SA: Zim food science PhD graduate starts his own sustainable and healthy tea line

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By Weekend Argus

CAPE TOWN: Dr Trust Pfukwa, a Stellenbosch University 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.

Pfukwa, originally from Mutare, Zimbabwe, moved to South Africa in 2016 to study food science at Stellenbosch University. He discovered his love for indigenous fruits while conducting his doctoral research.

“My project focused on the value addition of these indigenous fruits and evaluating their potential as sources of antioxidants for use as natural preservatives in processed meat. We were able to prove our hypothesis that the fruit extracts are high in bioactive compounds which were able to promote the shelf stability of beef patties as efficiently as commercial synthetic antioxidants.”

After his findings, Pfukwa decided to start his own company, Utamu Food, and a line of teas incorporating fruits including the water pear, sour fig, wild plum, and kei apple.

The company started in 2021 and the name “Utamu” is Swahili for sweetness. In that regard, their aim is to harness the unique flavours from indigenous South African fruits into quality consumer products.

“We envision ourselves being in the forefront of promoting these indigenous resources, strengthening forest-based bio-economy and attracting the participation and growth of the rural economy in South Africa and Africa as a whole.”

According to Pfukwa, more consumers are seeking alternatives to carbonated beverages such as tea and energy drinks.

“Moreover, the pandemic also pushed the consumer to shop locally, giving opportunities for home-grown products such as Utamu tea,” he explained.

He said choosing fruits to incorporate depended on the compatibility of the flavours in the fruits and those in their base tea, which is honeybush.

“We also had to look at the availability of the fruits and how easily the fruits can be adapted to processing set-up for ease of scaling up. As we went on with product tasting, we observed that the flavour of the fruits complemented well with the honeybush and gave it a fresh new twist not available on the market and which our consumers can enjoy.”

Pfukwa said what sets them apart from other teas in the market is their focus on indigenous foods as a source of health and wellness.

“We have incorporated superfoods like sour fig and water pear into the 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.

Pfukwa admits that Utamu Food is working hard to overcome the issue of funding and expanding their market reach.

Professor Cletos Mapiye, who was Pfukwa’s supervisor for his PhD, said there is a 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.”

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