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Honey – it’s not always what it seems

By Janette Busch

Honey – it’s not always what it seems

Honey is a tasty, high energy food valued for its taste, colour and unique combination of nutrients that is eaten regularly in New Zealand.

As natural products, honeys can vary considerably in their composition depending on the flowers or plants the bees visit. Some honeys in New Zealand come from nectar collected from several different flowers while many are collected from mostly one type of flower and these are called mono-floral honeys.

Patchanee Boontaganon, a PhD student in the Food Group at Lincoln University undertook a comprehensive physical and chemical analysis of 74 New Zealand honeys and discovered that 29 out of 64 mono-floral honey samples bought from New Zealand supermarkets were not true to label based on pollen count (the other ten honeys were from a variety of different plants).

Patchanee used standard industry analytical methods to confirm the floral identity and nutritional contents of the honey. She used analytical methods to quantify hydrogen peroxide content and antioxidant activity in honey.

Hydrogen peroxide occurs naturally in honey and plays a major role in its antimicrobial activity while antioxidants protect against free radical damage.

“These compounds benefit the people who eat the honey,” said Patchanee.

Patchanee found that the majority of the honeys had similar results except for manuka honey and manuka honey blends, which had much higher antioxidants, hydrogen peroxide and was a darker colour than clover honey.

Honey producers test the honey to ensure its quality and to differentiate between honeys produced from different plants.

The New Zealand Guidelines for Mono-floral Varieties of Honey produced by the Bee Products Standards Council contain the minimum percentage of pollen needed from a specific plant before a honey can be marketed as a named (mono-floral) honey. In this study, fewer than half the manuka honeys were true to label.

As shown by Patchanee and other researchers, New Zealand’s unique manuka honey contains large amounts of several beneficial compounds and so consumers are willing to pay extra for these properties compared to a common type of honey such as clover.

“However, in view of my results, it is essential that the honey industry invests funds into ensuring all honey is true to label to maintain consumer confidence in this delicious food,” said Patchanee.

Associate Professor Geoffrey Savage from the Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences was supervisor of Patchanee’s project.

He said, “Readers may be aware of publicity around another issue in the honey industry in regard to incorrect UMF (unique manuka factor) levels being put on manuka honey labels. While this is unrelated to Patchanee’s research, it highlights the importance of the honey industry ensuring the integrity in the identification of all honey, not only highly prized varieties like manuka.”

Patchanee presented her results at the NZ Nutrition Society conference in Queenstown.


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