Grown in South America, yerba mate is a small, shrub-like evergreen plant whose leaves and stems are steeped to make a drink enjoyed traditionally among many South American cultures. Its popularity in the rest of the world has grown rapidly in recent years, mostly due to various claims of its nutritional value and its ability to help dieters shed weight more efficiently.
The Origins of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate, also referred to as mate, is related to the holly plant and grows in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and southern parts of Brazil. Legend has it that it was first grown among the Guarani people of Paraguay. In the 16th century, Jesuits settling in Paraguay developed a huge market cultivating mate in their missions. Today, though, the largest exports of yerba mate come from Syria.
In South American countries, especially Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, mate is still consumed almost daily. Socially, meeting to drink yerba mate is very much like meeting to drink coffee in America. The tea brewed from the plant is consumed cold in the winter and hot in the summer, usually out of a gourd that is shared among a group of friends.
Yerba mate is brewed in water that is hot but not boiling--if the water is hot enough to boil, the resulting tea often has a bitter taste. It is also often brewed in fruit juice, giving it a sweeter flavor. This approach is popular in Argentina. Traditionally, mate is brewed from loose leaves, but its popularity has led to it being marketed in tea bags as well as pre-brewed and sold in bottles or cans, and even as a sweetened, non-carbonated soft drink.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
In South America, yerba mate has been seen for centuries as a tonic and medicinal beverage. In the US, however, its benefits have been debated. Health claims made for yerba mate include:
- Increases metabolism
- Helps control appetite
- Contains high quality antioxidants
- Contains B vitamins and amino acids, as well as important minerals
Some have said that mate can also help control allergies, reduce stress, cleanse the system and boost the immune system. Some studies have also indicated that mate can help reduce LDL cholesterol. In addition, yerba mate appears to contain substances that can help fight or prevent cancer and might have properties that can help fight heart disease.
Finding Yerba Mate
Because of its growing popularity, yerba mate is relatively easy to find even in mainstream grocery stores. Many major manufacturers of tea and coffee make yerba mate teas, as well. It can be found as loose leaves or in tea bags in the coffee and tea aisle. Several companies also make bottled yerba mate brews that can be consumed either hot or cold. If you're just getting started trying yerba mate, these ready-to-drink teas are a great way to try it out.
When prepared properly, yerba mate has an herbal flavor much like some types of green tea, such as matcha. Since bottled mate is often pre-sweetened, look out for a high sugar content. However, a pre-sweetened version provides a tasty, easy introduction to this healthy, traditional drink.