Surrounded by gorgeous bays, beautiful mountains, and unbelievably blue lakes, life in New Zealand is pretty sweet. Local beekeepers channel taiao, the interconnection of people and nature, into unique honeys distributed—and enjoyed—throughout the world.
Bees make honey by extracting nectar from flowering plants and storing the foraged liquid in honeycombs back at the hive—so terroir plays a huge role in its flavor and quality. In New Zealand, bees have a wonderfully clean environment filled with native plants found nowhere else in the world.
Kaitiakitanga, or caring, and manaakitanga, or respect, are inextricably woven into New Zealand’s honey-producing apiculture. But ingenuity also inspires beekeepers to balance the wonders of nature with the marvels of technology, carefully processing the best texture and taste. These honey artisans have learned from tradition and moved forward with innovation.
New Zealand honey is delicious and naturally sweet, and it has remarkable natural properties. Here’s why.
Mary Bumby, an English beekeeper and sister of a Methodist missionary, arrived in New Zealand after a six-month ocean voyage. She had managed to keep her two skeps (woven baskets) of honeybees alive on the journey, and she established an apiary in the low-lying fields surrounding her brother’s mission, along the eastern shore of the North Island, where mānuka bushes flourished.
The first commercial production of honey is thought to have begun in the late 1870s. Māori were early adopters of beekeeping and developed practices based on their own tikanga (principles). There are also many family-based companies that have been beekeeping for generations. This strong tradition means that New Zealanders have a deep understanding of the connection between their bees, their natural resources, and their unique honeys.
An international market for New Zealand honey materialized in the 1980s, when New Zealand biochemist Dr. Peter Molan confirmed the antibacterial properties unique to the nectar produced. (Māori have had a long relationship with mānuka—they call it taonga, “treasure,” and have discovered many uses for it, from food to medicine and all manner of tools and artifacts.)
Mānuka honey became an international sensation. The terms UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) and—later—MGO were established as a mark of quality, and registered in key consumer markets. Mānuka honey that is licensed to use these quality marks is often a part of popular alternative health and wellness routines in the United States.
In August 2009, Bee Aware Month (BAM) was launched by New Zealand’s minister of agriculture.
The scientific definition of New Zealand mānuka honey was established, requiring all exported honey to pass government lab tests for authenticity—so consumers in the United States can be confident that they're purchasing genuine mānuka honey.
In a highly productive honey season, New Zealand produced an estimated 25,353 tons of honey, a record crop for the industry. As of this season, there were 9,282 registered beekeepers in New Zealand, and 918,026 registered hives (as of June 2019). The United States is a top export market for New Zealand pure honey products.
Obtaining pure mānuka honey is a specialized task for beekeepers; mānuka honey is difficult to extract, as it is collected only at certain times of the year and has a limited harvest period.
Mānuka honey can be produced only in areas abundant with native mānuka blossoms, which is why hives are located in some of the most remote, untouched parts of New Zealand.
Mānuka honey is highly valued throughout the world for its rare and complex properties. It contains fructose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose, and has virtually no fat, fiber, or protein.
Honeybees communicate with each other by dancing! By wiggling their behinds, they can tell each other the distance and direction of food.
New Zealand is renowned for its delicious, high-quality honey, gathered from beehives to the north and the south, in mountain highlands and low-lying pastures. Every New Zealand honey tells a different story and has a different flavor unique to its environment.
Consequently, the country produces a diverse and varied range, from pale, mild creamed honeys to the full-flavoured mānuka and bush honeys.
New Zealand produces many honeys that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, such as:
Mānuka is a small flowering tree that grows throughout New Zealand and is a relative of the tea tree. Honey produced from mānuka nectar is distinctive and fragrant.
Another botanical in the tea tree family, kānuka is a tall flowering tree. Its nectar has been said to promote healthy skin.
Native to the Southern Alps, kāmahi is an evergreen shrub that produces a light amber-colored honey filled with minerals.
Found primarily in the North Island close to the sea, pōhutukawa is part of the myrtle family and produces honey with notes of fleur de sel.
Known for its distinctive red blooms, the flowers of rātā trees produce a thick and creamy honey with a unique flavor.
Endemic to the North Island’s valley forests and Marlborough Sounds, rewarewa is an evergreen tree. Its honey is rich in antioxidants.
Rosehip and orange
Native to the north side of the North Island, this bushy tree with white flowers creates a deep, golden-hued honey.
For generations, the famous mānuka plant has been used by Māori as a natural medicine to treat wounds and burns, soothe digestion, and help reduce inflammation. Its honey is the most popular New Zealand product exported to the U.S.
There are strict regulations ensuring the authenticity of mānuka honey exported from New Zealand.
Studies have found that mānuka honey may:
New Zealand honey can be monofloral, or single-origin nectar, or multifloral—made from several sources.
Many New Zealand beehives are in pristine wilderness. Some hives are so remote, you can only access them by hike or by helicopter.
Using world-first tracking and tracing systems you can travel to the very beehives your honey came from while sitting at the kitchen table.
You can taste and trace your New Zealand honey right to the hive, the flower or the field with New Zealand honey companies’ unique tracking and tracing capabilities.
Chefs around the world seek out New Zealand honey for its distinctive flavor profiles. Try New Zealand honey in any of these ways—or make your own creation:
Add a spoonful of mānuka honey to a hot tea or toddy
Add creamed clover honey to a classic peanut butter sandwich
Homemade mānuka honey ice cream
To find out where you can purchase delicious New Zealand honey for your own kitchen, check out the list of stockists here.
Mānuka is made by bees that pollinate the mānuka flower, which is native to New Zealand and blooms just two to six weeks per year.
New Zealand apiarists are proud bee guardians, or kaitiaki pi, and have a duty to care for the health and wellness of the bees and their surrounding environment. The New Zealand honey industry is driven by a passion for exemplary beekeeping.
New Zealand has strict biosecurity measures in place and carefully monitors bee health. The country’s annual beekeeper survey has the greatest participation rate in the world. They mind their beeswax!
New Zealand honey is protected by rigorous standards and regulations overseen by the New Zealand government. These rules ensure that the honey is authentic and true to label. New Zealand honey is GE-free and has no antibiotics.