Fans of rooibos and honeybush tea can anticipate more bite with their antioxidants as the local fynbos plants are now being used to make alcoholic beverages.
Stellenbosch-based Red Dawn IP Holdings, which is owned by winemakers Audacia and Koöperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Bpkt, announced on Monday that it had patented "a game changing way" of producing alcoholic beverages using the fynbos plants.
"Our patent covers the making of all wine, beer and cider products by adding rooibos and honeybush plant material during manufacturing," Red Dawn director Trevor Strydom said in a statement.
"We have also trademarked the terms Rooibos Wine, Rooibos Beer and Rooibos Cider, amongst other marks."
He said the patent was set for an imminent grant. This would mean that no other South African entity could use the indigenous plants, or their derivatives, for alcoholic beverage production according to the patented process, unless it was done under licence from Red Dawn.
"We have gotten wind of others attempting something similar, but the fact is that we are the patent proprietor."
Strydom said the innovation was subject to a further 83 pending patent applications worldwide.
"As soon as these are approved the same restrictions will hold for international production and sales," he said.
One of the aims of the new process of using the fynbos plants was to eliminate synthetic preservatives usually added to alcoholic beverages.
"Scientific research... indicates that powerful antioxidants found in these indigenous plant materials may assist in preserving them naturally."
Antioxidants are substances that are capable of counteracting the normal, but damaging effects caused by oxidation, which is the interaction between oxygen molecules and all the different substances they come into contact with.
According to Strydom this preservation process could potentially mean an entire new way of making wine and other beverages.
"Equally importantly, we have found that the addition of rooibos and honeybush woods in both a natural and toasted format improves and enhances aroma, taste and/or mouth-feel of wine, beer and cider," he said.
"Consumer feedback on products we have created according to our patented processes thus far has been overwhelmingly positive."
In July rooibos tea secured geographic indicator status in the long-awaited economic partnership agreement between southern African nations and the European Union.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said at the time: "It will be the rooibos tea manufacturers of South Africa which will have ownership of that particular name and that term will be applicable only to products that come from and are approved by us."
Davies termed the designation significant, given the widespread popularity rooibos had acquired in Europe in recent years.
Last year, the SA Rooibos Council hurriedly managed to stop an attempt by a French company -- the Compagnie de Trucy -- to trademark the name, fearing that it could secure exclusive use.
The same trademark protection given to rooibos, applied to honeybush and Karoo lamb --meaning that only products produced in those areas can be marketed under those trade names.
Strydom said this designation was significant.
"Rooibos and honeybush have historically been cultivated and produced exclusively in South Africa. Their characteristics and properties are the result of our unique climate and geography," he said.
"Europe has traditionally used geographical indication protection for products such as French Champagne or Greek Feta. Now we South Africans can do the same -- our range of rooibos and honeybush alcoholic beverages are at the forefront of marketing brand South Africa in a positive and unique way."