Rooibos

Rooibos

Rooibos is not for everyone (as the esteemed editor of this fine publication will confirm) but this herbal beverage that’s produced solely in South Africa is beloved by increasing numbers of consumers and has been much in the news lately. Rooibos is also known as redbush, for the deep reddish color of its fine leaves and the resulting liquid. It’s reputed to have a wide range of health benefits, though many of these have yet to be confirmed by actual research.

A large part of the reason for rooibos being in the news so much recently is due to a media blitz, of sorts, by an industry that’s increasing its efforts to remain sustainable and profitable. Though efforts have been made to grow rooibos elsewhere, they have not amounted to much, and the industry remains centered in one small region of southwestern South Africa.

The rooibos industry is currently valued at about $23 billion and growers turn out about 15,000 tons of the stuff annually, with about half of that being consumed at home. The industry’s biggest export customer is the Netherlands. Other countries that import significant amounts of the stuff include Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States. Though local demand in South Africa has actually increased in recent years, demand for exports dropped slightly in the period between 2007 and 2011.

One of the strategies the industry is counting on to help boost business is an international study that’s now underway. It’s being funded by the government of the Netherlands, the biggest customer for rooibos, and managed by the International Trade Centre. The study is designed to determine how the industry can boost rooibos’s export competitiveness.

The industry is also planning to move into India and China and after winning a lengthy lawsuit against an American company is trying to gain geographical indication status to help protect the product name. Examples of other producers who have already gained such status include Champagne and Roquefort Cheese.

For more background on rooibos and a pair of diametrically opposed opinions on the beverage refer to these articles, previously published here and here at The English Tea Store Blog. For some thoughts on what rooibos actually tastes like take a look at the this flavor wheel created by South African researchers.

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