Fad or Future

Teatime: guayusa leaves promise the caffeine of coffee with added antioxidants

The South American plant is already popular in the US, where it’s consumed predominantly as a beverage.

25 June 2018
coffeedrinkhealthingredientsLatin Americannutrition

South American super tea. I feel like I’ve been hearing about this recently…

You’re probably thinking of yerba mate, which is a similar product consumed all over Latin America. Recently, the British press have dedicated several articles to the fact that World Cup football teams – including the English one – have been gulping back yerba mate tea to improve performance.

Game on. What’s the difference between yerba mate and guayusa?

Guayusa is slightly less bitter, a tad sweeter and has a lower concentration of caffeine – though one cup still contains as much as an equal amount of coffee. Yerba mate and guayusa both come from the holly tree family, but while yerba mate (Ilex Paraguariensis) originates in Paraguay and has since spread to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, guayusa (Ilex Guayusa) is predominantly grown in just one country: Ecuador.

So come on then, what magical benefits does it provide?

It’s said to have more antioxidants than green tea and provide a mood-boosting effect similar to dark chocolate. Plus, there’s the caffeine, which is released more slowly into the body and comes without the jittery overstimulation. Evidence of these properties, however, is mostly anecdotal. According to the traditions of the Amazonian Kichwa people, a tea brewed from guayusa also helps you dream walk.

Sounds trippy, is it legal?

At the very end of last year, it was approved by the European Union as an authorised novel food for use in herbal infusions and supplements. However, that means it can’t technically be incorporated into food without further approval – though that doesn’t seem to have stopped Pacari, an Ecuadorian chocolate company that sells a vegan, free-from organic chocolate bar with guayusa to British consumers online. Pacari’s products are also sold via Planet Organic and several independent stores.

Yerba mate, on the other hand, is not regarded as a novel food, and so can be consumed in a wider variety of ways. Argentine chain Cau, for example, has used it to smoke beef and lamb.

Can I do anything else with yerba mate?

Sure, Latin American chefs have experimented with it in soups and desserts – but beware the bitter taste, which may need some balancing out. Guayusa, on the other hand, is generally said to be smoother, so would probably be easier to incorporate into dishes if it were to be approved by the EU.

Where can I lay my hands on it?

A Brit-based company called BFT Drinks recently announced it’s launching a canned energy drink called Yusa, containing guayusa, fruit juices from concentrate for flavouring and stevia as a sweetener. The brand highlights its all-natural contents, low-sugar credentials (2.5g per 100ml, half the Soft Drinks Industry Levy threshold), as well as the high levels of antioxidants and caffeine. The beverage comes in cans of 250ml with an RRP of £1.99.

The Guayusa Co. sells guayusa in loose-leaf form and in pyramid bags, as does German company Guya. Over in the States, a business called Runa is the dominant force in delivering guayusa, with a little help from celebrity backer Channing Tatum, who credits it with helping him stay on the ball while working on Magic Mike. Runa, whose sales are growing at over 50% a year to date, recently got snapped up by All Market Inc, the company behind coconut water phenomenon Vita Coco.

Guayusa tea as the new coconut water? But will greater demand have a negative impact on the environment?

It’s actually being marketed as good for the environment. Guayusa trees are traditionally grown in forest gardens called chakras. This kind of agroforestry system encourages the cultivation of crops amidst trees, combating logging and aiding reforestation. Both Runa and Yusa note this on their sites, adding that guayusa provides an alternative income for farmers who predominantly rely on demand for coffee and cacao.

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