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Discovery of manuka tree link to active ingredient

News Release

20 April 2009

Honey company welcomes discovery of manuka tree link to active ingredient

The only company to certify the active ingredient in its manuka honey products has welcomed the Waikato University discovery of a compound in New Zealand manuka tree nectar which converts to the honey’s antibacterial constituent.

Manuka Health New Zealand chief executive Kerry Paul said the discovery provided further scientific backing for his company’s move last year to launch MGO™ manuka honey which is certified to contain a specified level of the active ingredient.

“MGO™ manuka honey is fast becoming a global brand synonymous with the measurement of antibacterial effectiveness,” he said. “The research at Waikato University provides additional proof.”

Mr Paul said his company remained the only manuka honey producer to market its products on the basis of the active ingredient.

“The rest of the industry either markets untested products or continues to rely on a 15-year-old testing system which is known to be inaccurate.”

Manuka Health’s launch last year of MGO™ manuka honey followed the discovery by a German scientist that the natural compound methylglyoxal is responsible for manuka honey’s unique health-giving properties. The company’s MGO™ manuka honey ranges from MGO™100 (100 mg methyglyoxal per kg) to MGO™550.

Mr Paul said Manuka Health would look closely at the latest research by the University of Waikato’s chemistry department.

Announcing the latest research yesterday, Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris said it had been known for some time that the unique antibacterial activity of manuka honey was associated with methylglyoxal, but the origin of the compound unclear.

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Waikato University researchers found dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is present in manuka honey shortly after bees deposit it in the comb. As the honey ripens, the DHA converts to methylglyoxal.

During the research, young manuka honey was stored for 120 days and showed a strong correlation in the drop-off of DHA, and the increase in methylglyoxal over that time. Because DHA is not antibacterial like methylglyoxal, the antibacterial activity increases as the honey matures.

Dr Manley-Harris said once researchers realised the DHA was the precursor to methylglyoxal they set about finding out where the DHA came from. They discovered it when they tested the nectar in manuka flowers from various trees around Hamilton and the Waikato.

By testing the nectar of the manuka flowers it was possible to identify which trees would produce highly active manuka honey when harvested by bees.

Those trees could then be bred and planted as a high value crop on marginal land where bees could do the hard work of harvesting. Manuka is fast-growing and is tolerant of poor soils, exposure and waterlogged sites.

There are three species in New Zealand and a variety of cultivars often found in gardens. It is commonly called tea tree because early settlers reputedly used the leaves as a substitute for tea from China.

Information about MGO™ manuka honey is available online at

Information about Manuka Health New Zealand Ltd is available at


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