From Manuka to Jarrah: Exploring Australia’s Finest Honeys

Australia, a land of diverse landscapes and climates, offers a unique environment for beekeeping and honey production. Renowned for its pristine natural habitats and rich floral diversity, Australia has emerged as a leading producer of some of the world’s most sought-after honey. This article aims to shed light on the many facets of Australian honey, from its production and types to its international appeal and unique qualities.

Australia has the Ideal Climate and Environment for Honey Production
Australia’s vast and varied climate zones, ranging from tropical in the north to temperate in the south, provide an almost year-round flowering cycle of different plants and trees. This continuous bloom allows Australian bees to collect nectar throughout the year, making Australia one of the few countries with such a prolonged honey production season. Regions such as Tasmania in the South, known for its leatherwood honey, and the lush forests of New South Wales and Queensland in the North, where Manuka and eucalyptus trees abound, are prime examples of Australia’s ideal beekeeping environments.

Global Standing of Australian Honey
Australian honey is highly regarded on the international stage for its quality, purity, and unique flavours. When compared to other honeys worldwide, Australian honey is highly sought after and ranks at the top, particularly honey varieties like Manuka, Leatherwood, and Jarrah. These honeys are not only prized for their taste but also for their medicinal properties. The clean, pollution-free environments where these bees forage contribute to the high quality of the honey produced.

Regions of Production
Honey production in Australia spans across its states and territories, each region specializing in different types of honey due to its unique flora. Tasmania is famous for its Leatherwood honey, Western Australia for Jarrah and Karri honeys, and the coastal regions of New South Wales and Queensland for their Manuka honey. Each region’s distinct ecosystem contributes to the specific type of honey produced.

Beekeeping in Australia
Australia boasts a vibrant community of beekeepers, from individual hobbyists to large commercial operators. The number of apiarists in Australia is estimated to be in the thousands, with a significant portion engaged in commercial production to meet both domestic and international demand. These beekeepers are crucial in managing hives, ensuring the health of the bees, and harvesting the honey with care to preserve its natural qualities.

Types of Honey Produced
Australia produces a wide variety of honey, each with its unique flavour profile influenced by the local flora. Our most famous honey includes

• Manuka Honey: Known for its medicinal properties, Australian Manuka honey is produced from the nectar of the Leptospermum species. It is highly sought after for its antibacterial and health-enhancing properties (refer section below on medicinal honey).

• Leatherwood Honey: Unique to Tasmania, Leatherwood honey is valued for its distinctive spicy flavour and aromatic properties.

• Jarrah and Karri Honeys: Produced in Western Australia, these honeys are known for their high antimicrobial activity and thick consistency.

• Eucalyptus Honey: With a slightly herbal flavour, this honey is harvested from the numerous eucalyptus species across Australia.

Raw vs Processed Honey
Raw honey is honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling, or straining, without adding heat. It retains all the natural vitamins, enzymes, and other nutritional elements. Processed honey, on the other hand, has been heated and filtered, sometimes diluting its natural benefits. Australian raw honey is particularly valued for its purity and unprocessed qualities.

Exports and International Appeal
Australia exports honey to numerous countries, with significant markets in Asia, Europe, and North America. Australian honey’s reputation for quality and purity, particularly Manuka honey, drives its international appeal. The demand for Australian honey continues to grow as consumers worldwide seek natural and healthful food products.

Distinguishing Qualities of Australian Honey
What sets Australian honey apart is its traceability and purity, attributed to the country’s stringent quality control measures and the unspoiled nature of its production environments. The unique biodiversity of Australia’s flora contributes to the distinctive flavours and medicinal properties of its honey, making it a product of not just agricultural effort but also of the natural bounty of the land.
Australian honey stands as a testament to the country’s rich natural heritage and beekeeping expertise. From the medicinal Manuka to the uniquely flavoured Leatherwood, each variety tells a story of its origin, reflecting the landscapes and ecosystems of Australia.

Australia’s World Famous Medicinal Honey
Manuka honey in Australia is primarily produced in regions where the Leptospermum species, particularly Leptospermum scoparium, naturally grow. These areas include various parts of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland. The distribution of the Leptospermum plants is widespread across the coastal regions and into some inland areas of these states, providing the necessary flora for the production of Manuka honey with its distinctive medicinal properties.
The Australian Manuka honey industry benefits from the country’s diverse climate and ecological conditions, which support a wide range of Leptospermum species. This diversity potentially offers a broader spectrum of Manuka honey with varying levels of Methylglyoxal (MGO), the compound largely responsible for the honey’s unique antibacterial properties.
Australian producers are increasingly recognizing the value of Manuka honey and are investing in research and development to identify and promote the unique characteristics of their product. Australian Manuka honey is gaining a reputation for its quality and effectiveness, contributing to the global market for this sought-after variety.

Manuka honey is graded based on its Unique Manuka Factor (UMF™) or Methylglyoxal (MGO) content, which indicates its antibacterial strength. The grades range from UMF 5+ (low activity) to UMF 20+ (very high activity), with higher numbers reflecting higher levels of antibacterial compounds. This grading system helps consumers choose honey based on its medicinal quality. The main difference between MGO and UMF™ is that MGO only measures the methylglyoxal element in Manuka honey and its potency. UMF™ measures three chemical compounds found in Manuka honey: dihydroxyacetone (DHA), leptosperin and methylglyoxal. An MGO rating is a standardised measure of methyglyoxal content and is an indicator of quality. UMF™ is a complete, advanced grading system, it is a purer indicator; but MGO is simpler and more straightforward to test. Therefore, one is not more reliable than another.

Manuka honey is renowned for its medicinal properties and the specific illnesses and diseases it can positively impact. It is derived from the nectar of the Leptospermum plant native to Australia and New Zealand, contains unique antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. This makes it a sought-after natural remedy for a variety of health issues. However, it’s crucial to note that while Manuka honey has been shown to support health in various ways, it should not be considered a cure-all or a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment. Below are some of the areas where Manuka honey has been traditionally used or shown promise in scientific studies:

  1. Wound Healing and Skin Repair: Manuka honey is widely used in wound care due to its potent antibacterial properties and ability to promote a moist wound environment, which can aid in faster healing. It has been used to treat minor cuts, burns, and ulcers, including diabetic foot ulcers.
  2. Digestive Health: There is evidence to suggest that Manuka honey can help soothe the digestive tract, relieve symptoms of disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and reduce inflammation in the colon. Its antibacterial properties may also combat harmful bacteria in the gut, such as Helicobacter pylori, linked to stomach ulcers.
  3. Sore Throats and Immunity: The antiviral and antibacterial properties of Manuka honey make it effective in soothing sore throats and potentially reducing the duration of colds. Its anti-inflammatory effects can also relieve discomfort and help in the recovery process.
  4. Oral Health: Manuka honey has been found to inhibit the growth of harmful oral bacteria that cause gingivitis and tooth decay. Its antimicrobial properties may help reduce plaque formation and promote overall oral hygiene when used in moderation.
  5. Skin Conditions: Due to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities, Manuka honey can be beneficial in the treatment of various skin conditions, including acne and eczema. It helps reduce infection and inflammation, promoting skin healing.
  6. Respiratory Infections: Some research suggests that Manuka honey could help relieve symptoms of respiratory infections due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. However, more research is needed in this area.

The effectiveness of Manuka honey in treating these conditions can vary based on its quality, specifically the UMF™ (Unique Manuka Factor) or MGO (Methylglyoxal) rating, which indicates its antibacterial strength. Higher-rated Manuka honey is generally considered more effective for medicinal use.
While Manuka honey shows promise in supporting the treatment of these health issues, it’s not a standalone cure and should be used as part of a broader approach to health and wellness, considering the advice of healthcare professionals. Additionally, individuals with allergies to bees or honey, as well as infants under one year old, should avoid honey due to the risk of allergic reactions and infant botulism, respectively.

Australia’s Honey Producers
In exploring the diverse and rich world of Australian honey, we highlight some of the country’s honey producers, each contributing uniquely to the tapestry of Australian apiculture. These companies, ranging from small family-run operations to larger entities, are known for their commitment to quality, sustainability, and the production of distinct honey varieties that reflect the essence of Australia’s unique flora:

Cooloola Bee Company: Based in the picturesque Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Queensland, their bee hives produce some of Australia’s finest Euculyptus Honey that captures the essence of the Cooloola region. Their range includes pure, natural top grade Australian honey, celebrated for its authenticity and quality.

Honey for Life: A Western Australian company, Honey for Life is especially known for its Jarrah and Marri honeys. These honeys are sought after for their medicinal properties and distinctively rich flavours, rooted in the unique ecosystems of Western Australia. Honey For Life’s honey boasts some of the highest MGO and TA levels in the world, making it an incredibly potent antibacterial and antimicrobial agent.

Honey of Noosa: A family-owned business based in Noosa, Queensland specializing in Manuka honey. Honey of Noosa is known for its pure, raw honey harvested from pristine environments, capturing the untouched beauty of the region.

KI Living Honey: Kangaroo Island Living Honey is a family owned and operated bee farm which produces raw organic honey and honey products. Kangaroo Island was proclaimed a Ligurian Bee Sanctuary in 1885, KI Living Honey are proud to be the protectors of the only pure strain of Ligurian Bees left in the world. Kangaroo Island is one of the few places left in the world where healthy queen bees can be bred and exported to countries around the world to help maintain their hives.

Sublime Honey: Sublime Honey offers an exquisite collection of raw and natural honey, harvested from the lush landscapes of the Port Macquarie area and the Illawarra region. Their honey is celebrated for its rich, multifaceted flavors and nutritional benefits, derived from the diverse flora of the region.

Swan Valley Honey: Located in the Swan Valley region of Western Australia, this company offers honey that is as natural as the scenery it comes from. Their specialty lies in single origin honey that retains all its natural vitamins, enzymes, and propolis, thanks to minimal processing. Favourite varieties are Karri Honey, Jarrah Honey, Redgum Honey, Mallee Honey, Floral Honey, Wildflower Honey, Yate Honey.

The Tasmania Honey Company: Founded on the principle of sustainability and respect for nature, The Tasmania Honey Company produces some of the purest honey, including the rare Leatherwood honey. Their products are a testament to Tasmania’s pristine environment and biodiversity.

Each of these companies brings something special to the table, whether it’s the unique floral sources they harvest from, their commitment to sustainable and ethical beekeeping practices, or the exceptional quality of their honey. Their contributions not only enrich the Australian honey market but also place Australian honey on the world stage as a premium product. The distinct flavours, medicinal qualities, and pure, unprocessed nature of their honey make them sought after both domestically and internationally.

Cost and Process of Producing Honey in Australia
Producing honey in Australia involves a series of meticulous steps, beginning with the careful management of bee hives in locations where bees can access abundant nectar sources. Australian beekeepers often move their hives to follow the bloom of different flowers throughout the seasons, ensuring a consistent supply of nectar. This practice, known as migratory beekeeping, adds to the cost but is essential for producing varied and unique honeys such as Manuka, Leatherwood, and others.
The costs associated with honey production in Australia are influenced by several factors, including hive maintenance, bee health management, labour, transportation, and processing. Bee health is a paramount concern, with challenges such as pests, diseases, and climate change impacts necessitating ongoing investment in biosecurity measures. Additionally, the commitment to producing honey in more natural and sustainable ways, while ensuring the highest quality, can increase production costs.
Once harvested, the honey is extracted from the hive, filtered, and sometimes minimally processed to retain its natural properties before packaging. The emphasis on minimal processing and maintaining organic or bio-active qualities, particularly for medicinal honeys like Manuka, can further elevate production costs.

Comparing Australian honey to the World
Australian honey is often priced higher than other countries, primarily due to its premium quality, unique floral sources, and the costs associated with sustainable and ethical production practices. The country’s strict biosecurity laws and the remote, pristine environments that contribute to the purity and distinct flavours of Australian honey also add to the cost. However, these factors are precisely what make Australian honey valued and highly sought after globally.
Despite the higher price point, Australian honey remains competitive on the world stage, especially in markets that value quality, purity, and traceability. Australian honeys, particularly specialty products like Manuka, command high prices not just domestically but also internationally, driven by their renowned medicinal properties and the increasing consumer preference for natural and healthful foods.
In comparison to other major honey-producing countries, Australia does not compete on volume or price but rather on niche markets and the premium segment. Countries like China, Argentina, and Ukraine are among the top honey producers globally and often offer honey at lower prices due to economies of scale and different production standards. However, Australian honey stands apart for its unique attributes and quality assurances, appealing to a segment of the market willing to pay a premium for these characteristics.
While the cost of producing honey in Australia may be higher than in some other countries, leading to a higher retail price, the quality, uniqueness, and purity of Australian honey make it competitive on a global scale. Australia’s honey industry thrives not by competing on price but by distinguishing itself through the exceptional quality and distinctiveness of its products, catering to a growing demand for premium, natural, and health-enhancing foods worldwide.

Based on the latest available data, the top ten (10) honey-producing countries in the world are ranked as follows, along with their annual production volumes:

  1. China: Leading the world with an impressive annual production of 485,960 tonnes. China’s diverse climate and vast landscapes contribute to its top position in honey production.
  2. Turkey: Follows as the second-largest producer with 96,344 tonnes. Turkey benefits from its rich biodiversity and favourable beekeeping conditions.
  3. Iran: Standing third with 77,152 tonnes, Iran’s production benefits from its varied climates and a long tradition of beekeeping.
  4. Argentina: Fourth in line with 71,318 tonnes, Argentina’s production is mostly from the fertile Pampas region, known for its agricultural productivity.
  5. Ukraine: Produces 68,558 tonnes, making it the largest producer in Europe and known for its quality honey.
  6. India: With 66,278 tonnes, India’s diverse flora contributes to its significant honey production.
  7. Russia: Produces 64,533 tonnes, benefiting from vast territories with rich natural resources for beekeeping.
  8. Mexico: Has an annual production of 62,080 tonnes, leveraging its unique flora and fauna for varied honey production.
  9. United States: Produces 57,364 tonnes, with its large scale and diverse climates supporting honey production across different states.
  10. Brazil: Rounds out the top ten with 55,828 tonnes, where its tropical climate and biodiversity are advantageous for honey production.

These figures highlight the global scale of honey production and the significance of each country’s geographical and climatic conditions in determining their output. China’s dominant production is attributed to its vast landmass and variety of climates, enabling a broad spectrum of beekeeping practices. Countries like Argentina and Ukraine also contribute significantly, with their rich agricultural landscapes providing ideal conditions for beekeeping.
While Australia is known for its high-quality honey, especially Manuka honey, it ranks 27th in terms of production volume with 11,403 tonnes. This places emphasis on the quality and unique properties of Australian honey over quantity, distinguishing it in the global market for its premium products.
These production volumes demonstrate the diversity and richness of honey production around the world, influenced by geographical, environmental, and cultural factors unique to each country.

The World’s Best Tasting Honey?
Determining the “best tasting honey in the world” is highly subjective, as taste preferences vary greatly among individuals. Honey’s flavour, colour, and texture can significantly differ depending on the flowers from which bees collect nectar, as well as regional climate conditions and beekeeping practices. However, several types of honey are frequently celebrated for their unique and superior appealing tastes:

  1. Manuka Honey – Produced in Australia, Manuka honey is renowned not just for its medicinal properties but also for its distinct, rich flavour that has a strong, earthy, and slightly bitter taste.
  2. Sourwood Honey – Coming from the sourwood tree blossoms in the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States, this honey is highly prized for its unique buttery, spicy flavour with a light caramel aftertaste.
  3. Tupelo Honey – Sourced from the white Ogeechee tupelo tree in the Southeastern United States, particularly in the swamps of Georgia and Florida. It is known for its very light, delicate taste with a hint of a floral aroma. Tupelo honey is also valued for its high fructose content, which prevents it from crystallizing.
  4. Sidr Honey – Harvested from the nectar of the Sidr tree in Yemen and some parts of Pakistan and Iran. It is highly sought after for its rich, luxurious flavour, thick consistency, and health benefits. Sidr honey has a unique taste that is often described as having a buttery texture with hints of caramel and citrus.
  5. Leatherwood Honey – Exclusive to Tasmania, Australia, this honey comes from the nectar of the leatherwood tree found in the island’s rainforests. Leatherwood honey has a distinctive spicy and floral flavour that is quite different from more traditional honeys.
  6. Acacia Honey – While produced in various parts of the world, including Europe and North America, Acacia honey is especially appreciated for its clear, almost transparent colour and incredibly mild, sweet, floral flavour. It’s one of the most popular honey varieties globally due to its sweetness and versatility.
  7. Lavender Honey – Primarily produced in France, Spain, and Italy, lavender honey is highly appreciated for its delicate floral taste with a hint of citrus and a pleasant lavender scent. It’s often considered one of the finest gourmet honeys.

The “best tasting” honey ultimately depends on personal taste preferences and what you are looking for in honey – whether it’s for health benefits, culinary uses, or simply enjoying it as a sweet treat. These honeys each offer a unique tasting experience reflective of their diverse floral sources and the regions they are produced in.