11th August 2014
Rooibos (that’s “ROY-boss” to you and me) is also known as “redbush tea” although it’s not really tea, nor is it particularly red. It’s made from the seeds of a legume more closely related to broom, and is usually a lovely chestnut colour. BrandSoup’s first encounter with it was sat round a camp fire in the Namibian dawn, waiting for the sun to chase the chill from the air… Ah, Proust, eat your heart out!
But there’s more to it than happy memories – rooibos is full of antioxidants, with very little tannin and no caffeine. It’s traditionally used to treat allergies, skin problems, digestive issues and to relieve stress. Consequently it’s become popular with foodies and the health-conscious and this has led to businesses around the world jumping on its bandwagon.
Once a foodstuff gets well known, there can be a temptation for cheaper suppliers to pile into the market with all sorts of offerings of variable quality and provenance: as a result quality can suffer, prices fall and the market will become glutted or, worse, entirely ruined. At this point, the newcomers will likely move on, leaving traditional producers to lick their wounds and try to salvage the remains of their reputation.
To prevent this abuse of famous names, the EU operates a scheme of Geographical Indications which restricts use of certain names to products which meet set criteria. This scheme has evolved from similar arrangements in the world of wine: appellation controlee in France, DOC in Italy etc. Consequently, only genuine Prosciutto can be called that, just as Cornish Pasties can’t come from Devon or be made with lamb. (Nothing stopping you making and selling Devon Pasties of course, or Essex Pasties or whatever, but you can’t coattail on the undoubted renown of the Cornish to sell your meat-based savouries.)
It would be bad enough if unscrupulous suppliers had merely been selling ersatz rooibos under that name. But in America and France several businesses went further and attempted to arrogate the name entirely by registering it as a trade mark – effectively claiming monopoly rights in it.
However, in a victory for commonsense and cuppas everywhere (and in return for reciprocal recognition by South Africa of “feta” as being similarly protected), rooibos has now joined the pantheon of protected names, including Armagh Bramleys, Fenland Celery, Melton Mowbray pork pies, Exmoor Blue cheese and Rutland Bitter. Which, by amazing coincidence, is pretty much what’s in BrandSoup’s lunchbox today. Chin chin!