Thursday, March 4, 2010
Mate was first cultivated by the Guarani Indians who used the dried leaves and twigs of ilex paraguarienses to infuse teas. The habit of drinking mate was spread throughout southern South America first by Jesuit missionaries, and later by the cowboys known as gauchos.
Mate contains caffeine, varying from 0.7% to 1.7% by dry weight. This compares to tea leaves (0.3%-0.9%) or coffee (up to 3.2%). It also has elements such as potassium, manganese and magnesium, and has been shown to have anti-cholesterol and anti-oxidant properties. Conversely, there is some indication that mate has a limited connection to some specific cancers, particularly oral cancer. It's not clear, however, whether it is the chemical composition of mate that is carcinogenic, or whether it is the effect of drinking hot liquids (of any type). Some laboratory studies with mice seem to indicate that imbibing mate has the effect of lessening the tendency to obesity associated with high-fat diets.
In the regions where it is drunk, mate is as culturally significant as is black tea is in Scotland, as coffee is in Italy, or as wine is in France. It is not just a beverage, it's a social and cultural unifier and identifier that cross national and linguistic boundaries to create the "culture of mate."