Honey tests could save millions

JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014
Hill Laboratories instruments team leader Ashleigh Jacques with the new UPLA machine
Supplied

HONEY: Hill Laboratories instruments team leader Ashleigh Jacques with the new UPLA machine.

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A new manuka testing method could save the honey industry millions of dollars a year.

Analytical testing company Hill Laboratories has bought a new machine for its testing lab at Waikato Innovation Park. The ultra performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) instrument prepares the honey sample, turns it into liquid form, and performs three tests on it.

Hill Laboratories marketing manager Martin Brock said the old testing system was much more time-consuming and expensive. "One honey sample would be used on three different machines, taking half an hour. This new piece of equipment can do three tests at a time and it takes only seven minutes."

The tests used to cost $105 each, or $315 for all three, but "this new three-in-one can do it for $70".

Hill Laboratories is the biggest honey testing lab in New Zealand, performing thousands of tests every year for a variety of clients. Brock said testing requirements vary wildly in different honey producers and sellers. "It could [save] hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the operation."

The test checks for what the industry calls "manuka factor" in the honey. This is an indicator of antibacterial activity, used to determine whether honey is pure manuka or a blend.

Manuka honey has medicinal properties and sells for 10 to 20 times more than other types of honey. Manuka exports are estimated to earn New Zealand up to $120 million a year. Testing and certification guarantees the manuka content.

The antibacterial compounds being tested for in this case are methylglyoxal (MGO) and dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

The Manuka Suite also tests for hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which shows if the honey has been heated or cooled.

Brock said significant temperature change alters the chemical balance of honey.

"That's not something that's really encouraged."

He said the savings made by honey producers and sellers should be passed on to customers. 

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