Finding the Australian honey with the best infection fighting properties

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Scientists in Queensland have discovered a new, low-cost way of accurately predicting the antimicrobial properties of honey.

The new technique could provide a cheaper, more accurate and more practical method of determining the therapeutic properties in honey, benefiting beekeepers, processors and consumers.

Dr Yasmina Sultanbawa, at the University of Queensland’s Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, says natural compounds in honeys are known to inhibit Staphylococcus and other bacterial infections such as E.coli.

Honeys derived from a family of Australian and New Zealand plants are of particular interest to scientists.

“When a bee sources nectar from flowering Leptospermum plants, such as jelly bush or manuka, the resulting honey often contains compounds that inhibit microbes, the minute organisms that can cause infection and disease,” Dr Sultanbawa said.

“Scientists have developed ways to measure some of these properties, mainly in manuka-style honeys, but these have tended to be limited in scope, requiring relatively complex and expensive testing procedures.

“Both consumers and the honey industry want an accurate but inexpensive way of measuring and classifying the range of therapeutic properties in honeys.”

Researchers tested a range of honey samples for antimicrobial activity and found different levels.

The selection included heath (Banksia ericifolia), yellow box (Eucalyptus mellidora), iron bark (Eucalyptus crebra), juniper (Leptospermum juniperinum) and jelly bush (L. polygalifolium) honeys which consistently registered the highest concentration of antimicrobial properties.

Dr Sultanbawa’s team found that exposing honey to light in the mid-infrared range could be used to accurately predict the presence and quantity of methylglyoxal, a key antimicrobial compound in honey.

The research is published in the journal Food Chemistry.

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