Thursday August 7, 2008 | 10 comments
Between the book, Motorcycle Diaries, the film of the same name, and the popularity of energy drinks . . . infusions of Ilex paraguariensis are very popular among young people in the United States. Ernesto Guevara, better known later as Che, comes off as an anti-establishment champion of the oppressed, who, nonetheless, “likes nothing more than consuming heroic amounts of mate . . . “
The plant, related to holly, grows wild throughout the rain forests of South America. Yerba mate is the national drink of Argentina, but is widely consumed in Paraguay, Brazil, and Ecuador, among others. The drink is traditionally brewed in a gourd (mate) specially cured for the purpose and consumed through a silver or stainless steel straw (bombilla) which acts as a sieve to prevent one from consuming the larger chunks of ground herb. The herb can be steeped numerous times.
Much debate and controversy surrounds the main stimulant ingredient in yerba mate. One one side, there are those who claim that the main stimulant is caffeine, pure and simple. On the other side are those who insist that the stimulant is mateine. Mateine is alleged to fight fatigue and increase mental alertness “without the jitters or heart palpitations” of caffeine consumption.
One website makes the following – if a bit redundant – claim for yerba mate, ” . . . contains practically all of the vitamins to sustain life. Powerful antioxidant, tone the nervous system, retard aging, combat fatigue, stimulate the mind, control the appetite, reduce stress. It also contains vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B complex, riboflavin, vitamin C complex, magnesium, calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, manganese, silicon. Specially large amounts of pantothenic acid, a significant and vital nutrient.”
One website goes a bit further, “mate rejuvenates not by the false hopes of caffeine, but simply through the wealth of its nutrients.” No one mentions caloric value. There are many claims for yerba mate as a weight loss aid.
For collectors out there, the world of mate consumption offers a world of must-have “stuff,” from groovy gourds to beautiful bombillas. Yerba mate comes in a variety of “flavors,” and is served sweetened with sugar (mate dulce) or straight up – bitter. One can get into the habit easily: a twenty dollar bill will get you a mate gourd, a bombilla, and a supply of herb shipped from Argentina. You can, of course, spend a lot more.
Is yerba mate a good thing for kids? Should we be worried that kids are enamored of this stimulant drink? Is there an argument to be made that favors our beloved Camellia sinensis over Ilex paraguariensis?