Why is Manuka Honey Expensive? The Inside Story

Manuka honey has become the darling of the world in recent times. This special honey from New Zealand has caught the attention of celebrities and scientists alike. But you may be asking yourself: Why is Manuka honey expensive compared to other honey?

manuka honey with cheese board

There are good reasons why Manuka honey demands a higher price. 

First, it has special properties that mark it out from other raw honeys. Research findings about the health benefits of Manuka have led to increased demand, driving prices up. 

Second, Manuka honey comes from New Zealand, which is a small country. That means there is a limited supply. 

But there’s another very simple answer to the question: Why is Manuka honey expensive? Pure Manuka is expensive to produce. This unique honey requires the perfect hive location, skilled beekeepers and specialised testing that other honey’s don’t go through.

manuka honey is collected from wilderness locations makeing it more expensive

Manuka Honey has superior Germ Killing properties

Part of the buzz about Manuka honey is due to its antibacterial properties. All raw honey kills germs, thanks to a compound called hydrogen peroxide. 

But Manuka honey has other, non-peroxide, effects which kill germs even more effectively. Manuka contains high levels of Methylglyoxal (MGO), a magic ingredient when it comes to killing germs. 

So, what is MGO? MGO is a compound that works together with other substances in the honey to kill bacteria. Scientists discovered that the higher the MGO levels, the better the honey was at killing germs.

mountain valley manuka honey MGO 265+

These days, Manuka honey is used to treat wounds in hospitals all over the world.  

Most packed Manuka honey exported from New Zealand will state the levels of MGO on the label, so you always know what you’re buying. 

For example, Manuka honey with an MGO 83+ rating will contain at least 83mg of MGO per kilogram of honey. The higher the number, the more expensive your honey will be. 

Some Manuka honey will bear a UMF brand rating. This is another NZ standard that measures the quality and strength of the honey.  

Check out this article for more information about MGO vs UMF.

Why is Manuka Honey Expensive? Because of its Unique Properties. 

It’s not just about MGO. Research also suggests that Manuka:

  • Has powerful antimicrobial effects making it effective against a range of fungal diseases. 
  • Contains antioxidants which combat free radicals that can lead to cancer and aging. 
  • Is fantastic at helping with tissue regeneration, especially relating to severe burns. 

With all these benefits for human health, it is no wonder that Manuka is in hot demand. But this is only part of the answer to: Why is Manuka honey expensive?

manuka honey being scooped out from a glass jar

Manuka honey is expensive because it only comes from New Zealand

The high price of Manuka is largely due to its limited supply. Authentic Manuka honey only comes from New Zealand. The word Mānuka is the indigenous Maori word for the Leptospermum Scoparium tree. 

But New Zealand is not a very large country. While Manuka trees grow all around the country, there is a limited number of areas with the really dense patches of Manuka needed to make pure Manuka honey. Only around 2800 tonnes of Manuka produced in New Zealand a year (2018) — it’s not a lot of honey when you consider the demand worldwide.  

And, there’s another issue which affects the price. The best Manuka honey comes from remote wilderness areas. These sites are difficult to access, so beekeepers often travel long distances to care for their bees. Havesting honey in these locations often requires a helicopter.

If you’re still wondering: Why is Manuka honey expensive, then just imagine how much a helicopter costs to hire for a day.

helecopter being used to collect bee hives full of manuka honey

The Manuka Tree only flowers for a short period of time

Beekeepers really need to know their stuff when it comes to Manuka honey, because the trees only flower for between 2 – 6 weeks each year. If weather conditions are not right, the plants may not flower at all, or they might not release all of their nectar. 

Also, in a tough season, the bees might not get enough ‘fly time’ to forage due to poor weather. Even though these factors reduce the yield, the costs still remain the same. 

Every Manuka season is different and involves complex decisions that must take account of bee health, hive location and the weather. 

honey bee collecting nectar from manuka flowers

Not All Manuka Honey is the same

When buying Manuka honey, always be sure to check the label. The purest mono-floral honey is made from predominantly Manuka nectar. This honey commands the highest price, because it has the highest MGO — up to MGO 514+ or higher.  

If you’re thinking about medical grade Manuka when asking why is Manuka honey expensive, you need to bear in mind that this high grade honey is further purified to make it safe to use on wounds.

Multi-floral Manuka is a less expensive option. It still contains an approved amount of Manuka, but includes honey foraged from other plants as well.  

A range of manuka honey strengths. Higher grades are more expensive

Manuka Honey Undergoes Rigorous Testing

To protect the customer, all Manuka honey is tested by an approved laboratory.

The two-part testing is very strict.

  • First, they test the honey for the presence of Manuka pollen DNA.
  • Then, they test for four specific chemical markers typical of Manuka.

These tests can get pretty expensive, especially when you’re testing every barrel! 

honey being tested

Why does the price differ between Manuka brands?

Every honey producer has their own costs, and their own unique business ethos. Costs include such things as packaging, transport, labor, rent, and marketing.  You may find that a big brand will be more expensive, due to higher marketing costs.

When looking for the best value for money, you should always shop based on the UMF or MGO rating, not just the price. A higher price does not always mean higher quality. Thankfully, the label is a very accurate guide to what you’re getting.  

Within New Zealand you might find cheaper honey that is labelled Manuka but which doesn’t bear an MGO or UMF label. Be aware — it may contain some Manuka, but there is really no way to tell how much. 

It’s a great idea to get to know your honey producer. You can find ethical beekeepers who hold themselves to the same high standards, no matter where their Manuka honey is sold.  Always check that your honey is raw and unpasteurized. 

Conclusion: Why is Manuka honey expensive?

There are some clear reasons why Manuka honey is more expensive. The medical grades are very pure and highly sought after, with a growing demand from hospitals and the medical profession. But research has also found a wide range of other health benefits related to this special honey, even for the lower grades. While there are many great raw honeys from New Zealand, Manuka has received the most attention. When you consider all the fascinating facts about Manuka, you start to realise why this honey is such a big hit.  Why is Manuka honey expensive? The answer is simple: it’s hard to produce, in short supply and very, very popular.

helicopter picking up beehives full of honey
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