CAPE TOWN – This festive season local brewers and mixologists are making the most of South Africa’s rich plant life, by using indigenous ingredients when developing unique beverages for local and international markets.
South Africa is considered to be one of most biologically diverse countries in the world, with more than 120 plant species that could be explored for commercial use.
Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council said the value of indigenous plants are starting to be recognised globally.
“There is a growing awareness of the importance of indigenous plants in new product development and the differentiation it offers marketers. Their use in alcoholic beverages is arguably among the most exciting developments and opens up new opportunities for beer, wine and brandy producers alike,” Du Toit said.
South Africa’s first black female brew-master, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, has created a new style of beer using sorghum and rooibos.
The thirty-five-year-old entrepreneur, from Roodepoort said that her passion for the trade began eight years ago when she joined a brewing company to train as a brewer after completing a BSc Honours in microbiology.
She said that she had always been passionate about using local ingredients and wanted people to taste beers that they have never tasted before.
‘“Rooibos is my favourite tea! I just love the way it smells and tastes and have always wanted to try it in a beer,” Nxusani-Mawela said.
“I basically ferment my cider base and blend it with a rooibos extract and berry juice after fermentation. The rooibos taste doesn’t overwhelm the palate, but it’s there and gives it a truly unique South African flavour,” explained Nxusani-Mawela.
Nxusani-Mawela also uses hibiscus in a non-alcoholic variant and has just launched a pineapple cider which she conjured up during lockdown.
The South African government had enforced a national lockdown which saw the ban of alcohol, among other things. South African’s however found their own ways around that by brewing their own alcohol at home.
Meanwhile, bartending duo from the Cause & Effect Cocktail Kitchen in Cape Town, Busiswa Mabhenxa and Michael Mudzenda also use all sorts of fynbos, including slangbos, spekboom and rooibos in their mixes, that have become a mainstay on their drinks menu.
Kurt Schlechter, owner of Cause & Effect, said using uniquely South African herbs and plants, such as rooibos gives their drinks its own identity.
“Tourists want to experience authentic local lifestyles, customs and cultures of the destinations they visit. Here they can taste the Cape floral kingdom, Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain in a drink,” Schlechter said.
Zimbabwean-born Mudzenda – a widely travelled bartender said experimenting with local ingredients always makes for a surprising cocktail.
Mudzenda said that rooibos paired well with any type of spirit.
“Rooibos complements sweeter spirits, such as rum, as well as deeper, more pitted brandies and whiskies, and vodka, which is a neutral spirit,” Mudzenda said.
Mabhenxa, who grew up in a bar owned by her family in East London, Eastern Cape, said mixing a great drink and adding a bit of “South Africanness” to it just had a certain kind of satisfaction.
“Spirits have natural sugars, so there’s really no need to use sugary mixes in any of these drinks. One of our signature cocktails is the “Table Mountain”, which includes brandy, mint, bitters, Rooibos syrup, soda water and a squish of lemon to bind all the flavours together,” Mabhenxa said.
Du Toit said that the promotion of local plant life has major economic value and could in turn improve the outlook for rural communities where many of these species exist.
– African News Agency (ANA); Editing by Naomi Mackay