There's a new super-beverage in town, and its name is rooibos tea. Although technically not a tea — it's actually made from an African bush — this herbal drink is surging in popularity. Besides having a striking red color and a flavor that's nutty, fruity and a bit like tobacco, roobios tea may be best known for its purported health benefits, which range from reducing stress to fighting cancer to making skin look younger. But how true are these health claims? And should you swap out your daily cup or two of green tea for roobios? Or is the fad totally overblown?
Unlike white, green and black tea that all come from the same plant, Rooibos tea comes from a broom-like shrub. Rooibos tea is high in antioxidants, has very small amounts of many different minerals and is calorie-free, says Mary Hartley, a registered dietitian in New York City.
"Rooibos has trace amounts of many different minerals: iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, magnesium, fluoride, zinc and copper, but tea and coffee have their share of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, too," she says.
When it comes to antioxidant levels, green tea has the slight edge, Hartley says, although unfermented rooibos (which is actually green) takes a pretty close second. Rooibos tea gets its characteristic red color once it's been fermented. You can drink rooibos tea hot or cold, sweetened or not or with or without milk.
While there are a lot of health claims out there, besides the antioxidant count, not much has been proven about rooibos tea. So why has this red tea gotten so red hot recently? It may be our love of exotic superfoods, she says.
"It’s popular now because we can now import it from South Africa, the only place it grows, since apartheid-based trade sanctions were lifted in 2000," Hartley says. "It is also popular because people in the U.S. seem to be attracted to expensive, medicinal foods from exotic places with weird names and lots of promises."
However, this no-caffiene drink is a nice alternative to green tea, white tea, black tea or coffee. Whether you swap your usual green tea or coffee for it really comes down to personal preference, Hartley says.
"Green tea is somewhat better than rooibos, and rooibos is just as wonderful, but no better, than other teas and coffee," she says. "And so then it gets down to the price and the taste."
Who knows what new things researchers will learn about this hot new brew as time goes on. We know one thing though: this time of year the bright red color sure is festive!
Have you tried rooibos tea? Did you like it? Will you try it? Tell us!
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.