Trying to choose the perfect manuka honey product? You might’ve come across ‘MGO’ and ‘UMF’ — both used to rate and grade manuka honey. What, precisely, do they mean? How do they compare?
Manuka honey comes from bees that pollinate the white flowers of the Leptospermum scoparium, native to New Zealand — also known as the manuka plant.
In recent years, this type of honey has received a lot of attention because of the certain special natural compounds it contains, which are thought to provide a range of unique wellness benefits.
In 2008, Professor Thomas Henle and his researchers from the University of Dresden made a big discovery — it was methylglyoxal (MGO) that was the key magic ingredient in manuka honey.
However, some manuka honey products can contain more of this wellness-working compound than others, which is why they’re rated according to their methylglyoxal content. Two of the most popular systems for this are MGO and UMF.
Let’s take a look at these — what does each one mean? Do they measure the same things? How do they compare to each other? And how do I know which strength of product is best for me?
What is the MGO rating system?
The MGO rating system was developed by Professor Thomas Henle and his team at the University of Dresden in 2008. It is a way of testing and certifying the amount of methylglyoxal (MGO) content in a manuka honey product.
It’s simple: the number that follows ‘MGO’ refers to the amount of methylglyoxal in mg/kg. For example, an MGO250+ manuka honey product is certified to contain at least 250mg of methylglyoxal per kilogram of honey.
The higher the number, the more methylglyoxal a manuka honey product is certified to contain. Look out for the red double hex on product packaging — this confirms the product has been rigorously tested for methylglyoxal content. These tests are carried out by independent laboratories in both New Zealand and the UK.
The potency of manuka honey products available to buy can vary quite a lot, and they scale up in price as the MGO content gets higher. Some of the most popular MGO strengths widely available are 30+, 100+, 250+, 400+ and 550+.
What is the UMF grading system?
UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor. It is an independent grading system invented in New Zealand by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA). The UMFHA was established in 1998 as a way of testing and protecting the New Zealand manuka honey industry.
UMF is a stamp of authority that authenticates the potency, purity, freshness and New Zealand origin of a manuka honey product. Products are typically graded on a scale of 6–18.
The UMFHA is strict on which brands can use its label on their products. Products must be packed in New Zealand and are tested for a number of naturally occurring ‘markers’, including methylglyoxal — which we’ve already discussed — Leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF).
Since these markers occur naturally, they are measured to reassure consumers that the honey has not been produced synthetically — methylglyoxal can sometimes be added during the manufacturing process.
- Methylglyoxal — this is the substance that has got many people excited. Scientists concur that it is this compound that gives manuka honey many of its special properties and antimicrobial properties.
- Leptosperin — this chemical marker is indicative of manuka honey’s authenticity. It is only found in the nectar of manuka. As such, its presence is used to guarantee that manuka honey is genuine.
- DHA — this is the natural precursor to methylglyoxal; it converts to MGO in the beehive. Its presence is measured in the UMF grading system since it shows that the honey has been made correctly and not chemically altered.
- HMF — this marker can indicate excess heat treatment in the creation of the honey.
To showcase a UMF grade on its packaging, the honey undergoes an independent laboratory test for these signature markers, which determines the levels of these compounds in a manuka honey product.
MGO and UMF compared: comparison, chart & calculator
MGO and UMF measure the level of methylglyoxal (MGO) in manuka honey products. Both are equally useful in helping to reassure consumers that their honey is laboratory tested, genuine, from New Zealand and guaranteed to have at least a certain level of methylglyoxal within the honey.
As well as methylglyoxal, the UMF grading system measures a number of additional markers that the MGO system doesn’t: these include Leptopserin, DHA and HMF.
But since it’s the methylglyoxal content that has so many people buzzing about manuka honey, MGO is often displayed on product packaging. Whilst not technically a grading system, it provides a clearer, no-nonsense indication of MGO content.
So, whilst MGO and UMF both measure the methylglyoxal — the compound people are interested in — the numbers they use do not correspond. Take a look below to see how the two systems compare.
|Popular uses include
|None — UMF does not certify blend (multifloral) honeys
|Day-to-day sweetener, wellness & wellbeing
|Wellness, wellbeing & skincare
|Wellness, wellbeing & skincare
Wellness, wellbeing & skincare
You may come across some other ways of grading manuka honey products, like KFactor and BioActive. These are less popular and measure for certain compounds within the honey to verify that it is from a natural source.
How to choose a manuka honey product: which strength should I go for?
Looking out for either MGO or UMF on manuka honey packaging ensures you’re getting a genuine, authentic, wellness-packed product. But what potency do you need?
The strength of manuka honey products can vary quite a lot, from MGO 30+ through to MGO 100+ (UMF 6+) and even MGO 550 (UMF 16+).
When deciding what grade you’re after, you’ll want to consider the benefits you’d like from the product, the taste of the honey as well as your budget.
Use — higher strengths for higher wellness activity
How do you intend to harness your honey?
If you’re looking to use it to sweeten your drink, spread on some toast, pop into a smoothie or include in baked goods, some daily MGO30+ or MGO 100+ (UMF6+) will provide a nice amount of health-inducing methylglyoxal. These lower strengths are great for day-to-day flavouring and cooking.
If you’re looking for a bit more of an impact — perhaps as a supplement for general wellbeing, for soothing a sore throat or combating a cough or cold, or perhaps as part of a skincare routine — manuka honey with an MGO rating of at least 250+ (UMF 10+) may be in order, with this wellness activity scaling up in terms of strength until you get to MGO 550+ (UMF16+) and above.
Taste — higher grades can provide an earthy taste
The higher the grade of honey you choose, typically the earthier and slightly more medicinal the taste. Whilst by no means a bad thing, many people are used to the sweeter taste that comes with lower strengths of manuka honey, which is why these are more popular for cooking.
So if this is a consideration, you may prefer a manuka honey with slightly less methylglyoxal — MGO30+ or MGO100+. Eventually, you could progress to a slightly higher grade; it may be somewhat of an acquired taste!
Cost — a judgement call
It’s no secret that this unique type of honey can become quite expensive when you get to the higher strengths. A 500g jar of MGO 550+ manuka honey can set you back almost around six times as much as an MGO30+ product.
So, if you’re someone who really likes to lather your honey liberally, you might want to invest in a product with a slightly lower grade, like MGO 30+ or MGO 100+. Ultimately, it’s a judgement call that balances the benefits you’d like from the manuka with your budget.
Mānuka Health: for MGO & UMF-certified genuine manuka honey
At Inspired Health, we’re the official UK home for a range of leading wellness brands, including Mānuka Health. From jars to lozenges, lip balms and even toothpastes, explore the full range of certified manuka honey products — all with a simple MGO rating according to the minimum amount of methylglyoxal they contain!
Mānuka Health is a member of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA). So, as well as the iconic red MGO double hex mark indicating the potency and MGO power of the honey, you’ll also find a UMF label on all products.
Oh, and whilst you’re here, be sure to explore more of The Hive — our hub of expert insights and information about the Maori magic of manuka honey!