Implications of the Rooibos GI/PDO certification

What does it mean to be GI/PDO certified? The excerpts below explain the technicalities behind the certification, and why it is so important for our product and for South Africa.

Protection of the name ‘rooibos’

The name of ‘Rooibos’/’Red Bush’ can only be used to refer to the dried leaves and stems of 100 % pure ‘Rooibos’/’Red Bush’ – derived from Aspalathus linearis and that has been cultivated or wild-harvested in the geographic area as described in this application.

‘Rooibos’/’Red Bush’ is presented in two forms: a) oxidised and b) green (unoxidised) dried leaves and stems of Aspalathus linearis.

Specific production procedures in the identified geographical area

The age-old tradition of local seed gatherers gathering seeds, often from ant heaps, and then supplying these to farmers, continues to this day. Where rooibos only used to grow naturally in the wild, it is now also cultivated commercially and harvested either by hand or mechanically. Once processed it is dried at tea courts on or off farms in the designated area.

Aspalathus linearis, part of the Cape Floral Region, the smallest of the six Floral Kingdoms of the world, is one of a limited number of plants that have made a successful transition from a wild to a cultivated crop and is one of relatively few economically important fynbos plants to date: the result of human intervention.

Concisely defined geographical area.

  • In the Western Cape Province the local municipalities of Bergrivier, Breede Valley, Cape Agulhas,Cederberg, City of Cape Town, Drakenstein, Langeberg, Matzikamma, Overstrand, Saldanha Bay, Stellenbosch, Swartland, Swellendam, Theewaterskloof and Witzenberg.
  • In the Northern Cape Province, the local Municipality of Hantam.

Hot, dry summers reaching temperatures of up to 48 deg C and cold wet winters with rainfall ranging between 160-635 mm per year directly influences the taste and specific composition of rooibos. It thrives in the coarse sandy soils derived from the Table Mountain Sandstone Complex and the hot summer sun allows for natural drying of the rooibos during which the process of oxidisation can be optimally controlled.

Harvesting takes place in the dry summer months from November to May. The harvested material must reach the tea court within 72 hours of being harvested and is then mechanically cut into stems and leaves of between 1-10 mm in length. These are bruised, wetted, spread out in rows on the tea court for fermentation (oxidation) to take place giving it its unique red colour. Thereafter it is spread out thinly on the tea court to dry in the sun. the unoxidized (green) rooibos is dried by hot air beds straight after cutting. This process is an art form requiring know-how and expertise to ensure the right colour, texture, and moistness in the tea.

Specificity of the product

The unique sensory characteristics (flavour and mouthfeel) of rooibos can be ascribed to the complex phenolic chemistry of Aspalathus Linearis. The flavonoid composition of ‘Rooibos’/’Red Bush’ is unique in that it contains aspalathin and aspalalinin, as well as the rare compounds nothofagin and enolicphenylpyruvic acid glucoside. Whereas most of the flavonoids occur ubiquitously in the plant kingdom until now aspalathin has only been detected in Aspalathus linearis, creating its unique sensory characteristics.

This specific fruity, sweet taste of rooibos, plus the fact that it is low in tannins and naturally caffeine-free, has resulted in it being a cultural icon of South Africa.

Read more about the history of rooibos here, and view the GI certification here.