Rooibos vs. Honeybush: What's the Difference?

Rooibos vs. Honeybush: What's the Difference?

Posted by Stephany Morgan


First Published: July 2019. Updated & expanded: July 2020

When you do a Google search for Honeybush, Rooibos infiltrates the top results. Although the two ‚Äúteas‚ÄĚ are similar, they¬†come from entirely different African plants and are NOT the same thing.

Read on to find out:

  • The¬†different health benefits of rooibos and honeybush tea
  • Why your genes might make you taste red rooibos differently
  • What the heck is green rooibos, anyway?
  • How rooibos and honeybush are grown and harvested
  • How to brew rooibos and honeybush teas the right way

When you're done with this overview, be sure to check out Part 2 of this post, where we'll go even deeper into the properties of rooibos and honeybush related to their estrogen content and how they affect pregnancy.

Rooibos and Honeybush at a Glance

The first indication that rooibos and honeybush are different is the taste. Honeybush is the sweeter of the two, as the name suggests, and rooibos (aka red bush tea) has a woodier taste. However, both are delicious and naturally caffeine-free.

The two teas are also extremely healthy. Both honeybush and rooibos contain trace minerals and beneficial phytochemicals, and both have potentially anti-cancer properties. I'll go into more detail about these benefits in just a moment.

Honeybush and red rooibos are even manufactured using the same methods, including oxidation, to give them their beautiful red hue.

One more thing to note: while many English speakers will freeze up when trying to pronounce "rooibos," it's actually very easy. You just say it as it's spelled: "roy-boss" or maybe "roy-bus" for some, say in the UK. Now you're talking like a tea-boss!

What Are the Benefits of Honeybush Tea?

Honeybush has a very high level of antioxidants - in fact, it contains the highest amount of antioxidants of any herbal tea sold at Matcha Alternatives. It is low in tannins and doesn’t become bitter with extended simmering or brewing. The longer it’s steeped, the more antioxidants end up in your cuppa!

This high level of antioxidants contributes to honeybush's immune-support benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, boosts gastrointestinal health, and supports women’s health. Wonderfully, honeybush has no known negative side effects.

Taste-wise, it is sweet and floral, with delicate sour notes. This tea is quite soothing, and therefore makes an ideal brew for sleep or unwinding.

Jump to my list of honeybush and rooibos antioxidant (ORAC) levels

What Are the Benefits of Red Rooibos Tea? 

Red rooibos assortment

Red rooibos is the most commonly known member of this tea family. It has high levels of antioxidants, many health benefits, and a flavor profile that can please any tea-drinker’s palate. Red rooibos is rich, smooth, earthy and naturally decaffeinated. 

Rooibos has antihistamine qualities, which make it a great choice for helping alleviate hay fever symptoms. Some of its other awesome properties include:

  • Skin benefits
  • Anti-ageing properties
  • Helps with appetite control
  • Can help improve sleep. Toss out the warm milk, folks! Rooibos‚Äô ability to relieve tension and help you relax makes it ideal for bedtime

Can Your Genes Affect the Taste of Red Rooibos?

A subset of people find that red rooibos tastes like cough syrup, or other odd smells. From Matcha Alternatives' own not-at-all-empirical-but-anecdotal research, this seems to be down to genetics.

There are many cases of genes affecting the way people taste certain foods. For example, the gene OR6A2 causes people to perceive the aldehydes in cilantro as tasting like soap. Another taste-affecting gene is TAS2R38, which gives a heightened perception of bitterness (if you find Brussels sprouts and hops in beer horribly bitter, you might just have this gene).

A similar thing happens with red rooibos. Some people think it isn't very nice, and others find it gloriously sweet and rich. One Matcha Alternatives' customer even wrote in to say that her entire family can't stand red rooibos, whereas her partner and his whole family love it! Many examples like this draws us to the genetics conclusion.

The founders of Matcha Alternatives, Elizabeth and Vientiene, recently held a tea tasting in Penang, Malaysia at a political activist bookshop-cum-café and served a red rooibos amongst many others. Three out of the eleven participants, or 27%, tasted cherry cough syrup, whereas the rest of the group couldn't. Citizen "science" at its finest ;-) 

Interestingly, and importantly, green rooibos doesn't seem to cause this taste reaction, and continues to taste fresh with a citrus zing. This time, we discovered this with the help of our IG community @MatchaAlternatives, where several followers identified that green rooibos did not trigger the same response in those who seemed to have the genes for tasting red rooibos differently. In fact, it was through their popular demand that we created a green rooibos bundle!

 

What Are the Benefits of Green Rooibos Tea?

Green rooibos is a less common type of rooibos, with the only difference from its famous sibling being that it is not fermented/oxidized. Therefore, it has a greener, fresher, less woody, more citrus-y taste.

Green rooibos is also much higher in antioxidants. Oxidizing tea leaves means reducing the antioxidants, as they bond with free radical oxygen particles in the air. Thus, red rooibos loses some of its antioxidants during preparation, while green rooibos doesn't.

In short, green rooibos has the same kinds of antioxidants and benefits as red rooibos - just more of them.

Red and green rooibos come from the same plant; it is just the oxidation process where they differ, and where the taste difference comes from.

Honeybush Red and Green Rooibos Matcha Alternatives

 

 Shop Our Rooibos & Honeybush Collection

 

 

Rooibos Loose Leaf - Matcha Alternatives

Antioxidant Levels of Honeybush and Rooibos

  • Honeybush has the highest levels of antioxidants, with an ORAC of an incredible ~2705 / 8fl oz
  • Green rooibos comes second, with an ORAC of ~2093.6¬†/ 8fl oz
  • Red rooibos comes third, with an ORAC of ~1537.6¬†/ 8fl oz

For comparison, the same amount of matcha tea has an ORAC of ~1384, so if it's a superfood drink you want, keep your wallet happy and try these for an even more powerful kick!

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity and is a scale to gauge antioxidant units.The higher the ORAC value, the higher the antioxidant level. To learn more about ORAC and how it's measured, check out my in-depth post here.

Rooibos (both red and green) contains the following antioxidants (for the real tea geeks out there!):

  • Polyphenol flavonoids, including aspalathin (rare in other teas)
  • Nothofagin
  • Quercetin
  • Rutin
  • Isoquercitrin
  • Orientin
  • Isoorientin
  • Luteolin
  • Vitexin
  • Isovitexin
  • Chrysoeriol

Honeybush contains these antioxidants:

  • Flavanon (hesperidin)
  • Xanthones
  • Mangiferin
  • Isomangeferin
  • Benzophenones
  • Phenolic compounds (tyrosol, methoxy analogue)

To learn what all these antioxidants actually do to your body, check out my post on antioxidants in rooibos, honeybush, and chamomile teas!

Rooibos and honeybush also contain plant estrogens, which can have several benefits related to women's health and pregnancy. To learn more, check out Part 2 of this post!

 

Rooibos DIY Teabag Matcha Alternatives

Where are Honeybush and Rooibos from? 

All honeybush and rooibos teas are from South Africa, and nowhere else.

Rooibos production started around 1900, going commercial in the 1930s when producers figured out how to germinate the seeds instead of harvesting the leaves from the wild. Rooibos is only grown in a 3000 square-mile area in the Cedarburg Mountains near Cape Town, South Africa. 

Honeybush is even rarer; it only grows in the mountains just north of the Cape of Good Hope, and, believe it or not, is only grown in the wild. Despite decades of research, honeybush has resisted efforts to cultivate it commercially. This may be due to as-yet-unknown interactions with ants and birds.

In any case, only 25% of the world's honeybush is grown on commercial plantations, and these are quite small. The rest is collected from the mountains where it grows wild. 

Because it is primarily grown wild, there are worries about the unsustainability of the honeybush industry due to unscrupulous harvest practices. Whenever and wherever you purchase honeybush, always ensure it is Ethical Tea Partnership certified.

In case you were wondering, Matcha Alternatives' teas are ETP-certified, and we are proud of our commitment to ethical tea sourcing and packaging.

 

Honeybush and Rooibos Growing Regions - Matcha Alternatives

How Do You Brew Rooibos and Honeybush? Are There Different Techniques?

Happily, both rooibos and honeybush are very forgiving teas, and can be brewed the same way. They never go bitter, even if you forget all about the teabag in your thermos and only remember at lunchtime.

They can, however, develop a slightly metallic taste for some people if brewed for a very long time, much like saffron tea. Many find it quite pleasant, though, so it's all down to personal preference.

They will also brew nicely at a range of temperatures, but you'll get the best taste using boiling water. There is little risk of burning relative to a delicate white tea or similar. Minimum brew length is five minutes to get the taste and antioxidants, but seven minutes is a good rule of thumb for a deeper brew.

Because honeybush and rooiboses don't go bitter, you can even put the leaves loose in your teapot and filter them out using a strainer, or an infuser for less mess. 

For iced tea, both rooibos and honeybush make for a yummy and refreshing drink. Use triple the quantity of tea you would normally use for a hot tea (i.e. 3-4 teaspoons instead of 1-2 per cup) to get a nice strong brew that can be diluted with ice. I like to make at least 32oz (a quart) so that I have plenty to drink. Play around and see how strong you would like to make it (remembering you can also put in less tea and brew it for longer).

Let the tea steep for at least twenty minutes, then put it in the fridge, or pour directly over ice. You can also brew it overnight, or cold brew it, bearing in mind how antioxidants work and degrade over time:

Antioxidant levels are correlated with temperature, which also hastens decay. For a classic hot brew, loads of antioxidants are quickly released, and then they decay over time (usually around 4 hours, depending on the tea, the heat of the water, etc.).

If you make a hot brew and then quickly add ice in the traditional ice tea method, you slow the antioxidant decay a bit, as oxidation happens more readily at higher temperatures.

And then lastly, if you use the sun tea / cold brew method, you've slowed down the reactions so it takes longer for the antioxidants to be released (this is why brewing takes so long) and also slowed down the antioxidant decay/oxidation.

In a study analyzing the effects of different brewing methods on black, green, and oolong teas, a group of researchers discovered that cold brew tea steeped over 12 hours actually contains comparable amounts of antioxidants to hot brew. Furthermore, some antioxidants were actually found in higher levels in cold brew tea.

In other words: the antioxidants in cold brew should last longer than hot brew or traditional iced tea, but will still degrade after a day or so. Whew!

    Caramel Christmas Rooibos - Matcha Alternatives

    It’s a Rooibos-Honeybush Tie!

    With full marks across the board, these comparable yet unique beverages are both healthy and delicious. Whichever you choose, you can’t really go wrong.
    When it comes time, pick based on your preferences: woody and earthy red rooibos? Citrusy green rooibos? Or smooth, sweet, and a little sour honeybush?
    But if you can’t decide, there's no harm in trying a little of everything...
    Check out our ethically-sourced organic rooibos and honeybush teas to find your new favorite healthy drink!
    Intro to Rooibos & Honeybush loose leaf tea Organic Bundle

     

    Intro to Rooibos & Honeybush Organic Bundle

    Dying to try these super healthy teas? This trio of ethically-sourced organic honeybush, red rooibos, and green rooibos teas has you covered!

    Classy Earl Grey Rooibos loose leaf tea blend

     

    Classy Earl Grey
    Rooibos

    Love Earl Grey? You'll adore this fragrant, woody red rooibos blend! Getting your antioxidants never tasted this good.

    Candied Pineapple Ginger Green Rooibos loose leaf tea

     

    Candied Pineapple Ginger Green Rooibos

    Take advantage of green rooibos's fresh, citrusy flavor with one of our favorite dessert teas!

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    Disclaimer

    All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.

    Rooibos & Honeybush References

    Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Honeybush. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1824.0804. Retrieved 7/14/19 

    Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Rooibos. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.2544.9760 Retrieved 7/14/19

    'Honeybush Tea', South African Rooibos. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    'Rooibos Tea: A Caffeine-Free Tea That’s Bursting With Antioxidants', Mercola. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    '6 Rooibos Tea Benefits That Could Make It Worth Buying', Reader's Digest. Retrieved 7/14/19.

    Why Does Cilantro Taste Like Soap to Some? Melissa Petruzzello, Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved 2/8/20.

    From Kale To Pale Ale, A Love Of Bitter May Be In Your Genes, Allison Aubrey, October 1, 2014, National Public Radio. Retrieved 2/8/20.

    Why Genetics May Be The Reason You Hate Cilantro, Leslie Wu, Feb 28, 2018,Forbes. Retrieved 2/8/20.

    "Effects of alternative steeping methods on composition, antioxidant property and colour of green, black and oolong tea infusions." Claudia Lantano et. al., Journal of Food Science and Technology, Jul. 29, 2015. DOI: 10.1007/s13197-015-1971-4 

    Further Reading Related to Rooibos and Honeybush

    Antioxidants in Rooibos, Honeybush & Chamomile: What Do They Actually Do?

    Why You Actually Like Tea (Even Though You Think You Don't)

    Best Substitutes for Matcha Tea ... for Concentration, Caffeine & Antioxidants

    Best Matcha Tea Substitutes for ... Relaxation, Weight Loss & Cooking

    3 Easy Tea Mocktail Recipes for Summer by a Mixologist

     

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    4 comments
    • When my wife described tea she would usually use the words bitter and gak (gak meant an icky sensation on her tongue) After reading a number of the blog posts we came to realize it was the addition of the oils that created this sensation/flavor for my wife. Since then, we‚Äôve discovered Rooibos and Honeybush. They are now staples in our cupboard and we are happy to say they are gakless! lol!

      Mark P


    • Rooibos and Honeybush are currently my favorites. The wonderful flavors make me realize the quality is far better than what I had previously purchased off the shelf in the grocery store. Thanks!

      Carol


    • The more I read, the more surprised I am with all the high quality content that you have in MatchaAlternatives.com. Actually I thought that I knew something about tea, but in the end I conclude that I don¬īt know nothing‚Ķ
      I am very curious to try specially Honeybush, because according to the above description I believe that I will enjoy it very much and it was surprise to know that it comes from Cape Town, I had no idea that South Africa has any tea plantations. I am curious, did you visit these tea plantations in Cape Town?

      Catarina Bruno - Magic Tea Mail


    • Interesting! I hadn‚Äôt realised that Honeybush and Rooibos grew only in small regions of South Africa. It makes them feel very exclusive indeed. Also didn‚Äôt know about the antioxidants degrading if brewed too long. Great knowledge, I‚Äôll be putting an order in.

      Jon Cholakian



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