We've all heard the advice after developing a tickly throat or the winter chills: "have you tried a hot lemon and honey?"
It seems cliché but its age-old advice for a reason. Honey, especially our own mānuka honey, has healing and anti-bacterial properties that make it ideal for the cooler months.
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Registered nutritionist and author of health blog Healthy Always Danijela Unkovich has given us her top tips for incorporating into your diet (aside from the quintessential classic of honey on toast).
While there are hundreds of honey types in circulation globally, we are world-famous in New Zealand for one in particular - the ever popular, mānuka honey. Like all concentrated sugar sources, honey is a food to consume more sparingly within the diet. Yet, mānuka has a slightly different reputation compared to other types of honey, supported by an extensive range of scientific studies.
In a honey-based dressing:
Wanting to take your salad dressing game to new heights? Try whisking together honey with olive oil, mustard and a squeeze of lemon; for a speedy honey-mustard dressing to drizzle over roast winter vege salad.
Knowing what jar of honey to buy might be confusing at times - however, within the realm of mānuka honey you'll notice both UMF and MGO certifications on labels, which can be a useful guide. These are measures and grades of the honey's purity and quality, through a separate industry led standard. UMF is internationally registered, only used by licensed users, and seeks to identify natural unique markers within the honey, like Methyglyoxal, Leptosperin and DHA - found naturally in mānuka honey produced on our home turf.
The presence of certain compounds are graded to allow a comparison of the honey's bacteria-killing power against a standard antiseptic. The antibacterial power will increase as the rating on the jar does (e.g. UMF5+, 10+, 12+, 15+, 18+, 20+) - so for more therapeutic bang for your buck, go for a higher UMF value.
Hot lemon, honey and ginger tea:
Soothe a tickly throat with the classic hot lemon, honey and ginger beverage. This natural brew is synonymous with fighting the bugs and for good reason - each ingredient is selected for its therapeutic natural properties. On the mānuka honey front there is lab-based evidence to suggest high-grade mānuka - for example, PURITI’s
UMF 15+, 18+ and 20+ - efficiently inhibits influenza virus replication, helping reduce inflammation and soothe the lining of the throat. This highlights the antimicrobial properties of this unique product - used effectively even in wound dressings!
Mānuka can be used in baking to both sweeten and add depth of flavour. However, with its viscous sticky texture and flavour, it's not a 1:1 swap. Instead sub a half - ¾ cup honey for every one cup of sugar, and reduce the liquids by ¼ cup for each cup of sugar replaced. As honey caramelises, and so can burn faster than sugar, aim to turn down your oven by about 20 degrees and keep an eye on your dish towards the end of baking time.
Despite both being concentrated sugar sources, mānuka honey has a varying nutritional composition to white sugar - it contains fructose and glucose suspended in water (the higher amounts of fructose the reason less is needed when sweetening!) and trace amounts of a wide variety of vitamins and mineral, like magnesium, zinc and iron.
Honey isn't just for sweet dishes! It can enrich and add subtle flavours to many savoury dishes, working well in marinades to help tenderise meat as it cooks.
Nutritionally, mānuka honey is rich in several important antioxidants, like flavonoids and phenolics. Antioxidants are compounds that help fight disease-causing free radicals, reducing our risk of oxidative cell damage. The antioxidant properties of mānuka has sparked animal-based research to further explore its impacts - and has been shown to exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to significantly reduce gastric ulcers.
Danijela Unkovich is a registered nutritionist working across community, clinical and corporate wellness in Auckland. She is culinary-trained, and runs the recipe blog Healthy Always.