Ambiguous Acronyms: How to Tell the Honey You're Buying is the Real Deal

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To tell the truth, it can get a little confusing shopping for Manuka honey. Between MGOs, UMFs, NPAs, K-Factors, and number ratings that might read 15+ on one jar and 550 on another, it can be difficult to tell exactly what you’re getting in your honey. If you don’t know what to look for, you could end up with a jar of “antimicrobial honey” you’d be better off spreading over some toast.

UMF is the industry standard for Manuka honey and should probably be the first sign you look for. There are a number of legitimate distributors of genuine Manuka honey that use their own rating instead of UMF (this is where your MGOs and K-Factors come in), but UMF is the most widely-accepted standard. “UMF” is an acronym for “Unique Manuka Factor”.

Only products licensed and verified by the UMFHA (Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association) as genuine Manuka honey receive the UMF label. In addition to the seal, the UMFHA gives the honey a rating on their UMF scale to indicate the levels of leptosperin, methylglyoxal (MG), and DHA (the chemical that creates more MGO) in an effort to quantify the non-peroxide activity (NPA) present. That’s an awful lot of acronyms, but the UMF rating aims to boil down all those moving parts into one easy-to-read rating.


Most UMF ratings will range from 1 to about 25 on the upper end of the spectrum. The honey rated at 10 or lower is generally used for eating. Anything rated above 15 is considered medical-grade and displays significant antimicrobial activity. You see, not all Manuka is created equal when it comes to fighting off microbes. Only the medical-grade honey rated above 15 on the UMF scale is active enough to fight off bacteria in a wound, as described in our previous post on “Manuka Magic”.

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For HoneyCure, we make sure to only use UMF-certified honey with a UMF rating of 16+ or higher. With the UMF label we can trust that the honey we use is 100% authentic Manuka honey and the 16+ rating ensures that it will have the unique antimicrobial qualities we need to create an effective wound care product.

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MGO is the next most commonly recognized rating used when grading Manuka honey. The the number associated with an MGO rating is actually an indication of the amount of methylglyoxal in the honey. That is, whereas UMF is a measurement of all the chemical markers (leptosperin, DHA, and methylglyoxal), the MGO rating pares that down to a simple measurement of the methylglyoxal in the honey. A higher amount of methylglyoxal is generally going to be indicative of the NPA (Non-Peroxide Activity) that makes Manuka honey so desirable.


With all this in mind, there are calculators elsewhere on the web that can make it a little easier to compare labels on your prospective purchases. Keep an eye out for the right labels and you can be confident that you're getting that Manuka Magic in your honey.

Manuka Magic

It’s no secret that one of the most important parts of HoneyCure is, well, the honey!  At EnBiologics, we exclusively use high-grade Manuka honey for our products, but when we’re out at events a lot of people ask, what makes the honey we use so special? The magic is in the Manuka.

So, first things first, let’s make it clear where this stuff comes from. Manuka honey is honey derived from European bees foraging on the Manuka bush (or the leptospermum scoparium), found in New Zealand and Australia. Once the bees harvest the pollen, the honey is measured for what’s referred to as its “Unique Manuka Factor”, or UMF, and graded on a scale to signify the honey’s quality. Honey with UMF of 16 or greater is considered high-quality, and appropriate for the medicinal purposes that Manuka honey is so valued for. Naturally, we only use honey with a UMF of 16+ for HoneyCure.

   leptospermum scoparium , or the Manuka bush

leptospermum scoparium, or the Manuka bush

Now, what makes Manuka honey so special is its unique antimicrobial properties. All honeys are at least slightly antimicrobial because they contain peroxidase. This peroxidase mediates the creation of peroxide and the peroxide does its work against the bacteria. Unfortunately,  because most of these honeys work by dehydrating the bacteria, they struggle to maintain their antibacterial activity in a moist environment like a fresh wound. Medical grade honeys however, maintain their antibacterial qualities even in low concentrations, allowing them to function even in an inhospitable environment full of diluting factors, like the bodily fluids present in a wound.

Manuka honey is different because Manuka honey doesn’t produce very much peroxide. In fact, Manuka honey produces a completely unique compound, called methylglyoxal (usually shortened to MGO). Whereas peroxide works by dehydrating the bacteria (and all the cells in the region), MGO affects microbes on a structural level, preventing the microbial cells from dividing and basically stopping any potential infection in its tracks. When bacteria invades an area, it reproduces and creates what’s called a biofilm. The spread of this biofilm is a common source of bacterial infections. The bacteria create the biofilm to give themselves a stable environment in which to continue to grow and divide, making it more and more difficult for the immune system to fight against the spreading infection. The MGO in Manuka honey acts against these biofilms, breaking them down and making the bacteria vulnerable to the other antibacterial properties of the honey.

The really impressive aspect of the Manuka is that the MGO does this without dehydrating the area. This, combined with the osmotic environment created by the honey, makes for a perfect environment for a wound to heal.

As though that unique synergy between the MGO and the honey wasn’t enough reason to treat Manuka honey as a medicinal, methylglyoxal has also been shown to be effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s a natural antimicrobial agent that’s been proven to stop infection in its tracks, even where some antibiotics would fail.

HoneyCure was formulated to harness the power of that Unique Manuka Factor in Manuka honey and blended with essential oils to make a topical wound treatment. Our formula doubles down on the ideal healing environment created by the honey and lets the MGO do its work. It’s the MGO that keeps infection at bay, but without the moist, osmotic environment created by the honey, Manuka honey wouldn’t be nearly as effective in promoting, faster, healthier healing.

Manuka honey is a naturally-occurring perfect storm in antimicrobial treatment. The action of the MGO and the healing habitat created by the honey create a one-two punch that knocks out infection and helps wounds heal up faster, healthier, and with minimal scarring.