What Is Yerba Mate, and Is It Better for You Than Coffee?
For many, this naturally caffeinated South American beverage delivers all the oomph without the jitters.
Yerba mate has been used as a natural pick-me-up, similar to tea and sometimes even stronger than coffee, for centuries. In the United States, where coffee dominates the morning caffeine conversation, some energy drinks have recently introduced versions of their product that are made with yerba mate. But what is yerba mate?
The history of the drink dates back to the pre-Columbian era in Paraguay. The Guaraní, a local indigenous community, began cultivating the Ilex paraguariensis plant, drying the leaves and bark, and steeping them in hot water. What began as a drink given for health quickly spread across South America, and remains popular across the continent. The plant has naturally occurring caffeine, and the flavor is strong and somewhat bitter. Traditionally, it’s served in a dried gourd called a mate, and drunk with a metal straw called a bombilla, but many South Americans drink mate much like Americans drink a cup of coffee—out of a thermos, on their way to work for an extra kick in the morning.
If you’re a green tea consumer, you may be interested to know that it has higher levels of antioxidants than the tea, making it certainly a healthy option. It also has higher caffeine content, closer to 85 milligrams in a cup, though that varies depending on how it’s brewed and steeped.
Many people also report that the caffeine levels in yerba mate don’t give them the jitteriness that coffee can cause, which is great for people who find that coffee makes them anxious or irritable. Some studies also show that it can assist in weight loss, especially for belly fat. But, like coffee, some of the widely distributed prepared yerba mate beverages that are available on the market are made with sweeteners and chemical additives that may impact and even negate any health benefits.
If you’re looking for a new source of caffeine, yerba mate is a good choice for people prone to jitteriness. Start with the simplest version—a simple cup of the drink, brewed with hot water and the dried leaves and twigs. Like coffee, the flavor may take some getting used to, but it may also get you through that afternoon slump without the shaky hands and anxiety that coffee can so often cause.