Saturday, November 29, 2014

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Yerba Mate

     We're heading back to South America for this post.  Yerba mate is a plant whose leaves are used to make a stimulating beverage.  It's believed that this drink was first discovered and developed by people living in southern Brazil, although now it's popular throughout most of the continent, as well as Syria.  It's also making inroads into the U.S. and Europe.
     The traditional manner of preparing the beverage is fairly rough and rustic.  The leaves (and sometimes the twigs) are put in a hollow gourd, and hot water is poured in.  Sometimes cold water is used, and occasionally sugar is added as well.  Another common way of using the yerba mate is to mix an infusion of it with cold water, and sometimes combine this with fruit juices.  This is called, terere.
     As with many of the exotics I've discussed, there are many health claims for yerba mate.  Some assert it's good for combatting allergies, boosting the immune system, preventing diabetes, suppressing the appetite, and improving mental energy and mood.  However, these claims haven't been scientifically proven as of yet.  Conversely, there are evidently health problems from consuming this drink.  It appears that long term use can significantly increase the chances of getting oral cancer, as well as causing high blood pressure.  Less dramatically, many drinkers report that it gives the energy of coffee, but without coffee's negative "jittery" effect, and later dramatic "crash."  I was unable to find out if yerba mate has less or more caffeine in it than coffee--it seems this can vary.
     Clearly I didn't try yerba mate in the traditional way.  I saw it, pre-bottled and pre-canned, in Whole Foods.  I usually try to sample a variety of companies and brands, but here I was stymied.  Guayaki appears to have a stranglehold of the yerba mate, a monopoly, at least in in the Albany, NY area.  I bought the traditional terere, the citrus terere, and the sparkling cranberry pomegranate flavor.  Each container also listed the relative energy, as measured by its caffeine content, from a low of "light," up through "bright," "lifted," "glowing," and "mighty."  Both the tereres were "glowing," while the cranberry pomegranate was "lifted."
     I began with the traditional terere.  It tasted like weak tea.  It finished kind of weird.  In short, I wasn't a big fan.  The citrus terere was essentially the same as its plain cousin--I couldn't really discern a citrus-y flavor.  Finally, the cranberry pomegranate was by far the pick of the litter.  It was still tea-ish, but the cranberry tint really helped.  I don't think I have these again--maybe the cranberry pomegranate one for an occasional change of pace.
     As for the energy boost, I didn't notice any.  But, as I've stated in previous posts, caffeine doesn't seem to affect me very much.  And because I despise coffee, I can't really compare and contrast yerba mate vs. java.    

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