Mānuka Honey Grading Systems

Why is honey graded?


You can find many different kinds of honey on the market, but why aren’t they all the same? Consumers who shop for Mānuka honey want to be confident of its authenticity. Grading validates Mānuka’s potency, authenticity, purity, shelf life, and freshness.


UMF vs USDA honey grading 


 The UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) honey grading systems are two distinct methods for assessing the quality and authenticity of extracted honey, with a particular focus on Mānuka.




UMF™ is a comprehensive, certified, internationally recognized quality assurance system for New Zealand’s Mānuka honey. Honey producers must adhere to this quality system to certify their products as genuine Mānuka.




The USDA grading system covers extracted honey, providing general standards for two honey categories:

  1. Filtered honey: This category encompasses honey from which almost all fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, and other materials typically found in suspension have been removed.
  2. Strained honey: In this category, honey is strained to the extent that most particles, such as comb fragments, propolis, and other defects, are eliminated.


Determining honey grades


The characteristics covered under USDA standards are not dependent on the nutritional value of the honey but are determined by factors such as moisture content, defects, flavor, aroma, and clarity. This is different from the honey grades and standards used to measure the quality of Mānuka honey. 

Following the USDA honey grading standard, businesses, beekeepers, and any honey farmer can grade honey based on the following factors:




The moisture content in honey must stay below 18.6% for grade A and grade B. Grade C honey allows up to 20% moisture content; any higher is categorized as substandard honey.


Aroma and Flavor


Flavor and aroma play a pivotal role in honey grading. Honey free from fermentation, smoke, and chemical smells results in higher grades of honey. Caramelization also earns honey a higher grade. Similarly, these same factors can downgrade the honey's aroma and flavor, leading to lower grades.




Clarity only applies to the filtered style of extracted honey. It examines the honey’s transparency, the number of air bubbles (that do not affect appearance), pollen grains, or other fine particles suspended within the honey. The clearer the honey, the higher it scores on the honey grades scale, with classifications ranging from clear to fairly clear.




The USDA honey grading standard also defines the color of extracted honey, but this isn’t reflected in the grade of honey. Another method used to grade honey color is the “Pfund scale.”

The seven color grades of Mānuka honey are water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber, and dark amber. Usually, darker honey has a bold, strong flavor, while light-colored honey is mild and sweet. Extracted honey color is generally determined by which species of flowers the bees visit. While light-colored honey might be more appealing, darker honey typically boasts superior quality.  




When we talk about the "absence of defects" in extracted honey, we mean the absence of unwanted elements. These include leaf fragments, honeycomb parts, deceased bee parts, and impurities. All these are considered defects and can result in lower honey grades.


What isn’t included in the USDA grading process?

Characteristics not taken into account are purity, added ingredients, contaminants, labeling authenticity (natural, organic, raw, unheated, organic honey), its regional source, biological source (floral, honeydew), or the botanical source (Acacia, Clover, etc.).


The USDA honey grading system 


The USDA set three different grades of honey: Grade A, Grade B, and Grade C. Grocery stores usually sell Grade A and Grade B honey.  


Grade A honey


Grade A is the best honey in quality. It is the highest quality of extracted honey, “practically free” of defects, with a minimum total score of 90 points. Grade A honey has the best flavor and clarity.


Grade B honey 


Grade B is the second-best honey, is “reasonably free” of defects, and has a fairly good minimum total score of 80 points. You’ll likely find this amber honey in small, natural food stores and weekend markets.


Grade C honey 


Grade C is the lowest grade with a light amber color, is “ fairly free” of defects, and has a minimum total score of 70 points. 


UMF® grading standards 


Unlike the USDA, The Honey Association of New Zealand issues the UMF® certification. This marks the quality, purity, and authenticity of Mānuka honey based on the presence of MGO and other signature compounds. Choosing labels with higher ratings ensures you’ll receive maximum health benefits. See our blog for more. 

What does the UMF® Rating measure? More than just a rating number and content claim, the UMF® grading system is a quality trademark that identifies natural, unadulterated Mānuka honey that measures purity and efficacy. 


MGO vs. UMF® — What's the difference?


The terms UMF® and MGO can seem confusing, but understanding them can help you buy the highest quality Mānuka honey.


MGO (Methylglyoxal)


Methylglyoxal is one of the naturally occurring signature compounds found in the nectar of Mānuka flowers and is linked to antibacterial equivalency. Methylglyoxal and a high UMF® rating produce excellent Mānuka honey with the best benefits.


Different extracted Mānuka honey grades 


At Happy Mānuka, we provide various lovingly produced, top-quality raw honey products. We rate them as UMF 5+, UMF 10+, UMF 15+, UMF 18+ and UMF 20+.  

We use the following grading system so you can be sure you are buying a pure and quality product:


Purity measure - Leptosperin 


Leptosperin is a signature compound found in the nectar of the Mānuka flower and is what makes Mānuka unique. As one of Mānuka’s primary authenticity markers, it assures you it has come from natural, unadulterated, natural Mānuka. 


Efficacy measure - Methylglyoxal (MGO) 


MGO gives Mānuka extraordinary benefits and is the honey’s key content measure determining its grade. The higher the MGO levels, the higher the UMF® grade. 


Quality measure - Hydroxymethlfurfural (HMF)


Hydroxymethylfurfural is a pivotal indicator for detecting a product's heat treatment or aging. The HMF content should not exceed 40 milligrams per kilogram. Higher levels can indicate excess heat treatment or that the product was stored at elevated temperatures for long periods. We guarantee that our honey’s HMF measurement will be under 40. 



How can you know your Mānuka honey is genuine? 


Genuine UMF® Mānuka honey must comply with all these six criteria:


  1. It has the quality trademark UMF® image and grading clearly stated on the front label

  1. It is packed in jars and labeled in New Zealand

  1. It is from a New Zealand company licensed to use the UMF® quality mark

  1. It has both the UMF® Licensee's brand name and license number on the front label

  1. It indicates the rating number alongside the UMF® label - a number on its own or without the UMF® mark is not genuine Mānuka honey

  1. It must contain the minimum level of Leptosperin and MGO to be graded Mānuka honey UMF®


      How do I convert MGO to UMF®, and what do the numbers mean?


      Honey must contain DHA (dihydroxyacetone), Methylglyoxal, and Leptosperin to receive a UMF® grading. Refer to our handy chart below to convert MGO to UMF:


      Methylglyoxal (MGO) Level

      UMF® Grade

      ≥83 mg/kg


      ≥263 mg/kg


      ≥514 mg/kg


      ≥696 mg/kg


      ≥829 mg/kg


      ≥1122 mg/kg


      ≥1200 mg/kg


      ≥1282 mg/kg



      Buy honey direct and browse our online store now for the latest offers on the highest quality honey from Happy Mānuka today! All our Mānuka honey products are 100% pure with an aroma, taste, and flavor you will love. We offer reliable domestic and international shipping.