Decoding Manuka Honey Designations: What do the numbers mean?


Manuka honey isn’t ordinary honey. It’s a superfood that is excellent for the digestive system, as it is naturally antimicrobial and contains enzymes that can help restore gut health. It contains unique beneficial factors that set it apart from other types of honey, and it is naturally anti-inflammatory. Amazingly, manuka honey can kill antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains and superbugs, including MRSA, E. Coli, and Staph. Unlike prescription antibiotics, no bacteria has been found to develop a resistance to manuka honey. You can even use manuka honey topically for cuts, scrapes, burns, wounds, rashes. It is also used for skin health — it tightens and softens the skin and provides anti-aging benefits. For those who suffer from acne, manuka honey is great for clearing skin. Dr. Oz recommends using manuka honey to relieve symptoms of heartburn and calm the inflammation associated with acid reflux. Manuka honey is a great natural remedy for digestive ailments such as nausea, upset stomach, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis.

High-quality manuka honey benefits:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Antifungal
  • Antiviral
  • Antioxidant-rich
  • Full of beneficial enzymes

But how exactly is “high-quality” determined? Different brands of manuka honey have different grading systems… so how do you compare them? How do you know which is best? Manuka honey nearly always contains a number between 1 and 30. This number is a designation of the activity level of the honey, although the specific factors measured will vary depending on the symbol preceding it, and some may list no symbol at all. In general, manuka honey 10+ is considered the minimum therapeutic level, and the higher the number, the more potent the product (and the higher the price). A number of 15 or higher should be potent enough, as numbers above 20 are rarely found and considered to be a bit overboard and unnecessary.

We’ve listed some of the common manuka honey designations, along with their meanings, below. Keep in mind that these designations are simply trademarks or labels and do not necessarily signify that the honey is authentic or high-quality manuka honey. Additionally, heating destroys many of the beneficial compounds, so any manuka honey that does not specifically state “raw” or “unpasteurized” may not offer the same health benefits as unaltered, raw manuka honey.

Hydrogen Peroxide Activity (HPA)

Hydrogen Peroxide Activity is one measure of antibacterial activity in manuka honey. Hydrogen Peroxide Activity levels are quickly reduced or destroyed by heat or light, rendering most honeys quite low in HPA by the time it reaches your house, regardless of the HPA number on the label. Peroxide activity is not unique to manuka honey — other types of honey also have hydrogen peroxide activity when first collected from the hive.

Non Peroxide Antibacterial Activity (NPA)

The Non Peroxide Antibacterial Activity level is the activity level remaining once the Hydrogen Peroxide Activity has been destroyed. The NPA level is stable and not reduced when exposed to light, heat, water, blood, saliva, or body tissue, and is an indicator of how effectively the manuka honey will combat infection or inflammation. The NPA level is equivalent to the non peroxide antibacterial level of a phenol solution. NPA 10+ indicates that the manuka honey has the same non peroxide activity level as a 10% phenol solution. NPA is unique to manuka honey, as other honeys do not have these special properties.

Manuka Honey Active Levels (Active, TA, BioActive)

Activity levels attempt to determine the total amount of antibacterial activity in a jar of manuka honey. This term can be misleading and confusing, as it may refer to a variety of factors depending on the brand. Sometimes Active or TA (Total Activity) levels combine both the HPA and NPA levels, which can artificially inflate the rating as the HPA level is not a useful indicator of the honey’s effectiveness. Some manuka honeys list Bio Active levels. Manuka Honey Bio Active 5+ simply means the honey is guaranteed to have a total antibacterial activity level of 5 or higher.

Manuka Honey: What is MGO?

If you see the designation MGO 250+, this means that the honey contains a minimum of 250mg/kg methylglyoxal. Methylglyoxal is one key component of manuka honey thought to be responsible for manuka honey’s antibacterial benefits. Manuka honey must contain at least 100mg/kg to have consistent antibacterial properties. An MGO of 263 might be roughly equal to UMF 10 or NPA 10, although since it is only a measure of methylglyoxal it does not always reflect the honey’s actual NPA. Many brands of manuka honey focus only on methylglyoxal levels, even adding chemicals to artificially raise their levels, when there are many other factors that give manuka honey its unique qualities. High levels of methylglyoxal can in fact destroy manuka honey’s naturally-present antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, denaturing the honey.

Manuka Honey UMF: What does it mean?

UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor. This is a quality trademark that can only be used by licensed New Zealand brands who have met set criteria. The UMF grading system measures the presence of DHA (dihydroxyacetone), leptosperin, and methylglyoxal — the NPA levels — to determine whether it is, in fact, manuka honey. If you’re looking at UMF-labelled honeys, you’ll want to choose one that is at least UMF 10+. A honey labelled 10+ is a honey that has been determined to have at least a rating of 10, never lower, but it may be higher. Manuka Honey UMF 16+ is a better rating than UMF 10+. Since the UMF grading system is based heavily on methylglyoxal levels, it is a rather limited designation that does not take into account antioxidant levels, pH, purity, and other factors. UMF 10+ is equal to NPA 10+.

Manuka Honey KFactor Rating

This is a designation now used by Wedderspoon, as they are abandoning the sometimes-ambiguous “Active” label and switching to “KFactor” ratings. Rather than just testing for methylglyoxal or a limited number of components, Wedderspoon separates their batches of honey using a complex rating system that takes multiple factors into account, testing for:

  • Purity
  • Live enzymes
  • Over 250 chemical residues
  • Pollen count, 70% or higher
  • pH level consistency
  • Antioxidant levels
  • Phenolic compounds

These measurements were previously designated as Active levels but are now listed as KFactor instead to more accurately reflect the numerous unique manuka honey factors in Wedderspoon manuka honey.

Which manuka honey is best?

Unfortunately, because a variety of rating systems are used, it’s hard to compare, say, “Manuka Honey UMF 15+” to “Wedderspoon Manuka Honey KFactor 16” as “UMF 15+” and “KFactor” are the results of measures of very different components. The designation 16 doesn’t automatically mean that Wedderspoon’s honey is better than a UMF 15 honey, and at the same time, the lack of a UMF designation doesn’t mean a product is lower quality or less effective.

We chose Wedderspoon manuka honey because they test every batch for multiple properties to determine that you indeed get the highest quality manuka honey available. Since heat and light eliminates nutrients and can kill off the beneficial enzymes in honey, we looked for a completely raw, unpasteurized, pure manuka honey. Wedderspoon makes the only Non GMO Project verified manuka honey available, setting it apart from other manuka honey brands.

Manuka Honey Recommended Use & How Much to Take

For general health and immune system support, take 1-2 teaspoons a day.

For digestive problems, oncoming cold or illness, or infections, take up to 3 teaspoons a day.

For wounds, apply a layer of manuka honey every 12 hours, covering with a bandage.

For skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosea, or psoriasis, apply a layer of manuka honey for skin conditions to the area and cover with a bandage so that it stays on for at least an hour a day.

Note: Be sure to avoid giving any kind of honey to babies under 1 year old, as their undeveloped immune systems may make them susceptible to botulism, which can (rarely) contaminate honey.

How to Take Manuka Honey Orally

Make sure to use manuka honey in its raw state — putting it in your tea or baked goods will destroy many of the beneficial compounds. You can take manuka honey by the spoonful, spread it onto bread or crackers, or drizzle it over fruit, yogurt, or cereal. You could also mix it into lukewarm (under 95°F) or iced tea, or add it to your herbal medicinals.

By Ali Wetherbee