In Google's 2016 report of trending food searches, released yesterday morning, we saw old friends like turmeric, kefir, and cumin at the top of searches, but also some less obvious ones, like manuka honey.
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Google refers to many of these foods as "functional foods," for their medicinal properties, and notes that they're part of a larger trend towards seeking out healthier food options (at least via their search bar). Google searches for turmeric, for example, have risen 300% over the past five years, with manuka honey following closely behind—it's the fourth most-searched for "functional food" after turmeric, apple cider vinegar, and jackfruit.
We know that it's prized for medicinal qualities (per the report, manuka honey is often searched next to the term "benefits"). Our own Digital Marketing Manger, Megan Lang, even uses it in her face masks. But what is it exactly; what does it taste like? And—most important to us, perhaps—is it worth seeking out to cook with?
In short, manunka honey is a "monofloral" honey, meaning it comes from the nectar of one kind of flower (in this case, the small white flower that grows on the manuka tree, native to Australia and New Zealand). The resulting honey is marked by its dark brown color and high viscosity.
Honey contains hydrogen peroxide, which usually gives it a natural antibiotic quality—but manuka honey also contains a high concentration of methylglyoxal, making it antibacterial as well. In alternative medicine, manuka honey is sometimes used to treat wounds, and it has found its way into beauty products (like Megan's face mask) for the same reason. It's also marketed with an ability to treat everything from cancer to high cholesterol, though there is little to no evidence actually backing up these claims.
In New Zealand, where our Customer Care Associate Natalia Panzer (and manuka honey) are from, the honey is frequently added to tea—which indicates that they enjoy it for its flavor over its health benefits, since adding honey to boiling water has been said to render its nutrients ineffective.
While it's similar to other raw honeys, manuka honey has a slightly earthy and sometimes mineral-y flavor. "It's unique, with almost perfume-y undertones from the flower, but not overwhelmingly so," Natalia said. "It's full, and has a creamy mouth feel. It's like a national treasure—people are really proud of it."
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Manuka honey can be used in many of the same ways regular honey is used—though it's best sparingly, as its rich flavor can be overwhelming in large amounts. Natalia's most recent experiment with it, in Four & Twenty Blackbird's Salty Honey Pie was, in her own words, "a bit intense and sickly."
Here are a few other recipes to try it with, simply by replacing the honey called for with manuka honey:
Due to manuka honey's recent rise in popularity, there are a number of counterfeited products on the market and its rating system—the "15+" above, which indicates the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) or concentration of methylgloxal—isn't always monitored or consistent. (So if you're seeking it out for the health benefits, be sure to get it from a reputable source—but if you're looking for flavor, grab any jar and you'll get it.)
Have you ever tried manuka honey? What are some of your favorite ways to use it? Tell us in the comments below!