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What is MGO in Manuka Honey?

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

If you have ever looked into Manuka honey, you have probably noticed that there are different kinds of it. Every jar has a tag with numbers. They are ratings that show the strength and potency of the product. But what do they mean...?


The lid of a jar of Manuka North Honey
A jar of Manuka Honey laid on a table

What is MGO?

Manuka honey is special due to its medicinal and antibacterial properties. One of the reasons for such qualities is the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO) in its content. It’s a chemical compound that causes an antiseptic effect.


The concentration of MGO in Manuka Honey is 100 times higher than in others. But it’s still not the same everywhere. The difference mainly comes from the flowers that produce the nectar. If bees gathered it only from Manuka trees (Monofluoral), the MGO rating will be higher. In cases where other flowers were used (Polyfluoral), the honey's potency is affected.


To find out how potent Manuka Honey is, each batch of our Manuka gets tested and these properties are marked on a tag. The ratings are based on the concentration of methylglyoxal (MGO) in Manuka Honey. The higher the level, the more potent the honey.


Properties of MGO

Most kinds of honey are supposed to have antibacterial properties thanks to the hydrogen peroxide they contain. However, in contact with a wound, this breaks down to oxygen and water. It happens because of the enzyme Catalase that is present in blood, as well as serum, saliva and some tissues. This way, the substance is left with no antiseptic potency.


Manuka Honey is special as it still has antibacterial properties after the hydrogen peroxide disappears. This quality is called non-peroxide activity (NPA) and is made possible due to MGO. This compound is a result of dihydroxyacetone conversion, a high concentration of which is contained in the Manuka flowers’ nectar.


A lot of studies have proved that honey with such components can kill pathogenic bacteria. It is effective in dealing with a great variety of microorganisms and even with multi-resistant strains. One of the examples is Campylobacter that causes digestive disorders.


Interestingly, MGO and hydrogen peroxide are not the only substances with antimicrobial qualities. The healing properties also come from flavonoids and acids that are included in Manuka Honey. This is not the only product that contains methylglyoxal (MGO). It was also found in bread, wine, soya and beer.


A jar of honey on a table surrounded by flowers and honeycomb

How are MGO ratings generated?

Usually, when Manuka Honey is produced, the concentration of methylglyoxal is different to what it ends up at the time of bottling. So, how does this concentration change? It happens during its storing. When the temperature is about 22°C, the level of the compound activity increases.


What influences this rating? It’s the content of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) in Manuka nectar, which is the base for methylglyoxal creation. Another factor is the extent of Manuka bloom and another important thing is the behaviour of bees — whether they gather nectar only from Manuka flowers or others as well. As a result of all of this, Manuka Honey may vary in strength.

MGO ratings that you see on labels mean how much methylglyoxal is present in 1 kg of the product. For example, a rating of MGO 250+ means there are 250 mg of it in 1 kg of honey. How is it found? The level is defined with the help of high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). During this process, complex mixtures are separated into elementary compounds.


What strength of Manuka Honey is the best?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. It depends on your purpose of using Manuka Honey. If you’re going to do it just for health maintenance and daily use, honey with lower MGO levels will be enough. You can use it in cooking, baking, as a topping to your breakfast or mixing it into your drink.


Honey that has a higher MGO level and more potent antiseptic properties is used for medical purposes. It may help with wound treatment, digestive problems, cough, sore throat and acne. These issues are caused mainly by pathogenic microorganisms, that’s why the antibacterial properties of the Manuka Honey assists in treating them. In this case, it’s better to choose higher MGO levels, from 300+.

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