A passion for indigenous fruits led to a sustainable and healthy tea line

11 May 2023

Dr Trust Pfukwa, Stellenbosch University (SU) Food Science PhD graduate, has taken his passion for creating innovative food and beverage products to the next level by producing tea from indigenous South African fruits.

With his extensive knowledge in food science and technology, he started a line of teas that does not only taste delicious but also offer a range of health benefits under his company, Utamu Food. The range of Utamu tea products include the Honey Bush tea that gives the sweetness of nature with a refreshing taste, the Honey Bush tea with sour fig and the Honey Bush Tea with water pear, all products are natural and caffeine free.

“Utamu” is a Swahili word for “sweetness”, which describes the taste of the tea. Dr Pfukwa always felt the need to introduce people to indigenous fruits and believes that the tea is a way to present the sweetness of indigenous fruits. During his PhD studies, he focused on bioprospecting indigenous South African fruit byproducts as a source of antioxidant preservatives for application in processed meat, under the supervision of Professor Cletos Mapiye. He revealed that indigenous fruit byproducts are a rich source of powerful polyphenolic antioxidants with high potential as natural preservatives in processed meat products.

“I had the desire to introduce people to the native fruits of South Africa. Fruits such as waterpear, sour fig, wild plum and kei apple, among others, are currently considered underutilised and under-researched, despite their high nutritional and medicinal value. These fruits can potentially be incorporated into profitable value chains, which can uplift the rural livelihoods,” says Dr Pfukwa.

“Unfortunately, due to westernisation and the nutritional transition, these traditional food sources have been forgotten or looked down upon as food for the poor. Hence, our objective was to contribute to the necessary revival of African cuisine and provide people with a sample of Africa in a cup.”

Professor Mapiye said, “There is lack of information and interest towards valorisation of indigenous fruits and their by-products in Africa. Dr Pfukwa’s research is contributing immensely to unmask the potential of these often neglected and underutilised resources for food, nutrition and income security. His business venture in the form of Utamu Food presents a reawakening of these fruits which tallies closely with the need for sustainable food sources and potential to uplift marginalised communities.”

One of the things that sets Utamu Foods apart from other tea brands is the focus on indigenous foods as a source of health and wellness. Dr Pfukwa has incorporated superfoods like sour fig and water pear into his tea blends, which are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and antioxidant properties. He also avoids using artificial flavours or additives, ensuring that Utamu teas are all-natural and healthy.

According to Dr Pfukwa, food is an important component of culture, and reclaiming this component of our lives, in the form of indigenous South African foods, means reminding ourselves who we are and telling our story in a different way. Every cup of Utamu Tea is a reminder of his summer childhood days when he would play games and eat the fruits straight from the tree, which explains the slogan “a return to innocence”.

Despite the challenges of starting a new business, he is committed to growing Utamu Foods and expanding the brand’s reach. He also continues to research and experiment with new flavours and blends and always looks for ways to improve the quality and sustainability of his products. With his passion for food science and commitment to creating delicious and healthy teas, Dr Pfukwa is sure to make a lasting impact in the world of tea.

Utamu tea products are available to consumers and can be purchased at the Stellenbosch Botanical Garden gift shop, at De Warenmarkt and are also available at Real Food Co. in Somerset West. Alternatively, order on Instagram @utamu_foods.

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