Manuka honey

Scientists are hailing a “breakthrough” in the fight against fake manuka honey thanks to a new authenticity test that can establish conclusively if it’s the real thing.

Researchers have developed a “fingerprint” test for genuine manuka after establishing more than 200 signature compounds that – in combination - are unique to authentic manuka honey.

By shortlisting some of these compounds – including leptosperin (LS), dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and methylglyoxal (MG) – scientists have been able to develop a test for genuine manuka honey that will guarantee its authenticity, says the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA).

The test comes after five years of scientific research by UMFHA with UK-based Fera Science and other international research contributors.

UMFHA, which represents about 80% of manuka honey production, would use the new testing process to guarantee all honey bearing its UMF quality mark was genuine, said spokesman John Rawcliffe. The breakthrough was “equal to DNA or fingerprinting” for the honey industry, he claimed, and would provide much-needed assurance for retailers and consumers.

“One of the compounds we identified, leptosperin, is very stable and almost impossible to synthesise,” he added. “That makes it very hard to copy. When looked at in combination with the other markers we have identified, you would have to be a very good chemist and spend a lot of money to produce a false positive.”

Manuka is regularly cited as one of the foods most at risk from fraudsters. An investigation by The Grocer in 2014 suggested there was widespread mislabelling in the UK, with more manuka honey being sold in this country alone than was being produced in all of New Zealand.

By providing a framework backed by peer-reviewed international science, UMFHA was laying down a challenge to non UMF-certified producers to prove their honey was genuine, said Rawcliffe.

“We are not saying they are not manuka honey, but we are saying that we are, and we have a pretty powerful body of evidence behind that.”

Fera Science biochemist and head of the food quality and safety programme Dr Adrian Charlton, added: “We have been working with the UMFHA for over five years now and are proud to say that, as part of the manuka ID project, unique signature compounds have been identified that allow us to test and verify the authenticity of manuka honey.”

Manuka honey hails from New Zealand and is produced by bees that collect nectar from the manuka tree. It is prized for its antibacterial and healing properties, with jars of the purest manuka fetching in excess of £30. It is graded according to its antibacterial “activity”, with the purest, most potent honey awarded the highest rating.