Brandon's Notepad

November 2, 2010

Yerba Mate

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I like coffe and I like tea, but I’ve discovered something just a little different in the health food section of the local grocery store. It’s a tea-like drink called Yerba Mate (‘mah-tay). It’s a product of South America, though it is commonly consumed in Syria and Lebabon as well. There is a traditional ceremony surrounding this drink, and while it is most often made in and drunk from a special vessel (a hollowed gourd) using a filtered metal straw (bombilla/bomba/masassa), it can readily be steeped in a french press or using teabags instead. The mate must first be soaked in cold water to retain its health benefits and then steeped in hot (but not boiling) water. Just so you know, if you like tea then Yerba Mate is not at all gross, though the color may make you think twice about taking that first sip.


General Information

Wikipedia: Yerba maté
Wikipedia: Maté

Health Benefits & Risks

Strong claims are made regarding the health benefits of Yerba Mate. It provides a sense of well-being, aids weight loss, reduces the risk of certain cancers, improves cholesterol levels, yada, yada, yada. Pages of these claims are readily available on manufacturer websites (e.g. Guayaki, Nativa) and elsewhere. If you don’t like the tea, Yerba Mate extract is available at health food stores.

Despite the cancer-prevention claim, there is a concern that Yerba Mate actually increases the risk of some other cancers, particularly cancers of the esophagus, mouth, bladder, lungs, and others; however, most references to this on the Web agree that the serving temperature may be the source of this risk, and not the plant itself. Steeping time (strength of the tea) may also be a factor, and at least one site stated that the smoking process used to dry the leaves is the likely culprit, in which case, my backyard barbeque is probably more lethal than the Mate. Of course, there were the common disclaimers that only heavy drinkers are at risk and that additional research is needed before definite correlations can be drawn. To compare, green tea can apparently also increase cancer risks due to serving temperature and cause kidney and liver damage if consumed in excess.

Preparation

As mentioned in the synopsis above, this mate is traditionally prepared in a hollowed gourd and sipped through a filtered metal straw. Alternatively, it can be steeped in a french coffee press or using tea bags. It is commonly recommended to saturate the leaves in cold water initially, and then add hot (but never boiling) water.

I use a french press and personally find the sediment in the bottom of my cup to be quite unappealing. To solve this problem, I sift the loose leaf mate in a common kitchen strainer/filter that has a mesh less-fine than the one in the french press. I now steep only the leaves (hoja) and stems (palo) in the french press and save the powder (polvo) for later use in either tea bags or a cup-top coffee maker that uses paper filters.

Articles

Confessions of a Reluctant Yerba Mate Drinker [by William I. Lengeman III, epicurean.com]
Yerba Mate, The History of this Dietary Aid

Brands

Guayaki [common in USA; retail stores]
Nativa
Cruz de Malta

Prices

There’s been mention of the affordability of Yerba Mate, particularly in the U.S. Just for reference, at the time of this writing (November 2010), a 227g bag of Guayaki costs between $5 and $6 at the local Kroger store, or approximately $22 to $26 per kilo. At the same time, a 500g bag of Cruz de Malta is available online for $4.99 (Amigofoods.com) to $5.50 (Amazon) or about $10 per kilo. A local Argentine bakery carries a 1kg bag for $4.99. There is no difference between these product and none of these prices include shipping or sales tax. In other words, shop around for the best price, which may not be online.


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