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Key differences between Red and Green Rooibos

What exactly is the difference between green rooibos and rooibos (red bush) tea? Could one be better than the other?

Just as with black (Camelia Sinensis) and green tea, the difference lies in the processing. Both red and green rooibos comes from the same plant but rooibos(red bush) go through a fermentation (oxidation) process which turns the green leaves into a reddish brown colour and develops its distinctive aroma.

In the case of green rooibos, the fermentation process is skipped, and the “green” leaves and stems are dried directly. Different processes are used to prevent oxidation. To ensure that this natural process is stopped completely, the leaves are dried by hot air in a closed unit as soon as possible after cutting. This preserves high-quality green rooibos with optimum phenolic content, low moisture content, and excellent control of microbial activities to prevent any discolouring of the green leaves, giving a longer storage time.

Green Rooibos tea has a slightly sweet, mild green (grassy) taste, with caramel notes and a smooth, enjoyable mouthfeel and flavour profile. Unlike Camellia Sinensis Green teas, Green Rooibos tea is low in astringency and has a distinctive light orange/tan to yellow cup infusion while fermented (red) rooibos has a delicate balance of sweetness on the nose, slight astringency and full, smooth mouthfeel with a fruity caramel taste, amber cup infusion and typical sweet aroma.

The main nutritional benefit of rooibos tea lies in its rich antioxidant content, potent enough to measurably elevate antioxidant levels in the blood, thereby boosting the body’s internal defence systems against disease. A collaborative study in Europe showed that both green and fermented rooibos significantly increase the antioxidant capacity in human blood, thereby boosting the body’s natural defences.

Rooibos and green rooibos share many health benefits and, often touted as South Africa’s miracle plant, ongoing research continues to astound us with new findings regarding health benefits. Green rooibos has a higher polyphenol content and therefore, higher antioxidant levels than fermented rooibos tea. Both are naturally caffeine-free and known to relieve allergies, sleep disorders, digestive problems, headaches and more. Being kilojoule and preservative free they are ideal for supporting weight-loss. They can be enjoyed by the whole family from as young as 6 months old and its calming effect makes it an excellent drink for hyperactive children.

Positive research shows the protective plant compounds in green rooibos, which include polyphenols such as asphalatin, may protect the body against free radical damage that leads to conditions like heart diseasediabetes and cancer. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cell DNA, leading to cancer. These free radicals can also oxidize cholesterol, leading to clogged blood vessels, heart attacks, and strokes. The antioxidants in Green Rooibos can neutralize these free radicals and help to limit their impact. Read more about these studies here and here.

In particular, studies have shown that Green Rooibos increases the antioxidant status of rat livers. This could result in Green Rooibos being used in the treatment of chronic liver disease. Based on recent research done in the Slovak Republic, this research team recommends Green Rooibos for people with chronic liver problems. Green Rooibos protects the brains of aged rats against oxidative damage which could play a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lastly, to answer the question about which is better, it is safe to say that, if your focus is on antioxidants only, green rooibos is better and a great boost for the immune system. If you think about general health and specific diseases and ailments as mentioned above, studies seem to prove them both highly beneficial.

Read more about rooibos research on the South African Rooibos Council website.