Honey has probably been a staple in your household since childhood. It’s called liquid gold for a reason, and it’s more than just a delicious, sweet treat.
There are more different types of honey than there are letters in the alphabet, and it can be confusing to figure out what honey is best for you.
What’s the difference between raw honey and manuka honey? All honey starts out as raw honey, but manuka honey can come pasteurized and is exclusively made from the nectar of the manuka plant native to New Zealand and Australia.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a grocery store aisle holding a bottle of raw honey in one hand and a bottle of manuka honey in the other, this article is going to help you overcome that analysis paralysis.
By the end of this page, you’ll understand exactly what raw honey is and how it differs from manuka honey, as well as the benefits and risks associated with each.
What Is Honey?
Before we dive too deep into the differences between raw honey and manuka honey, let’s begin with a basic understanding of what honey is, in general.
Historically, it has been collected for use as a sweetener in food and drinks, but it’s also been used as a medicinal aid in nearly every ancient traditional medicine from around the world.
Vitamins and minerals are the only things that make honey healthy. It’s also packed with unique enzymes that are exclusive to the natural producers of honey: bees.
Specific types of honey have been made by the bees harvesting specific nectar from their preferred local flowers and bringing it back to their hives.
They add enzymes – natural preservatives – to keep the liquid safe, regardless of temperature or storage conditions, and as the water content evaporates it becomes the sweet golden syrup we know as honey.
What Is Raw Honey?
Raw honey is a commercial product that is as close to the honey taken directly from the hive as is considered safe for consumer consumption.
This means that it has been processed only as much as necessary to remove any impurities and debris from the honeycomb, but it is as close to naturally occurring as possible.
This is considerably different from “regular” honey, which has been processed to a much more significant degree.
What Does Raw Honey Taste Like?
Every different variety of honey takes on characteristics of the flower the nectar was harvested from.
Clover honey is the most common commercial honey in the world and it has a mellow, neutral sweetness to it.
Honey made from sage will have a fruity sweetness with a hint of spiciness, whereas buckwheat honey will have malt undertones.
Of course, there are also flavor-infused kinds of honey, such as vanilla bean honey, which will have a stronger flavor from ingredients added by humans. This infused honey is typically not raw, however.
Raw honey will taste like a stronger, more intense version of the regular honey made from the same type of flower. There will be more layers and complexity and more variability between batches.
A container of raw wildflower honey bought in the early spring may taste quite different from a container bought later in the year or from a different producer.
Raw Honey Benefits
Because raw honey is never heated, it retains all the natural vitamins, minerals, healthy enzymes, and healing compounds found uniquely in this specific bee-made product.
This makes it much more beneficial to your health and may help boost your internal defenses against bacterial infections. It can also be used more effectively as a topical antibacterial agent.
Raw Honey Dangers
The same natural enzymes and bacteria that are considered health-positive under most circumstances can make raw honey dangerous for young infants.
The bacteria are live in raw honey, and infant digestives systems aren’t fully developed to cope with them. You should never give a child under 18 months raw honey of any kind, as it can cause infant botulism.
Raw honey will also contain more pollen than regular honey. This creates a contentious debate because many people believe that honey can actually help combat allergies.
There is sparse evidence to support this theory and equal evidence suggesting that raw honey causes more histamine reactions than pasteurized honey.
This isn’t life-threatening but can be frustrating, as anyone living with seasonal allergies is well aware.
Honey has occasionally been known to cause more serious allergic reactions in people with bee allergies. While this is rare, it stands to reason that it would be more risky with raw honey than regular honey.
Another drawback of raw honey is that it will crystalize more easily than pasteurized honey.
This isn’t dangerous, by any means, but it can be unsightly and annoying. If this ever happens to you, we teach you how to prevent and fix crystallized honey in a related article.
What Is Manuka Honey?
Manuka honey is thought to be one of the most, if not the most, beneficial types of honey available anywhere in the world.
It is made by honey bees that collect their nectar exclusively from the manuka bush, which grows only in New Zealand and parts of Australia.
Manuka is darker and thicker than conventional honey and can even have a cloudy appearance. If you’re spreading it on toast, drizzling it over your dessert, or slathering it over a burn, it’s more difficult to spread than regular honey.
Is Manuka Honey Pasteurized?
It’s certainly possible to pasteurize manuka honey, just like any other type of honey. However, because of the premium quality and health benefits, this type of honey is rarely, if ever pasteurized.
The heat required to kill yeast and bacteria would also kill the most antibacterial agents, reducing all the most prized benefits of the honey.
Any honey with a UMF – unique manuka factor – rating will not have been pasteurized, but most packaging will also clearly state that the honey is raw.
What Does Manuka Honey Taste Like?
Manuka honey varies in taste, getting stronger in flavor and color as the UMF rating increases.
This is because much of the flavor comes from the naturally occurring beneficial compounds, similar to how different colored fruits and vegetables often taste different depending on their color.
Manuka honey also ages, just like wine. As it matures, the flavor will deepen. It has the signature sweet, slightly floral flavor of conventional honey, but it’s more distinctive and intense.
Manuka Honey Benefits
Manuka honey is used medicinally as frequently as it is enjoyed as a sweetened or condiment.
Honey is antibacterial and manuka has a unique blend of antioxidants and other vitamins that make it very useful for healing minor wounds, burns, and other skin conditions and irritations.
All honey is antibacterial, but manuka honey has been shown to be more effective than average at fighting bacteria, both topically and internally when consumed.
A good example of this is using honey to soothe a sore throat, a common at-home remedy.
Manuka does such a good job of internal healing and speeding up the healing process from colds that it’s often used as a key ingredient in throat lozenges and medicinal teas.
Manuka even has a grading system to rate its potential as an antibacterial agent, the UMF or unique manuka factor.
The highest quality manufacturers can apply for a special license proving their manuka honey has specific levels of leptosperin, DHA, and methylglyoxal.
Manuka Honey Dangers
Manuka honey, as wonderful as it is in many ways, also comes with certain risks. First and foremost, like raw honey, it not safe for infants 18 months or younger.
The enzymes and bacteria that make manuka so powerful as a healing agent are live and a baby’s intestines have not developed the capacity to live in harmony with the organisms.
It can lead to infant botulism, potentially even more so than other raw honey options.
This leads us to the next most common concern: is manuka honey pregnancy safe?
There is no significant evidence to confirm a risk and pregnant women have enjoyed manuka honey for generations, but it’s always best to consult your doctor for safety’s sake.
There is also some risk that the medicinal compounds within manuka may interact with certain medications negatively, specifically chemotherapy drugs.
If you’re on any prescription medication, discuss the potential risks with your doctor before consuming any manuka honey.
As with all honey, people who are severely allergic to bees may also experience an allergic reaction to honey.
Raw Honey Vs Regular Honey
Regular honey, which is the vast majority of commercially available honey, is pasteurized and filtered.
Pasteurization is the process of heating a food product to a high temperature, approximately 150°F or higher, to kill any yeast or naturally occurring bacteria that might cause the product to ferment.
This is very common in the dairy industry and it’s frequently applied to honey as well.
You’ve probably heard the rumors that honey is one of the only products on earth that will never spoil, so you may be wondering why pasteurization is necessary.
While it’s true that the enzymes produced by bees keep honey from spoiling indefinitely under most circumstances, not even the bees are foolproof.
There are always conditions that allow the honey to be contaminated and potentially spoil. This is not, however, the main reason it’s pasteurized.
Consumers highly value consistency, aesthetic appeal, and convenience. Pasteurizing and filtering honey not only increases the safety, but it smooths the final product out to a cleaner, clearer, and more consistent syrup.
Raw honey varies in color and even texture, sometimes even having bits of the honeycomb remaining in the liquid. These variations are normal and safe but many people appreciate the reliable experience of regular honey.
Unfortunately, the pasteurization process also kills a lot of the naturally occurring health benefits, including the unique bee enzymes and many of the vitamins and minerals.
Raw Honey Vs Pure Honey
Pure honey is, to some degree, a marketing term.
It means that the bottle or container of honey you purchase has no added ingredients and is only honey, which is great, but it doesn’t have any level of certification regarding the quality of the honey otherwise.
Pure honey can be pasteurized and filtered and it can also be raw, manuka, or any other type of honey there is.
Is Honey Vegan?
This question is debated. Bees are animals and honey is the product of their hard work.
However, bees are kept free-range and are not forced to make honey. Beekeepers also do not have to kill or harm any bees in the process of harvesting honey.
Vegans who do consume honey also argue that beekeeping is not harmful to bees but actually might be what ends up saving them in the long run. It is also more than eco-friendly, as bees are an integral part of the ecosystem.
While it is possible to harvest honey without harming bees, some vegans will not consume honey because they believe appropriating honey without the express permission of the bees is a form of exploitation.
Others argue that honey is an animal by-product because it contains bee enzymes and DNA.
Ultimately, it’s really up to you whether or not you choose to consume honey.
Does Honey Go Bad?
It is possible for honey to go bad, but it’s highly unlikely.
Naturally, honey is fortified against all the elements, however, it is possible for anything to be contaminated. If it is left exposed, especially in a humid environment, it can go bad.
The incredibly high sugar content is resistant to most bacteria and fungi, which can’t survive in an environment with so little, inactive water content, and oxygen.
If any amount of water is added to your honey, even from simple humidity in the air or condensation, it can be the inlet needed to allow bacteria to start colonizing.
As long as your honey remains sealed and protected from moisture and outside bacteria, it will last essentially forever. This is true for all varieties of honey, whether regular or raw.
Does Honey Have Sugar?
Honey is made up of approximately 80% sugar.
Very similar to conventional table sugar, the type of sugars giving honey its sweetness are glucose and fructose, though it has more fructose than table sugar.
Fructose is sweeter than glucose, so you may find that you can use smaller serving sizes of honey compared to white sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Fructose is not absorbed the same way as glucose, however, requiring more work from your liver than glucose does.
While white sugar has a more significant correlation to blood sugar management issues, fructose is more closely linked to fatty liver disease.
The bottom line is that all types of sugars and sweeteners should be eaten in moderation.
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