Yerba Mate Taragüi - What is Yerba Mate?
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What is Yerba Mate?

Drinking Argentine Mate

As more and more health benefits of Yerba Mate continue to be discovered and confirmed, this natural drink from South America is booming all around the world.

Yerba Mate is a herbal infusion made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis, a tree that grows exclusively in certain subtropical regions of South America. Yerba Mate has existed for many centuries and is today the number one drink for millions of people in Argentina (world’s leading producer), as well as in Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. 

Actually, yerba mate was accepted as one of the one of the world’s “most surprising and pleasing discoveries” by the acclaimed magazine CNN Travel. In this top 50, Mate is placed above one of the most famous beers in the globe, the world’s best-selling energy drink, the beloved piña colada and whiskey. 

But for many people, especially outside South America, it may be the first time they hear the term “yerba mate”. It’s time to discover a natural infusion like no other!

Where does yerba mate come from?

The yerba mate tea is prepared with the leaves of the yerba mate tree from South America, which only grows in three countries: Argentina ( the world’s main producer), Brazil and Paraguay.  This tree, called Ilex Paraguariensis, is part of a large family of species with more than 600 varieties. The yerba mate plant can have a productive life of up to 100 years. Learn more about the Yerba Mate plant here.

After being dried, ground and packed in a carefully controlled process; the yerba mate leaves can be easily purchased in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and some parts of Chile (nowadays, yerba mate can also be purchased and delivered in others regions of the world). Yerba Mate is the most popular beverage in Argentina, surpassing coffee and tea. Read more about what yerba mate means for Argentina

A bit of history 

Although the discovery of yerba mate can be attributed to the Kaingang ethnic group about 3000 years B.C.; history recognizes the Guarani people (from the Paraná jungle) as the masters of yerba mate and the creators of its special brewing technique. They used yerba mate for nutritional and therapeutic purposes, but also as a spiritual symbol. The word “mate” comes from the Guarani “Caa-mate” where “Caa” means plant or herb, and “mate” refers to the gourd they used to drink it.

With the arrival of the Spaniards, the popularity of yerba mate extended to the whole colony. In this period, the Spanish Jesuit missionaries were the pioneers in cultivating and spreading the consumption of yerba mate.  Later on, the “gauchos” (a kind of Argentine cowboy) settled down throughout Argentina and adopted yerba mate as part of their identity. They sat around a fire, and next to the beef asado, they heat up water and passed on their mate from hand to hand. During Argentina’s independence in the 19th century, the tradition of drinking mate was strengthened in the country’s national culture. Read more about the history of yerba mate.

How do you prepare and drink yerba mate?

This herbal tea is prepared in a very particular way. Traditionally, you need a special gourd designed for this purpose (also called “mate”). The mate gourd comes in several shapes and materials such as glass, metal and wood, among others. You will also need a thin straw called “bombilla” to sip the mate tea and ideally, A thermos made of glass or stainless steel to maintain the water temperature (here you will find everything you need to start preparing yerba mate).

Also, the quality of the yerba is a determining factor when enjoying yerba mate. Only high quality yerba mate will ensure the ideal flavor, aromas and enjoyability. Use your five senses to identify high-quality yerba mate.

Although there are several ways to make and drink yerba mate, the most common one is hot yerba mate. To prepare a traditional mate tea, the ground leaves are brewed with hot water inside the mate gourd. This is how Argentinians prefer to drink yerba mate. Check out this step-by-step to prepare a traditional yerba mate tea.

Traditionally, yerba mate is shared by two or more people, sharing the same mate gourd and bombilla (read our recommendations to enjoy yerba mate during the COVID pandemic); however, only one person can be in charge of brewing. This person called “cebador” will pass on the gourd to each member of the group, and then fill the gourd again with hot water for the next person. This special ceremony goes back to the Argentine gauchos sharing yerba mate around a fire.

Tereré: the summer Mate

Are there other ways to drink yerba mate?

Yerba mate is very versatile and it can be enjoyed in several ways. 

  • For example, during the summer, cold-brewed yerba mate or tereré is very popular in Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay. This refreshing infusion is prepared with yerba mate (usually fruit-flavored), cold water and ice cubes. Here’s our recipe to prepare a delicious tereré for a sunny day.
  • Originally, yerba mate has a herbal and slightly bitter taste. Some people prefer to add sugar, sweeteners, honey or stevia. Here are some recommendations to sweeten your yerba mate.
  • Yerba mate comes in fruit-flavored versions like orange or other citrus fruits. Some people prefer to add fruit peels or natural herbs like mint, melissa or cedron leaves to add flavors and benefits.
  • Yerba mate can also be found in the form of tea bags, which makes it possible to add milk and sugar the same way as coffee or tea. 
  • Mate with stems (“palo”) is the most classic version and the most popular among Argentines; but you can also find mate without stems.You can also find “low-dust” yerba mate, resulting in a more crystalline infusion.

What are the benefits of yerba mate?

One of the main reasons people love yerba mate is its stimulating and energizing effect, the same reason people like to have coffee or tea in the morning (although yerba mate has undeniable advantages over these drinks). The caffeine contained in yerba mate stimulates the central nervous system and increases focus and energy levels; ideal for undertaking any activity in your daily routine.

However, the caffeine in yerba mate is more gentle that, for example, energy drinks. These commercial drinks sometimes have so much caffeine and sugar that they cause insomnia, nervousness, tachycardia and nausea. Read this comparison between yerba mate and energy drinks.

Beyond that, yerba mate is considered one of the best and healthiest drinks in the world.  Its antioxidant power protects cells and improves all body functions. It contains almost all the micro nutrients needed by the human body, like vitamins, essential minerals and other nutrients.

Yerba mate is also known to have medicinal properties, improve the immune system and prevent diseases like diabetes, arteriosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular problems. Yerba mate also acts to protect the bones and to lower bad cholesterol. 

Your digestion can also be improved considerably by drinking yerba mate. This natural tea stimulates bowel movement and can relieve constipation by helping the body in its natural process of eliminating waste and toxins. And if that were not enough, yerba mate enhances cognitive functions; is an effective neuroprotector, and has detoxifying, diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects.

Are you trying to lose weight? Yerba mate contains zero fat and is low in calories and sodium. So it can be easily included in any healthy diet or routine. It also boosts your metabolism and gives you energy to excercise.
In general, yerba mate fosters a state of well-being that improves your quality of life. Here you can learn in detail about the countless health benefits of yerba mate.

Is it safe to drink yerba mate everyday?

Yes! Yerba mate can be the perfect addition to a healthy morning routine. It has many health benefits and is unlikely to cause side effects in an average adult or to put their health at risk. You can start slowly by having just a few sips of yerba mate tea in your diet, until you find the quantity and frequency that is ideal for you. Numerous scientific studies confirm that yerba mate is one of the most healthy and nutritious drinks in the world today, and some consider it a superfood. It provides your body with potassium, vitamins (especially in the B-group), magnesium, iron, caffeine, polyphenols and saponins.

In fact, many sportsmen and sportswomen use yerba mate as their “secret weapon” for victory. The acclaimed Argentinian Leo Messi, the Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez; or even the Frenchman Antoine Griezmann and the Chinese Wu Lei are some famous soccer players who love Yerba Mate. They know that consuming yerba mate regularly translate into a better physical condition and higher performance on the field. Find out why yerba mate is perfect for sports with these articles.

Yerba Mate is culture

In addition to its energizing effect and its health benefits, sharing yerba mate is a social custom and part of the lifestyle in the producing countries. In Argentina, for example, drinking yerba mate is a daily ritual for its citizens (yerba mate is present in 90% of Argentine homes). In this country, people generally enjoy yerba mate in groups, sharing the same mate regardless of the number of drinkers, with one person in charge of pouring water and passing the cup to each of the others. Read more here about yerba mate in Argentina. However, in times of quarantine and social distance, it is recommended that each person uses their own mate cup and bombilla, although hot water can still be shared! 

In Uruguay, yerba mate is also considered the national drink. Uruguayans drink hot, bitter yerba mate tea at any time and in any place, and mostly individually with every person having their own yerba mate kit. The mate cups in Uruguay are bigger and yerba without stems is preferred. 

Drinking Yerba Mate infusion

In Paraguay, yerba is yellow and the mate infusion is mainly prepared as “tereré“, made with yerba mate, cold water and other refreshing herbs. In the South of Brazil, they have their own type of yerba mate (greener and always bitter) and they call it chimarrão. There, yerba mate is also considered a form of social interaction as in Argentina, although many also drink it individually throughout the day.

So what began as a native ritual remains valid and unalterable. Today, yerba mate is the drink of choice for millions of people; And that number continues to grow thanks to the numerous scientific studies supporting its many virtues. Yerba mate has transcended South American borders, gaining followers around the world. You can enjoy this unique beverage  no matter where you are.

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