Yerba mate is an herb prepared from the leaves of a South America evergreen shrub, a relative of the common holly. The leaves are oval and about 6 inches long. Flowers of the plant are small and white. The fruit appears in small clusters of tiny red berries growing close to the stems of the plant. Like guarana and yopo, mate is rich in caffeine and was used as a caffeine beverage source by the native population of Latin America centuries before the European settlers arrived to establish coffee plantations.
Yerba Matte is called “The drink of the gods” by many of the indigenous people of South America who have brewed it for centuries. It was however, a people who believed in a different God that are responsible for the first commercial Yerba Matte plantations – Jesuit missionaries. Upon arriving in the new world, the Jesuits quickly adopted the native practice of drinking Yerba Matte as a tea. At the time, Yerba Matte leaves were only being harvested from wild stands of trees. Owing to its widespread popularity, the Jesuits realized the large economic potential of the plant and founded the first Yerba Matte plantations during the mid 1600’s.
Mate leaves are processed somewhat like tealeaves. The tips of the branches are cut just before the leaves reach full growth and the leaves are steamed and dried (in fired mate the leaves are dried over fires) The dried leaves are sifted and allowed to age in order to enhance the flavor of the mate. The caffeine content of mate is comparable to that of mild arabica coffee.
Yerba mate tea-based beverages containe the largest antioxidant and polyphenol content among tea-based and non-tea-based drinks in a recent study published in the Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. This contributes to the functionality of the beverage, which has been shown to include anti-inflammatory and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol-lowering properties that help aid in the prevention of diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana reviewed the U.S. energy drink market with emphasis on its market size, target demographic, active ingredients, potential benefits, safety and regulations. Several mainstream energy drinks, 16 non-tea-based and 15 tea-based, including yerba mate, were analyzed for their antioxidant content using the ORAC assay, and the total polyphenol concentration was measured in the same energy drinks with the Folin-Ciocalteu method.
They found tea-based energy drinks had much higher antioxidant capacities and polyphenol concentrations than non tea-based energy drinks. Yerba mate drinks contained up to 100-fold higher amounts of antioxidants and polyphenols compared to the mainstream non-tea-based drinks. Polyphenols contain antioxidant properties and have been found to aid in the prevention of several degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.