Rooi­bos tea does boost your health

Anna-Marie Smith re­ports on the re­sults of sci­en­tific re­search into the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects of this pop­u­lar South African bev­er­age

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THIS in­dige­nous zero caf­feine bev­er­age of two flavours — the tra­di­tional red and un­fer­mented green va­ri­eties of the fyn­bos species as­palathus lin­earis — is the only plant to con­tain the an­tiox­i­dant as­palathin and has grown in the Western Cape Cedar­berg re­gion for 300 years.

Not only is rooi­bos tea’s an­tiox­i­dant po­tency in hu­mans a proved sci­en­tific fact, it is also the only seg­ment of the lo­cal tea mar­ket show­ing com­mer­cial growth.

This re­mark­able plant that has only been farmed since 1930 is gain­ing in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­ity, show­ing ex­port growth to more than 30 coun­tries, in­creas­ing from just un­der 2 000 tonnes in 1999, to just over 6 000 tonnes last year, with an an­nual GDP con­tri­bu­tion of R500m.

Al­though more rooi­bos tea is con­sumed abroad, in SA’s prov­inces Gaut­eng leads at 35,4%, fol­lowed by Lim­popo and Mpumalanga at 24,4%, Western Cape 14,4%, KwaZulu-Natal 11,6%, East­ern Cape 7,5% and North­ern Cape and Free State 6,7%.

For those as­pir­ing to a health­ier life­style the at­trac­tion lies in the knowl­edge of the tea’s pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits. The SA Rooi­bos Coun­cil’s an­nual in­vest­ment of R1m in re­search­ing the health prop­er­ties of rooi­bos has as­sisted sci­en­tists in prov­ing that the ac­tive com­pounds in rooi­bos are bioavail­able and metabolised (con­verted) in the body.

A col­lab­o­ra­tive study by sci­en­tists at four in­ter­na­tional re­search fa­cil­i­ties has found the first clin­i­cal ev­i­dence that drink­ing rooi­bos tea sig­nif­i­cantly in­creases the an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity in hu­man blood, boost­ing the body’s nat­u­ral de­fences. An­tiox­i­dants bind with free rad­i­cals, pre­vent­ing them from dam­ag­ing cells and caus­ing can­cer, or ox­i­dis­ing with choles­terol to clog blood ves­sels re­sult­ing in heart attacks or strokes.

Re­searchers in Rome and Glas­gow found that the an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity in the blood of 15 healthy vol­un­teers peaked an hour af­ter drink­ing 500ml of rooi­bos tea. Both tra­di­tional and green rooi­bos had a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect.

“Af­ter an hour, the plasma an­tiox­i­dant lev­els start to drop and that is why we rec­om­mend drink­ing up to six cups of rooi­bos spaced through­out the day for a sus­tained health ben­e­fit,” says Pro­fes­sor Jeanine Marnewick, of the Cape Penin­sula Uni­ver­sity of Technology.

Pro­fes­sor Lizette Jou­bert, one of SA’s lead­ing rooi­bos re­searchers, work­ing on the qual­ity and chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of rooi­bos at SA’s Agri­cul­tural Re­search Coun­cil, says: “This new re­search proves that the com­pounds in rooi­bos are po­tent enough to have a mea­sur­able ef­fect on the an­tiox­i­dant ca­pac­ity of the blood.”

Mien­tjie Mou­ton, chair­man of the prod­uct re­search com­mit­tee of the SA Rooi­bos Coun­cil, says this study un­der­lines the value of rooi­bos as a widely avail­able and af­ford­able source of di­etary an­tiox­i­dants.

“It is very en­cour­ag­ing that lead­ing re­search in­sti­tu­tions around the world are work­ing on rooi­bos and pro­duc­ing such promis­ing re­sults.

“There is also a great deal of work be­ing done by lo­cal rooi­bos re­searchers, and we will con­tinue to in­vest in this re­search.”

This year the coun­cil is sup­port­ing re­search projects at sev­eral lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties and sci­ence coun­cils fo­cus­ing on how rooi­bos can counter can­cer and stress, as well as the link be­tween rooi­bos and ex­er­cise. A project on rooi­bos and obe­sity has been ap­proved for fund­ing next year.

An­other devel­op­ment is the newly launched rooi­bos wel­come cam­paign that is gain­ing mo­men­tum on the back of the tea’s in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised sci­en­tific sta­tus and which the SA Rooi­bos Coun­cil is pro­mot­ing as SA’s na­tional ges­ture of wel­come.

A study at the Uni­ver­sity of Stel­len­bosch found that ac­cord­ing to a spe­cially de­vel­oped flavour wheel Rooi­bos’s in­dige­nous aroma and taste is best en­joyed in a freshly brewed cup of hot tea or in a re­ju­ve­nat­ing glass of iced tea.

The SA Rooi­bos Coun­cil is in the process of reg­is­ter­ing rooi­bos as a geo­graphic in­di­ca­tor for its spe­cific geo­graphic area, sim­i­lar to Cham­pagne in France. If suc­cess­ful, this will be a first for SA.

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