Mate or yerba mate (llex paraguariensis) is a tea-like drink traditionally consumed in South American countries by pouring boiling water onto a high concentration of leaves. According to their published research, the Illinois researchers have shown yerba mate tea is a rich source of polyphenols.
Green tea extracts are already used in functional beverages for their antioxidant properties, but the leader of the Urbana-Champaign research believes mate tea could bring even greater functional benefits.
"The beverage industry can really take advantage of mate tea to add concentrated antioxidants to juices or teas," Dr. Elvira de Mejia, assistant professor of food chemistry and food toxicology at Urbana-Champaign, told NutraIngredients-USA.
The recently published book "Hispanic Foods - Chemistry and Flavor", co-edited by Dr. de Mejia and Michael Tunick, looks at the bioactivity of ethnic foods south of the border.
"The bioactivity of mate tea is related to its phenolic constituents," it says. "It has been shown that mate tea has a higher antioxidant capacity than both green tea and Ardisia compressa."
However, Dr. de Mejia's lab is taking research into yerba mate one step further by examining how concentrations of the tea can be used in mainstream drinks to give them functional properties.
A study published in "Hispanic Food" concludes: "This study revealed that mate tea contains a higher total polyphenol content and free radical scavenging capacity than both ardisia tea and hibiscus sabdariffa.
"In fact mate tea displayed an antioxidant capacity statistically the same as pure gallic (20mg/ml)."Mate tea is drunk in very high contentrations in many Latin American countries as part of a daily social ritual, in which it is passed around amongst friends and coworkers. It has what is often often described as an "acquired" and earthy taste.
According to Dr. de Mejia, most Western teas are prepared at a concentration of 10g of leaves per litre, which mate tea is prepared at 50g per litre.