We frequently get questioned if and what is the difference between Manuka and Kanuka honey. Customers often turned to us confused from the presence on the market of both honeys trying to understand if the two products are the same and have similar properties.
Despite being both native bushes from New Zealand, being found in the wild growing next to each other, being both called ‘tea tree’ and having a really similar name, the Manuka (L. scoparium) and Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) trees are genetically different and do not lead to the production of the same honey.
As we well know, the peculiarity of Manuka honey, which makes it differs from all other honeys in the world, is the content of a compound called Methylglyoxal (MGO), responsible of the unique properties of Manuka.
MGO is not present in the plant, but forms through a natural process from another compound called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA), after the bees collect the nectar of the Manuka flowers. DHA is in fact naturally present in the Manuka nectar.
DHA is present only in the Manuka tree, not in the Kanuka one, resulting in the fact that only Manuka honey contains MGO and has its unique properties.
No Kanuka honey can be UMF certified or can state anywhere on the label or packaging that that honey contains MGO.
When you buy Manuka honey always make sure that the honey is UMF certified (we made a specific article about UMF certification in our blog) or search for the MGO level graduation.
Said so, some Manuka honey producers try to confuse the customers stating that their Manuka honey has a high content of pollen. It is important to remember that honey is made from nectar, not pollen!!! Manuka and Kanuka pollen looks very similar at the microscope and analytic laboratories in charge of testing the honeys are not able to differentiate the two pollen.
For more information please read this article from Analytica Laboratories:
This means, in return, that a Manuka honey with a high quantity of pollen could in reality contain a lot of Kanuka pollen (and even nectar!!!) and still have a low level of MGO.
Please make sure to know what you are buying and valuing your money. Real good Manuka honey is UMF certified or has reported on the label its MGO content.
For nature explorer or botanical fans, Manuka and Kanuka can also be recognised observing the two plants and their typical characteristics.
The easiest way to tell the two plants apart is to look for the seed capsules: Manuka tree has them all year long while the Kanuka tree just after the flowering season in late summer.
The second difference is the shape of the leaves: Manuka ones are large, oval, lanceolate, hard and of a grey colour while the Kanuka ones are thin, long, soft and of a olive green colour.
The Manuka tree trunk has a typical red colouration, often covered with mould. The Kanuka one is instead light brown.
Finally, Manuka flowers have a dimension of round about 10-12mm, they are generally white (exception made for some pink varieties), they are almost odourless and are evenly distributed all over the tree. Kanuka flowers are smaller, circa 4-5 mm, cream white, scented and are collected in clusters.
Manuka flowers bloom before the Kanuka ones (this last starting the flowering season around December).
Beekeepers are particularly attentive to distinguish the two trees. Honey bees feeding on Kanuka can lead to the production of a Manuka honey low in MGO, since it can be diluted with the Kanuka nectar.
Recognizing the two plants, positioning the hives at the right place and removing them just after the Manuka trees have flowered and before the Kanuka ones can do it, are some of the key factor in the production of high quality, pure Manuka honey.
We hope that this short article can help many of you to dissipate all doubts about Kanuka and Manuka honey and clarify the mystifications present on the market.