Don’t Be Misled By Marketing Hype: Noted Industry Experts Say “Pollen Counting” Not A Reliable Way To Determine Authenticity Or Effectiveness Of New Zealand Manuka Honey.
Showcasing yet again the reality-altering power of “creative marketing,” several brands in the rapidly-growing Manuka honey category are trying to validate the purity and effectiveness of their products by relying on pollen counts and other grading systems as a supposedly authoritative form of testing.
For consumers seeking high-quality Manuka honey products from New Zealand that can enhance their cuisine and potentially improve their health, a high pollen count would, on the surface, seem to make perfect sense. Honey. Bees. Pollen. What could possibly be wrong with that equation?
As it turns out – a great deal.
Why We Shouldn’t Count on Pollen Counts
According to John Rawcliffe, General Manager of New Zealand’s respected Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association, developing a fool-proof definition of Manuka honey has proven easier said than done over the years, but pollen counts (the measurement of the concentration of pollen trapped in honey) are certainly not the answer.
Agreeing with that assessment three years ago, Dr. Adrian Charlton of Britain’s Food and Environment Research Agency food laboratory – where over 500 scientists work to protect the public from adulterated and mislabeled food – noted that pollen analysis is subjective and invariably less accurate than other forms of testing. At the root of this recurring inaccuracy: human error and the addition of extra pollen by unscrupulous manufacturers hoping to instantly transform ordinary honey into “fake Manuka” bearing a much higher price tag.
Dr. Charlton also noted that industry leaders should rely on the world’s scientists and testing laboratories to work out the best methods for testing since there still is no official definition for Manuka honey – an obvious explanation for the many questionable products on the market today both in the U.S. and around the world.
Most experts today believe that true Manuka honey should – and hopefully soon will – be graded on the concentration of MG (methylglyoxal), UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) or leptospirin. The New Zealand Government will mandate in 2017 new requirements for true Manuka labeling based on the MG, UMF and leptospirin concentration.
The Magic of Manuka
With roots in the therapeutic wound dressings of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, Manuka Honey has been embraced worldwide as a coveted food, beauty and healing resource. Manuka is a monofloral honey, which means it is created by bees that feed solely on the nectar of the white flowers that adorn the Manuka bush, native to New Zealand’s North Island.
In addition to its rich culinary attributes, Manuka Honey is widely believed to help treat minor wounds and burns, and some studies have shown it may help reduce systemic inflammation; reduce ear, eye and sinus infection symptoms; reduce gastrointestinal problems; lower cholesterol; and aid in the treatment of diabetes.
Industry Abuzz About Creating One Cohesive Testing Standard
Like many items in the “natural products” arena, Manuka money is rather easily susceptible to misleading or even downright false labeling, advertising and marketing – unfortunately putting the onus on consumers to separate fact from fiction when considering their next purchases. And given that many consumers in America (and elsewhere) are relatively new to Manuka honey – a rather exotic product from the other side of the world – it’s no wonder that companies are hoping hype-driven terms such as “pollen counts” will attract customers in an increasingly competitive retail environment.
Commenting on the issue of labeling and rating Manuka honey, perhaps journalist Bree McCauley of Mother Earth News put it best: “I found that Manuka honey can be artificially manipulated to achieve the high numbers you find on some jars of Manuka honey — the numbers customers think they are looking for, not knowing that a high number does not necessarily mean it is more effective. It follows then, that defining honey solely based on one, easily-tampered-with component leaves out other important and unknown factors and sets honey up to sometimes dangerous manipulation.”
Speaking Out: The Company That First Brought New Zealand Manuka Honey To Our Shores
Not surprisingly, the authenticity of Manuka Honey is of considerable importance to the Southern California-based Pacific Resources International (www.shoppri.com) – which four decades ago became the first company to introduce New Zealand Manuka Honey to American consumers.
Commented Pacific Resources International’s founder and CEO David Noll recently, “It obviously troubles us greatly when consumers are misled about a Manuka honey product because it not only means they’re overpaying needlessly but won’t be experiencing the true culinary and healing benefits of authentic New Zealand Manuka honey. As an importer that only sells genuine New Zealand Manuka Honey that’s been independently tested for potency and purity, we’re glad industry authorities are rejecting pollen testing as a legitimate practice, and we look forward to working closely with our friends and colleagues in New Zealand to ensure complete transparency throughout the industry going forward.”