7 things you didn’t know about: Rooibos

Millions are being spent on research into the health benefits of Rooibos tea.
Millions are being spent on research into the health benefits of Rooibos tea.
Image: 123rf/Liv Friis-Larsen

There’s no denying that Rooibos is one of South Africa’s most loved hot beverages of choice.

To celebrate Heritage month, the South Africa Rooibos Council (SARC) has embarked on a campaign to create greater public awareness about the origins of Rooibos, what makes it unique and how to become a connoisseur.

If you’re keen to brush up on your knowledge of the red bush, here are some seven facts you might not know about it.

1. When the flowers bloom in spring, so does Rooibos

Every spring the Rooibos bush is covered in beautiful tiny yellow flowers, which after pollination form a seedpod with a single seed inside. That tiny seed is sown between February and March each year and it takes roughly about 18 months before the bush can be harvested for the first time.

2. It can only be grown eMzansi

In 2014, Rooibos received geographical indicator (GI) status, which means that tea can only be called Rooibos if it comes from a defined area in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape. Although farmers have tried to grow it elsewhere in the world, the climate, soil and conditions aren’t conducive. As a result, this proudly South African product is exported to more than 30 countries across the globe.

3. Tried and tested for your satisfaction

The purity of Rooibos is also a tightly controlled process. From the time the crop is harvested to when it is pasteurised, various tests are conducted to guarantee that every single cup (no matter which brand you drink) is 100% pure.

4. The plant is the height of the average human

Rooibos grows up to 1.5 m in height and has thin branches that carry bright green, needle-like leaves.

5. It takes 8 – 12 hours to ferment what you make in a minute

Once the crop has been harvested, it is cut to lengths of between 1.5mm and 5mm. The cuttings are then bruised and moistened to 60% after which fermentation takes place for 8 to 12 hours at a temperature of between 34°C – 38°C. During this process the characteristic aroma and red colour develops. Rooibos is then spread thinly on concrete drying yards to dry. Once this process is complete, the tea is sorted and graded by length, colour, flavour and taste before being pasteurised by steam.

6. Rooibos is over a century old

This year, Rooibos tea celebrates its 115th anniversary as a branded product. The first Rooibos brand was launched by Benjamin Ginsberg from his general dealer shop in Clanwilliam and is still sold today.

7. Packed with goodness

Each cup of Rooibos tea is packed with healthy flavonoids, including aspalathin – a powerful antioxidant unique to the plant. Rooibos is also caffeine-free, low in tannins and contains no fat or proteins and is therefore kilojoule-free. Up to six cups can be enjoyed daily.