A consumer’s guide to New Zealand Manuka Oil
The three natural health jewels of the Pacific
Australia and New Zealand have a historically deep commitment to natural health. Traditions of native peoples were transferred to the European settlers and were subsequently adopted by people around the world.
The most famous natural health products of the Pacific are Manuka Honey and Manuka Oil from New Zealand, and Tea Tree Oil from Australia. At Koru Naturals we carry both Manuka Honey and Manuka Oil from Te Araroa, in the East Cape region of New Zealand.
As with any other natural product, an educated consumer is key to making informed purchase decisions and fighting adulteration and omissions of critical information (1).
In the last few years we have seen a significant increase in the level of awareness of quality issues with Manuka Honey. Now most U.S. consumers know that they have to get UMF® certified honeys, and they have to ask pointed questions about storage conditions. For Manuka Oil, however, the awareness is lacking, mainly because it’s a fairly new product for the U.S. and there is quite a bit of chemistry involved in the understanding of quality. But, if you are interested in Manuka Oil, and you should be because it’s a wonderful product preferred by aromatherapists and natural health people, please bear with us as we tell you what questions to ask before buying.
Triketones tell the story
All essential oils contain compounds that serve as chemical markers for purity. For example, two chemical markers for peppermint are menthofuran and viridifloral, which can be used to detect adulteration (2). For Manuka Oil the markers are a family of compounds called triketones, primarily ß-triketones that are unique to Manuka oil, the main ones being leptospermone and isoleptospermone (1, 3, 4).
As with other essential oils, geography and climate make a difference. Although Manuka trees grow all over New Zealand, the type (known as chemotype) that grows in the East Cape has the highest triketone content, and is therefore the best for extracting Manuka Oil (4).
There are two main producers of Manuka Oil in the East Cape: Natural Solutions from Te Araroa, which supplies our oil, and the New Zealand Manuka Group from Gisborne, which sells under the brand Melora and also supplies oil in bulk to companies in the U.S. Both companies produce excellent oil and comply with the basic requirement of listing the triketone content on the label. Natural Solutions simply lists the minimum percentage on the label. For example, our current oil has at least 41% triketones, so it’s labeled 40%+. The New Zealand Manuka Group has developed a more complicated nomenclature to provide the same information: MβTK™, which stands for MANUKA OIL ßeta TRIKETONES. So, for example, a Manuka Oil produced by this firm with at least 10% triketones would be labeled MβTK™ 10+ (5).
Both the Natural Solutions and the Melora oils are bottled in New Zealand, which provides a high level of confidence on quality and integrity. The same cannot be said for Manuka Oils bottled in the U.S. Many U.S. sellers don’t even disclose the triketone content of their products or whether they have been diluted. For the Manuka Essential Oils that are imported in bulk and bottled in the U.S. there are some important questions to ask to avoid buying adulterated oils:
- Is the oil bottled in facilities equipped to handle essential oils or it’s done in someone’s kitchen, basement, or garage?
- Is the oil sent for analysis after bottling?
- Is the equipment used appropriate for handling manuka oil?
- What was the triketone content of the bulk oil, and what is the content after bottling?
Given the long history of adulteration of valuable essential oils, we recommend buying Manuka Oil exclusively from sources that can be trusted, with particular emphasis on transparency regarding the levels of triketones and the reliability of the bottling operation. Manuka Oils bottled at the source in New Zealand offer the best assurance of integrity.