One of nature’s most versatile ingredients, manuka honey is just as useful as a sweetener in a hot drink or smoothie as it is in a supplement or the latest must-have beauty product.

Opera singer Katherine Jenkins has said that she adds the ancient ingredient to a homemade drink to relieve a sore throat and help her voice recover after a performance, while Scarlett Johansson uses it as a makeup base.

With so many varied uses, it’s easy to think it sounds too good to be true. Alexander Thompson, nutritionist at Holland and Barrett, told us exactly what it is and what the health benefits are.

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What is it?

Manuka honey is produced by bees in New Zealand from hives near flowering manuka bushes, explains Alexander.

All honey contains hydrogen peroxide, but manuka honey is unique in that it also contains non-peroxide activity. This helps make manuka honey anti-bacterial. Methylglyoxal, another of manuka honey’s components, also adds to its anti-bacterial properties.

In fact, research by the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), the independent industry body for manuka honey, found that over 200 signature compounds, in combination, are unique to authentic manuka honey.

[Read more: Bee decline: 7 ways to encourage bees to your garden]

What are the health benefits?

Manuka honey has been used since ancient times to treat a wide range of ailments.

Its active constituents and natural anti-inflammatory consistency means it has been linked with helping the body to fight off bacteria, combating pain, supporting immunity and boosting complexions.

Fans also report its anti-viral and anti-fungal effects, and say it can help promote a healthy digestive system.

Try adding it to a hot drink or smoothie to reap the health benefits.

How do I know if I’m getting the real deal?

Thinking of adding manuka honey to your basket on your next trip to the shops?

You should ensure that products are bought from reputable suppliers who can provide guarantees regarding the authenticity, potency and labelling method used for the manuka honey products sold.

Over half of the manuka honey available in the UK is estimated to be fake or has been adulterated with other types of honey.

Leading UK nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, says manuka honey is a rare and special type of honey that is unique to New Zealand: “It frustrates me to see people consuming some product that claims to be genuine manuka honey when, in fact, it is no different to the regular honey sitting next to it on the shelf.

“There is so much confusion out there which is why the most important thing people can do is look for the UMF quality mark. By doing so, they can be assured of the authenticity and quality of the product.”

The UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) quality mark can only be applied to genuine manuka honey meeting the UMFHA specification for the signature compounds. The UMF rating indicates the honey’s potency.

Have you tried manuka honey? Tell us in the Comments box below.