App to assist honeybush industry in achieving product quality

December 2021


South Africa's indigenous honeybush tea industry now has even more "tools in the shed", so to speak, to make sure that products of consistent quality reach the market. This is thanks to the recent launch of an easy-to-use guide and accompanying e-scorecard app to assist industry to put the newly-developed quality grading system for fermented honeybush tea into practice. These tools were recently introduced to role players in the honeybush industry through a series of workshops.

The guide – the first standardised tool of its kind available for quality control of honeybush tea – was launched at the beginning of 2021.  It includes sensory tools such as a customised scorecard and colour reference card for quality grading and an aroma lexicon and chemical reference standards for training of industry role players in the basic sensory properties of honeybush tea. These tools flow forth from research done by Dr Brigitte du Preez of Stellenbosch University (SU) as part of her PhD. Her work, funded by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture's Alternative Crops Fund, formed part of a large research project driven by Prof Lizette Joubert, principal researcher at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Infruitec-Nietvoorbij.

The subsequent compilation and production of the guide, the presentation of workshops and the development of the accompanying app were made possible through funding received as part of a honeybush project, funded by the national Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). This project is an initiative that has over the past three years provided support to relevant small-scale enterprises such as nurseries, in addition to research on cultivation aspects and the development of an accelerated "fermentation" process for two of the honeybush species.  

In support of the industry, the 39-page illustrated Grading of fermented honeybush tea, an illustrated guide* was written by researchers from the ARC and SU. It contains detailed notes on how those involved in quality control, product development and marketing can at best use the quality grading system and accompanying tools when evaluating and marketing honeybush tea for local and global distribution. This publication is endorsed by the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA). 

An app for the e-scorecard has been developed with the assistance of two Stellenbosch University mathematical science students, Heinrich Kreuser and Justin de Witt. The app, to be used on desktop computer or laptop, allows users to grade infusions of honeybush tea in terms of colour, aroma and palate attributes. The results and awarded grade of each product batch can be exported as a pdf-file for immediate distribution, or as an xlsx-file to set up a database.

"This allows industry to build a sensory quality database of their company's portfolio of production batches over time, but also to be able to send grading information along with each batch to distributors and the likes," says Prof Lizette Joubert, who is also an extraordinary professor at the SU Department of Food Science.

Three one-day workshops, held between June and September 2021, gave 24 industry role players from 14 South African honeybush tea processing and/or packaging companies a chance to familiarise themselves with the newly developed quality grading tools. These were presented by Prof. Joubert, as well as SU researchers Dr Erika Moelich, Dr Brigitte du Preez and Nina Muller in the Sensory Science research facility at the SU Department of Food Science.

"The aim was to train workshop attendees in the recognition of the major honeybush aroma attributes, as set out in the guide," explains one of the co-presenters, Ms Nina Muller.

A total of 21 reference teas, as well as 21 chemical reference standards, were used to familiarise the participants with the respective positive and negative sensory attributes associated with fermented honeybush tea. Participants were also guided on how to score sensory qualities such as infusion colour, the major aroma and palate attributes of different batches of honeybush tea.

"In quality assessment, it is important to realize that some aromas should stand out, while others should preferably be barely perceptible or absent. These are aspects that can easily be managed by optimizing the fermentation process of tea," notes Prof Joubert.

Workshop participants were also shown the ropes with the computer-based e-scorecard app, whereafter they received the link to the app and an instruction manual describing the downloading process and app features.

"The DSI-funded ARC Honeybush Project was able to help take research findings out of the confines of academia and put it into practice, to the benefit of the industry," she adds.

The project team thanked all members of this growing industry who participated in the initial research and data collection and made significant contributions during the testing phases of the respective tools.

ProfLizetteJoubertwithDelegates-small.jpgProf Lizette Joubert of the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij (fourth from right) with participants who attended one of the recent honeybush quality grading workshop. From left are Rina Kritzinger (Honeybush Natural Products), Eunice Nortje (Melmont Honeybush Tea), Toangashe Majoni (Coetzee & Coetzee), Liezel Slabbert (Rooibos Limited), Johan Kritzinger (Honeybush Natural Products), Quinton Nortje (Melmont Honeybush Tea) and Van Zyl and Mona Joubert (Agulhas Honeybush Tea). Photo: Nina Muller

App Front Page.pngThe launch page of the honeybush quality grading e-scorecard. Photo: Nina Muller.

More information:

* Grading of fermented honeybush tea, an illustrated guide - ISBN 978-0-620-89676-4

* For more information about the DSI/ARC Honeybush Project, visit https://www.arc.agric.za/arc-infruitec-nietvoorbij/honeybush/Pages/default.aspx


Media enquiries only:

This press release was written by Engela Duvenage, on behalf of the DSI/ARC Honeybush Project. For further media enquiries and possible interviews with the experts involved, please contact her on 082 874 1291 or engeladuvenage@gmail.com.

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