The History of Manuka Honey
M ānuka & Māori: A Special Relationship.
Māori have had a long relationship with Mānuka, they call it taonga or ‘treasure’ and have found a staggering amount of uses for it; from food to medicine, and all manner of tools and artifacts. Its most significant use was as a medicinal plant. Infusions made with the leaves were used to reduce fevers and treat stomach and urinary problems. Gum produced from the tree was used as a moisturizer for burns, and to ease coughing. Decoctions from the bark were used as a sedative, a mouthwash, and to treat diarrhea and fever. The tree was essentially a pharmacy.
Fancy a cuppa?
Europeans were also quick to discover uses for this versatile plant. On Captain Cook’s voyages of discovery around New Zealand, his crew boiled the leaves of Mānuka to make tea. Cook also brewed a beer using Mānuka and Rimu leaves and found it: “exceedingly palatable and esteemed by everyone on board.” cheered James. The wood of Mānuka has been extensively used by New Zealanders as it is hard and straight-grained. It has been used to fashion a vast range of tools, implements, and structures; such as beds, houses, combs, paddles, canoes, and spears. It is also highly valued as firewood. Today, sawdust from the wood is commonly used as a flavoring agent when smoking fish and meat. Essential oils from the leaves are also used commercially and form the basis of a variety of medicinal and cosmetic products.
You can call me honey.
Currently, Mānuka is now widely known as delicious high-quality honey. It is made by bees that pollinate the Mānuka flower, which is native to New Zealand and blooms just 2-6 weeks per year. Mānuka honey can only be produced in areas abundant with native Mānuka blossoms, which is why hives are located in some of the most remote, untouched parts of the country. This remarkable honey is used for much more than being smeared on toast (though that’s good too). The honey is highly valued throughout the world for its rare and complex properties.
Check out the video below to learn more about the history of manuka honey.
The Harvesting and Production of Manuka Honey
Manuka Honey is made from the nectar of the flowering Manuka tree, which is a native New Zealand tree. The Manuka tree has a white flower, sometimes tinged with pink.
In the Taranaki region, the Manuka trees start blooming from mid-December to mid-January depending on the season. The hives are moved to the area just ahead of the start of the flowering of the Manuka trees so the bees are in place and ready to forage as the nectar becomes available.
Honeybees forage for nectar when the weather is good. Warm temperatures, with daytime highs in the 70s, and nighttime lows above the mid-50s are required for the plants to present nectar at the flower. Rain or high winds can keep the bees from getting out to forage, so weather conditions are critical during the 4-6 weeks that the Manuka is typically in flower each year.
Bees forage specifically for the nectar of the Manuka flower in order to make honey. Pollen is also collected as a food source and stored separately from the nectar. Forager bees collect the nectar and upon returning to the hive, pass it on to younger hive bees. This begins a process of moving the nectar to honeycomb cells, depositing it along with enzymes the bees produce. The incoming nectar is about 70% water, which must be evaporated down to 20% or lower in order to turn the nectar into honey. The nectar is mostly sucrose, which is broken down by the bee's enzymes into glucose and fructose.
The bees evaporate most of the moisture from the honey by rapidly beating their wings over the honey cells, aided by warm temperature (95 degrees) within the hive. As the honey is dried, the bees produce wax and cap the cell to prevent it from reabsorbing moisture, thereby protecting it from mold and preventing fermentation.
The flowering, weather forecast and the progress of the honey-making in the hive is closely monitored through the summer. When the timing is right, the process of moving the hives out of the Manuka sites and harvesting the honey begins.
The honey boxes are removed from the hives and transported to the processing facility. Grouped by harvest area, the honey is weighed, tagged, and cataloged. The boxes are stored in a "warm room" which simulates the inner hive temperature in order to keep the honey liquid for extraction. Extracting the honey from the comb involves three basic steps, piercing the wax seal on each cell, spinning at high speed to force the honey out of the cells, and then filtering the wax from the honey.
After extraction, the honey is ready to be packed into jars.
Check out the video below to learn more about the harvesting and production of manuka honey.