other varieties of honey.
This unique attribute is beyond all normal honeys characteristic properties.
It is produced by the nectar from the manuka flowers and differs from enzymes which are commonly found in honeys.
This unique attribute separates manuka honey from other natural wonders.
In order to better understand what is UMF, it is worth learning more about the key UMF signature markers. UMF tracks key signature markers: Leptosperin, Methyglyoxal, and DHA as well as HMF.
Leptosperin is chemical compound found in Manuka honey nectar that has anti-inflammatory properties.
The higher the content, the more powerful anti-inflammatory effects it has. The most powerful Manuka honeys exceed 200mg/kg of leptosperin.
A randomized controlled trial (leptospermum scoparium species) demonstrated antimicrobial effects of different types of honey on Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.
Honey is potentially effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis: clinical and mechanistic studies. You can read more here.
Methyglyoxal, also known as MGO is responsible for antibacterial effects. High levels of MGO are possible due to its low pH which also determines the UMF grade.
Research is clear on this chemical’s effectiveness in fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria as well as for wound healing. It is considered potent and its biological activity has a significant antibacterial effect.
Not only does it promote wound healing, it also prevents wound infections.
All of these chemicals must be present in Manuka honey for it to be authentic and receive the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF).
The final number is based on all of the chemicals combined.
Examples of UMF potencies:
Superior Rare High Grade: UMF 24+
Ultra Premium Grade: UMF 15+ to UMF 20+ and above
Premium Grade: UMF 10+ to UMF 15+
Certified Authentic: UMF 5+ to UMF 9+
Every manufacturer is required to hold a valid UMF license to obtain a UMF trademark on the label. Look for “UMF Certified” or “UMF Certificate” on the jar.
Honeys with UMF15+ is antibacterial grade and useful for skin therapy. Anything above 20 is a superior antibacterial grade which is great for very bad wounds. UMF is a quality mark that identifies authentic Manuka honey from New Zealand.
Official UMF certificate granted to Comvita by the UMF Honey Association.
What is MGO?
The MGO grading system has been developed by Professor Thomas Henle for MGO Manuka honey in 2008. It is quite different from Unique Manuka Factor.
Manuka Health is the most popular Manuka honey company that uses the MGO grading system. In addition, Manuka Health conducts independent research on Manuka honey to bring new standards to the Manuka world.
MGO stands for methylglyoxal which is a chemical that naturally occurs in Manuka honey.
According to Manuka Healthy, it is the “magic ingredient” in Manuka honey that was discovered by one of their research partners – Professor Thomas Henle (University of Dresden).
To this day, researchers study this chemical in order to determine its antibacterial activity so that they can provide medical advice suited to specific health conditions.
Comparison between different levels of MGO and UMF:
It’s worth noting that Manuka Health is also a member of the UMF Honey Association.
Each jar of MGO Manuka Honey is tested for potency and traced from hive to home, keeping up with high standards of Manuka honey.
The higher the MGO content, the higher the grade of Manuka honey.
The Health Benefits of Methylglyoxal
The MGO rating shows the methylglyoxal content. That means a MGO 100+ Manuka honey will have at least 100mg of methylglyoxal per kilogram.
What separates Manuka honey from regular honey is that the MGO levels can go up to 100 times. This is the reason many call it superfood.
Research that the most potent variety of Manuka honey can have antibiotic properties. Talk about super bees!
Recently there have been successful studies on the efficacy of Manuka honey against skin bacteria and viruses. This can greatly help with acne.
It is also a natural antioxidant with a very powerful effect on wrinkles which makes it anti-aging solution.
As natural honey is known to be extremely nourishing it is also a great moisturiser. Hence many like to use this golden nectar as a face mask or face cream.
The higher the MGO content, the higher the antibacterial activity. This makes Manuka honey perfect for soothing conditions such eczema or psoriasis.
What is KFactor?
KFactor is a grading system created by the New Zealand company Wedderspoon. KFactor is used by the Wedderspoon company.
It is another Manuka honey grading system that is different than Unique Manuka Factor.
The label follows New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries guidelines. MPI develops standards for Manuka honey in New Zealand.
The KFactor standard ensures you are getting the following:
– raw and unpausterized honey
– free of antibiotics, glyphosate and pesticides
– traceability from hive to home
– comes from New Zealand
On top of that, there are two main varieties of Wedderspoon’s Manuka honey; KFactor 16 and KFactor 12.
KFactor 16 is a monofloral honey that is “wholly or mostly” made from the Leptospermum scoparium (Manuka) plant.
This means this honey is more of a single-plant extract.
KFactor 12 is a multifloral Manuka honey, that is more of a “blend” of nectars and other floral types.
The most common marker for Manuka honey is MGO (methylglyoxal).
It is a natural compound with antibacterial properties and is measured in the UMF and MGO grading systems.
However, the UMF grading system also measures NPA (non-peroxide activity) which represents the industry’s standard phenol disinfectant.
The NPA marker relates directly to the overall UMF rating. If a Manuka honey has an NPA of 18 then it will be UMF 18+.
Leptosperin is naturally found in Manuka honey and is also measured in UMF. Leptosperin uniquely identifies Manuka. If it doesn’t have Leptosperin, it’s not Manuka.
DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is also present in the UMF grading system. It is the precursor for methylglyoxal and determines the overall MGO levels.
The KFactor grading system is quite different than UMF and MGO.
Interestingly, it does not measure MGO, NPA or leptosperin levels.
Please find the chart below for a comparison of UMF, MGO and KFactor systems and the markers they measure.
pollen count (70% and higher)
So how to compare the quality of the different Manuka honeys if they use different grading systems?
Well, the UMF and MGO grading systems measure one common marker which is MGO.
The concentration of MGO (methylglyoxal) ranges from 0mg/1kg to 1000mg/1kg. Anything above 100mg/1kg is considered antibacterial.
In turn, this makes it easy for consumers to understand that a MGO 100+ Manuka honey contains at least 100mg of methylglyoxal.
The UMF rating corresponds directly to the NPA levels.
The unique property of NPA was discovered by Dr. Peter Molan from Waikato University.
Please go to the table for a comparison of NPA, UMF, and MGO.
What are different grades of Mānuka honey for?
The UMF values start at UMF5+ and can go as high as UMF30+ in rare Manuka honeys.
Grades between UMF 5 and UMF 10 are low grade Manuka honey. Honeys in this lower range are safe for daily supplementation.
Mid-grades of UMF 10 to UMF 15 are therapeutic. They fight bacteria and have anti-inflammatory features. They can be very helpful in fighting with many illnesses.
High-grade of UMF 20+ (going up to 25 and 30 in rare cases) is considered medical grade.
Manuka honey with UMF24+ has very high peroxide activity, MGO over 1200mg/kg and leptosperin over 200mg/kg. This kind of Manuka honey has the highest antibacterial properties.
They can fight serious bacterial infections.
Any honeys from UMF15 to UMF20 are Medicinal Grade for serious health conditions.
The are rare cases of UMF30+. Those are hard to find and can get very pricey.