You say manuka, I say mānuka

The mānuka flowers on our riverbank were particularly beautiful this year.

manuka edited landscape
Mānuka flowers, Manawatū River

The short flowering time is evidently part of the reason mānuka honey is pricey. Make that very pricey. How much (in NZ$) do you think a 250g jar of Mānuka South’s Limited Reserve UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) 28+ honey now selling for online?

A. $1,888.00
B. $188.00
C. $18.00

You guessed it, it sells as the top price, because of its high UMF rating, giving it “unique characteristic and signature compounds”. No claims for health are made on the main UMF website. The Limited Reserve jar comes in an (sustainably sourced) oak case with a gold spoon. The target market is overseas buyers who will buy it for tastings, like fine whisky; hence the old-world luxury packaging of oak and gold. If $1888.00 price tag for the Special Reserve 28+ is too steep, the Premium 26+ can be bought for $988, and so on down to 5+ for $20.99.

Mānuka South mostly uses the now well-accepted Māori spelling of mānuka, with a macron to show the long first ‘a’ in the Māori pronunciation. This is different from the non-Māori pronunciation I grew up with, which had the the stress on the midde syllable, and is still used on the website of the  UMF Honey Association.

When I first went to Canberra I learned of the suburb named Manuka, pronounced nearer to that used by Māori. I thought it was just a linguistic coincidence, but it seems that when Walter Burley Griffin designed Canberra in the early twentieth century there was still an idea that New Zealand might become part of the Australian Federation. (This piece of history is news to any Kiwis I have spoken to.)

manuka tce canerra
Manuka, Canberra

Mānuka Leptospermum scoparium is native  to both New Zealand and Australia, although there is some debate about their relationship including whether the New Zealand variety came from Tasmania (twenty million or so years ago). This, along with the fact that European honey bees were introduced to Australia first, is the basis for an Australian challenge to New Zealand trademarking the term “manuka honey”. However, there seems no doubt that mānuka is a Māori word, with no relationship to any Australian language that I know of, and possibly ultimately from the Proto Malayan Polynesian *Nuka, meaning “sore, wound”.

Rather than UMF, Australia uses MGO (methylglyoxal) and NPO (non-peroxide activity) as scientific ratings of quality. So while the marketing people sort that out, we can still enjoy the honey on either side of the Tasman – although to date I have not seen anything from Australia in oak and gold.

 

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