Your Honey Might Not Be What It Claims to Be

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

There’s been a lot of sweet talk in the news lately — and we’re not talking about Valentine’s Day! The topic of sugar, in whatever form, is on everyone’s minds. (The consensus seems to be that, as a nation, we’re consuming too much, although, as with most things, it’s complicated). But there’s one specific sweetener that really has people buzzing right now, and that’s Manuka honey.

What Is Manuka Honey?

Manuka honey, not unlike bee pollen, has been touted for its health and beauty benefits. Will it heal wounds, ease sore throats, calm upset stomachs, boost energy, and give you Gwyneth’s complexion? We remain skeptical.

What we can say is this: Manuka honey hails from bee hives in New Zealand’s Manuka bushes. (It is, out in the bush, so to speak!) Finding the plant is difficult, often requiring the use of helicopters. This, coupled with increased demand, makes the honey so pricey.

Is Your Manuka Honey the Real Deal?

But those who are shelling out the extra bucks for Manuka honey may want to be wary: A study commissioned by the British newspaper Sunday Times of London compared authentic Manuka honey to the ones being sold in supermarkets and made some disappointing findings.

According to a mass-spectrometer analysis, four compounds found in real Manuka honey were not seen in the store-bought Manuka honey sold in the U.K. and on online platforms like Amazon. The New York Post says that of the 10,000 tons of Manuka-labeled honey sold around the globe, only 1,700 tons of the thick honey are produced in New Zealand.

Even worse? This kind of honey laundering is really nothing new or out of the ordinary. PopSugar reports that it’s common for brands to use “fillers” like high-fructose corn syrup to dilute honey. And, since the FDA does not have a clear, legal definition for what is and is not honey, both the real-deal and the diluted counterparts can legally be labeled as honey.

The best thing consumers can do is to check out the ingredient list. While it might not always be accurate, you can weed out bottles that openly list fillers. Buying local can also reduce your odds of accidentally getting involved in a honey scam.