Newly published research by IRC-funded PhD student, Saorla Kavanagh, from DCU, supervised by Blanaid White and Jane Stout, has hit the headlines today, with articles in The Irish Times, Independent, Irish Examiner, The Times, and RTE news, and the TCD news page.
By sampling honey from all over Ireland (see map below), we evaluated the physiochemical properties and total phenolic content (TPC) of single vs. multi-floral honey, and compared this with selected international honeys. The story that has hit the headlines is that Irish heather honey has similar total phenolic content as the famous manuka honey from New Zealand. Increased phenolic content has been linked with beneficial antioxidant effects, and manuka honey commands high retail prices due to its alleged health benefits.
However, we only tested three heather and three manuka honey samples. Most of our samples (124) were multi-floral honeys, and we found that those produced by urban bees (55 samples) had a greater TPC than their rural counterparts (69 samples). We also analysed ivy honey for the first time.
Because the botanical origin of honey has the greatest influence on its phenolic content, the availability of food sources (flowers) in the wider landscape influences its potential health benefits. Finding a difference in honey chemistry between urban and rural hives probably reflects the difference in flower availability in urban and rural areas, and raises interesting questions with regards to floral availability and quality across landscapes.
The full paper is published in Food Chemistry.
We are grateful to the Irish Research Council for funding the research, and to the beekeepers across Ireland who donated honey samples.