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20 Fascinating Facts About Manuka & Honey Bees

1. The Manuka bush, native to New Zealand, and its nectar contains dihydroxyacetone (DHA) which bees convert (thanks to enzymes in their… spit) to methylglyoxal – or MGO for short – a compound with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

2. When stored, the DHA content goes down, while the MGO content goes up (though, not forever).

3. Before scientists realised that MGO was the ‘secret’ ingredient in Manuka honey, the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties were referred to as NPA (non-peroxide activity) to differentiate it from the ‘peroxide’ activity they could detect, which is a series of anti-bacterial properties found in all honey and UMF (Unique Manuka Factor).

4. Manuka flowers blossom for a short window in New Zealand's summer. Different regions flower at different times.

5. Figures in the past show as much as 80% of honey sold as Manuka is essentially fake. In 2014 New Zealand produced 1,700 Tonnes, but somehow 10,000 Tonnes were sold.

6. The New Zealand government is taking its honey seriously, to ensure genuine quality and transparency to buyers. So now any product labelled as Manuka honey exported from New Zealand must undergo lab testing.

7. Samples of honey are tested for four active ingredients, including levels of MGO, Leptosperin, DHA, HMF. As well as undergoing DNA testing to prove the Manuka you buy is authentic.

8. The New Zealand government now certifies all Manuka honeys according to the amount of MGO they contain. UMF ratings range from 5+ - 20+ typically, MGO from 100+ - 829+. Both MGO and UMF are trademarked.

9. Not all regions produce Manuka bushes that contain DHA – another reason why testing is really important.

10. Of course, we can’t stop bees collecting nectar from wherever they like.

This is why there are two types of Manuka honey.

Monofloral applies to honey that has a very high level of Manuka in its DNA

Multifloral is mainly made up from nectar collected from the Manuka bush, but the bees have foraged from a greater number of flowers.

11. Two most common strains of honey bee in New Zealand are the Carniolan strain (Apis mellifera carnica) and the Italian strain (Apis mellifera lingustica).

There may also be some remnant colonies of the British bee strain (Apis mellifera mellifera) Native bees were not suitable for honey production.

12. There are three types of bees in the hive:

Queen - The heart of the hive who runs the show and is everyone’s mum.

Workers - An all female crew that build and protect the hive and does all the foraging. Drones - Male bees whose sole purpose is to mate with the Queen and are kicked out of the hive in winter when the colony goes into survival mode.

13. Honey bees will fly as far as 5km from their colonies to forage.

Hives are placed in areas where Manuka bushes are abundant.

14. Static electricity can help with pollination. Bees can take on a natural positive charge as they fly about, while plants often have a negative charge.

When they meet, pollen can be attracted and stick to the "bee's knees" creating pollen baskets.

15. The average beehive is a cozy place. The temperature inside ranges from around 35-40 degrees Celsius.

16. Well kept bees can produce two to three times more honey than they need in optimal conditions and given the space.

17. The average worker bee lives for around six weeks and, in that time, will fly around 589kms.

18. In its lifetime, a honey bee can produce around a 12th of a teaspoon of honey.

19. If honey is properly stored it can last longer than a lifetime. A group of archaeologists exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb found a cache of 3,000 year old honey, and it was still edible!

20. New Zealand’s Kakariki parakeets have been found chewing on the leaves of the Manuka bush, then applying the mush to their feathers. Apparently to get rid of parasites.


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