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While some Manuka honey brands label their honeys with a UMF, we prefer to report our Manuka honey’s MGO. Here’s the difference between the two… and why we favour  MGO.

 UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor

The phrase was first coined by Professor Peter Molan of the University of Waikato. Professor Molan was one of the first scientists to realise Manuka honey’s antimicrobial properties were caused by more than simple peroxides. His research showed Manuka honey has antibacterial properties even when it’s devoid of hydrogen peroxide. Professor Molan couldn’t explain what might be behind Manuka honey’s unique characteristics, but he did note that some Manuka honeys had greater antibacterial properties than others. To differentiate between varieties, Professor Molan came up with the Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF.
Read more about how UMF was established here.

UMF isn't a direct measure. As the UMF isn’t a measure of any direct chemical component, it’s still somewhat unscientific. MGO is much more precise.

 MGO vs UMF 

The following table shows how UMFs map to MGO values.

 MGO stands for methylglyoxal 

For 15 plus years scientists tried to discover the compound driving the stable anti-bacterial activity of manuka honey. The discovery of methylglyoxal by Professor Henle, Technical University of Dresden gave manuka honey credibility amongst the medical and scientific communities. This discovery was the catalyst for the rapid growth of manuka honey sales worldwide. The application of the methylglyoxal (MGO) concentration e.g. MGO 400 on the product label meant for the first time consumers could have trust and confidence in the product.

Read more on how MGO was established here.

Methylglyoxal is a direct, specific metric. Methylglyoxal has long been familiar to both medical and scientific communities. The organic chemical has proven bioactive properties. Even better, it can be measured directly. 


Measuring MGO concentrations is precisely what we do here at Helena Health. The measurements reveal exactly how much MGO is present in each of our batches of honey. 

 Shop our Manuka Honey and Propolis products 

Buy from our range of Manuka honey and bee products, delivered directly from New Zealand to your door.

The History of Manuka Honey

New Zealand has been covered in the manuka bush for millions of years. Today large areas of manuka bush remain in areas remote from urbanization. Europeans in the early 1800’s brought the Italian honey bee which stores honey in colonies started the honey industry in New Zealand. 

Bee-keepers in the 1800’s right up to 1990 targeted honeys they could sell on the local market and would give the manuka honey away free to dairy farmers simply to dispose of it. Farmers would feed manuka honey to their cows who enjoyed it as feed source. Overtime farmers came to realise the cows who ate the honey did not suffer the diseases suffered by other cows. This was the first time people realized there was something special about this manuka honey but they were not able to offer any explanation for why.

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Professor Peter Molan

Professor Molan was the first scientist to investigate the reasons why there were health benefits
occurring through use of manuka honey. All honey is anti-bacterial due to bees adding the glucose oxidase enzyme to produce hydrogen peroxide. However, this effect is quickly eliminated. Professor Molan established manuka honey had stable anti-bacterial effects i.e. non-peroxide activity (NPA). This was the basis by which he led the early development of the manuka honey industry.

How UMF was established

Professor Peter Molan came to the University of Waikato from Wales. He heard the local stories about the benefits of manuka honey which intrigued his interest to find out why. He adapted the agar diffusion assay to identify the zone of bacterial inhibition for a honey sample. This is how he developed numbers 5, 10 etc to identify the size of the zone. When he eliminated hydrogen peroxide from a honey samplehe found  honeys still produced a zone of inhibition which he called non-peroxide activity (NPA).
The method is subjective, does not produce repeatable results and was never recognized by the
scientific community. Nevertheless, this was a starting point to promote manuka honey as having
something “extra” and Peter Molan played an extremely important role in creating the awareness
particularly in his home country the United Kingdom.


Professor Thomas Henle
Professor Thomas Henle discovered methylglyoxal in manuka honey and by doing so gave credibility to the health benefits of the honey. This was the breakthrough moment for the manuka industry. The numbers of peer reviewed scientific publications showing the benefits of methylglyoxal also increased rapidly.


Kerry Paul (managing directory of Helena Health) worked with Professor Henle for
many years to investigate all aspects of manuka honey’s properties.


How MGO was established
Professor Henle is an international expert in food glycation compounds giving him all the capabilities needed to identify what compound(s) were responsible for the non-peroxide activity. He analysed 80 honey samples, 4 were manuka, over 10 glycation compounds. The surprise discovery was the 4 manuka honeys had high levels of methylglyoxal when the other 76 honeys had virtually zero. This was also notable by the fact he had seen methylglyoxal levels in any other foods anywhere near these levels. As a  next step he proved the methylglyoxal was responsible for the non-peroxide activity using the same approach as Peter Molan. 

Consumers for the first time could understand a rating system on manuka honey.


Why MGO Manuka Honey is a Superior Rating System

The discovery of methylglyoxal by Professor Henle allowed the development of a rating system proven by science. Methylglyoxal is directly and exclusively responsible for the unique anti-bacterial activity of manuka honey. The rating system must be based on methylglyoxal because it is the value- adding compound. This is why in 2008 Kerry Paul (Managing Director of Helena Health) launched the MGO Manuka Honey rating system.


Scientific evidence must be shown to demonstrate any natural health product will have benefit for a person’s health and well-being - this develops the trust by consumers in your product. Identifying the bioactive compound responsible for the stable anti-bacterial activity in manuka honey and its concentration was fundamental to gaining consumer acceptance of the product.

It was important to label the product with the methylglyoxal concentration and not claim any activity. Making this clear on the label is a basic requirement for consumers.
The testing method is published and validated and can be carried out by any laboratory.

How UMF was established
How MGO was Established

 Shop our Manuka Honey and Propolis products 

Buy from our range of Manuka honey and bee products, delivered directly from New Zealand to your door.

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