Manuka honey put under the microscope

By David Porter

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Scientists have completed a four-year research programme to identify the key chemical markers of manuka honey.

The outcomes will boost long-term consumer confidence in the high-value export product, say experts associated with the Manuka Honey ID Project.

The project is a collaboration between the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), major Bay of Plenty-based honey and health products company Comvita, and Hamilton-based Analytica Laboratories.

Data sets from the research are currently with Dr Adrian Charlton of UK food testing and research agency Fera for peer review, and were expected back within the next week or so.

The global growth in manuka honey's popularity and its soaring price rise has resulted in a growing problem of counterfeit product circulating in key export markets.

"Essentially the challenge the industry has got in a number of forms is around consumers trusting the product," said Comvita general manager technical Tony Wright.

"It's reached the point where the value of manuka honey demands a greater level of consumer confidence in what they are buying. Because consumers are investing a significant amount of money in a product, they want to know they are getting the genuine article," he said.

"From Comvita's point of view, supporting the research helps build a pillar of trust in the corner of our brand story around manuka honey."

Comvita would be working closely with UMFHA on commercialising the results of the project, said Mr Wright.

Assuming that Fera agrees with the outcomes of the New Zealand research, they would be rolling out the results "with all guns blazing", he said.

Dr Terry Braggins of Analytica Laboratories said the background to the project was that current international methods for identifying or distinguishing different floral-type honeys were not good enough for New Zealand native floral honeys.

UMFHA funded the research to come up with some definitive tests for manuka honey and prevent adulteration overseas, he said. "The standard methods just don't differentiate between them."

The research's objective was to be able to characterise good New Zealand manuka honey compared to other mono floral honeys, as well as other products that may have been adulterated by mixing manuka with lower value honeys.

UMFHA general manager John Rawcliffe said the ID project findings would allow future researchers to really delve into honey's benefits.

"There is more to honey than what people thought. We're at the edge of almost a revolution in the industry, using the current technology of knowing what these honeys are and realising their true benefits."

Honey exports:

* The annual value of honey exports in the 12 months through November 2016 grew by 45 per cent to $281 million.

* Manuka honey accounts for as much as 80 per cent of New Zealand exports.

* New Zealand is the world's third-largest exporter of honey by value, behind China and Argentina.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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