What Is Manuka Honey and Why Is It So Expensive?
In the big, bad world of wellness trends, alternatives to sugar are all the rage. So it's no surprise that honey is having a moment. The benefits of honey, especially raw honey, range from providing allergy relief, to soothing sore throats, to treating acne, to yes, of course, sweetening toast and tea. (And it's been held in high regard forever: There's also that whole thing about honey as an embalming agent.) But there's one honey in particular that has achieved true raised-hands-emoji status: Manuka honey. If its evangelists are to be believed, the benefits of manuka honey are the same as regular honey's, but are even more impressive. The benefits, however, are not cheap: A standard 8.8 ounce jar of the stuff can run you more than $40.
First of all, though, let's talk about what honey is exactly. Bees, as you know, slurp up nectar from nearby(ish) flowering plants, helping to pollinate plants and keep everything blooming. They store the nectar in a second stomach called a "crop." As they buzz around, the nectar combines with crop enzymes, which transform the nectar's chemical composition and essentially help preserve it for storage. When a bee returns to its hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating it directly into the other bee's mouth. The other bee then regurgitates this into a honeycomb. The beehive on a whole then helps dehydrate the honey (and make it thicker) by fanning the honeycomb with their wings, and bees seal the comb with a secretion from their abdomen—what we know as beeswax. So, it's not exactly wrong to say that honey is bee vomit. Twice-regurgitated bee vomit. Lovely.
Manuka honey, then, is honey collected from bees that have pollinated the manuka bush, a plant native to New Zealand and Australia. The manuka plant is known for its medicinal properties: thanks to the presence of dietary Methylglyoxal it's anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, good for scrapes and bruises and acne. (My dermatologist recommended I use manuka honey for face masks when I break out.) People ingest it to help with ulcers and strep throat. Manuka honey is a true cure-all, and it's also really, really pricey. (So ridiculously so, in fact, that in Broad City, Abbi only buys it while high on both painkillers and a weed smoothie, egged on by a blue creature with a high pitched voice she hallucinates.)
So why is manuka honey so expensive? Because it can be, basically. It comes exclusively from New Zealand and Australia (the manuka bush grows in other parts of the world, but it doesn't flower), but it's popular the world over, meaning that demand is extremely high, and production is relatively low. In 2016, it was reported that manuka honey was worth NZ$1000 (or $717) per kilogram which makes it one of New Zealand's most expensive exports. By 2028, it's thought that New Zealand's manuka honey export business could be worth more than $1 billion—which, considering it's ever growing popularity and its darling status in the wellness industry, actually makes sense. And the honey could get even more precious, as Aussies and Kiwis battle it out to trademark "manuka." (However, New Zealand may win out no matter what: the plant is far more plentiful there than Down Under.)
Manuka honey isn't going anywhere, and it's probably just going to get more expensive. But the good news is, if you're just looking for the sweet stuff, you can find it in a cute plastic bear, and it'll probably cost less than your morning latte.