Why is Mānuka Honey so expensive?
Mānuka honey is not only indulgently delicious but may provide a number of benefits to one’s health. That can include everything from boosting the immune system to providing digestive support and a clearer complexion.
The sweet nectar known as Mānuka isn’t anything like highly processed commercial honey, which is why you’re not going to find it for just a few dollars on a grocery store shelf. That’s like comparing a rock to a gem. This is honey in its raw, natural state and hasn’t been pasteurized, which destroys heat-sensitive and important compounds that make it so beneficial.
Of course, that doesn’t provide a complete answer as to why it has a premium price tag so we’ll dig a bit deeper to help you understand.
It’s Derived From a Tree That Only Grows in New Zealand
Mānuka honey is produced from the Leptospermum scoparium tree. In fact, the word Mānuka is derived from the Māori word for Leptospermum scoparium.
It’s a native tree that only grows in New Zealand, requiring the country’s specific type of climate to grow. It only flowers for 2-6 weeks a year which means the nectar supply is limited, yet there is a big demand for the “liquid gold.” that is produced as a result.
The Health Grading and Classification Process
Your typical honey in a plastic bear-shaped bottle doesn’t go through a health grading process, but Mānuka does. Every jar is sent to an independent (3rd Party) lab where its various properties are tested to determine how potent the potential health benefits will be. That strength comes from one of its major antibacterial components called methylglyoxal, or MGO. This compound has been extensively studied for its ability to kill bacteria.
Mānuka honey is given a grading number and associated MGO number from the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA). The higher the number, the stronger the honey, and the more powerful those potential benefits can be. Additionally, the honey undergoes a classification process, with the Ministry of Primary Industries (part of New Zealand’s government) to confirm the floral source of the honey. Four different compounds as well as a “DNA” test is undertaken in order for the honey to be determined as Mānuka honey.
Obviously, the extensive testing processes required for Mānuka honey add quite a bit to the final cost you’ll pay at your health food store or local market. That includes the wages of scientists and government workers who are grading and classifying the honey.
A Short Harvest Window
The Leptospermum scoparium tree typically grows in remote regions in New Zealand often making them not only rare but difficult to reach. Adding to the challenge of getting that Mānuka honey into a jar that you can use, there is a very short flowering, as short as two weeks and as long as six weeks.
Multiple factors can shorten that window as well, including everything from strong winds to chilly weather. If it’s too cold, the trees won’t bloom so the bees won’t be able to pollinate them. If it’s too windy, those winds can rip the blooms off before they’re pollinated.
No matter what the reason, when the harvest period is shortened, that means even less honey can be produced.
Along with the trees, bees are integral for creating Mānuka honey. They collect nectar-making honey from their ventures. But just like any creature, they are affected by the external environment and can become ill.
Cold temperatures can also affect how well they perform. If the queen gets sick, the bees in her hive will too. In some species, if the queen dies, the entire hive is devastated. Without the bees, there is no honey.
We also wrote a blog describing how New Zealand has the healthiest bee population in the world - check it out here.
The Grand Total
When you take these factors into consideration, from the remoteness of the trees and the challenging process required to reach them, the very short flowering window, and the expense and hard work of the beekeepers, and everyone else involved, it’s easy to understand why this remarkable nectar comes at a premium price.