Yerba mate

The yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a plant native to the basins of the rivers Parana , Paraguay and Uruguay -of the latter in his upper course.

Although mate is the main drink in the countries of the Plata basin ( Paraguay , Argentina and Uruguay ), mate is not the only drink made from yerba mate.


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  • 1 Mate
  • 2 Etymology and other names
  • 3 History and cultural significance of mate
  • 4 Forms of consumption
  • 5 types of mate
    • 1 Traditional mate
    • 2 Cooked mate
    • 3 tea mate
    • 4 Soda pop
    • 5 Yerba mate beer
  • 6 Properties
  • 7 Sources


Photograph of a freshly primed mate with hot water. The light bulb is seen from above.

Mate is the product formed by the leaves of yerba mate (lex paraguaiensis) mixed with fragments of young, dried, lightly toasted and crumbled branches. It has a bitter taste due to the tannins of its leaves. That is why there are those who like to sweeten the mate a little with sugar or non-caloric sweetener . The foam generated when “priming” (spilling water into the container with yerba) is due to the glycosides that the yerba mate contains.

Etymology and other names

When the Spanish conquerors arrived in Paraguay, they noticed that the Guaraní natives practiced the ritual of gathering together to drink an infusion, which the Guaraní called “kaaÿ” . This expression derives from the Guaraní words “kaá” (‘yerba’), “ÿ” (‘agua’), which can be translated into ‘yerba water’. The container in which they drank mate was called “kaá ÿguá” – being “guá” (‘origin’) -. [one]

The expression “mate” comes from the Quechua word “matí” , which means ‘ pumpkin ‘ (since the container for drinking mate is usually made of pumpkin).

It is taken through a straw that the Guarani called “tacuarí” , at the end of which a hollowed seed was placed that served as a filter.

It has also been called “Paraguay tea” or “green gold”.

By extension, the conquistadors named this way the infusion made from yerba (Ílex paraguariensis) .

History and cultural significance of mate

Map of yerba mate in the American continent.

The conquerors who saw the natives take it, believed that mate was a “demon herb” because they were unaware of its practice. They also maintained that it was a lazy drink, since the natives dedicated several hours a day to this rite.

The mate originated as a rite of the native Guarani in the territory that now occupies Paraguay and the Argentine provinces of Misiones and Corrientes , the Guarani buried the remains of their loved ones and in that same place they planted yerba mate. After the plant grew, they harvested it and took it in wheel with their families in the same way that it is done today. The Guaraní natives performed these rites because they believed that in this way the spirit of their beings buried there would grow with the yerba mate plant and pass through the mate to their body and stay with them. They also used to plant different types of edible vegetables where they buried their relatives because they believed that the plant would grow better that way.

The Spaniards believed that mate was fortified for work by the Guarani and served as food in case of need. By 1714 , its use had spread to Bolivia and Chile . The British from Chile who dealt with the slave trade brought from Africa saw that it also benefited blacks, they tried it and took it to London , where it was very well received. It was even thought to replace the traditional use of tea with this drink, since it was more profitable and even cheaper; but since the Jesuit missions in Paraguay were its only producer, and the tea trade brought them such good profits, the idea was discarded.

Currently, Uruguay is the country where the most yerba is consumed per capita: million liters of mate per year, at a rate of one liter of water per 80 grams of yerba) in a market that imports 32 million kilos a year, and invoice about 90 million US dollars. The consumption of mate even exceeds that of all the brands of soft drinks combined that, according to data from the consultant Id Retail, sell about 290 million liters a year.

Forms of consumption

Prime the mate

The act of priming mate is based on serving a mate to each participant, going orderly from one to the other until completing the wheel. Once the ingredients have been selected and placed inside the mate mixed with the yerba, add half a teaspoon of sugar and then a splash of hot water to fill the container (also called mate). It is offered in the hand to each participant. The mateador takes all the water from the mate (until you hear the false aspiration noise at the bottom of the bulb, now without water) and returns the mate to the primer. This refills half a teaspoon of sugar and slowly dumps the hot water with the kettle (a kind of metal kettle) until the mate (container) is filled. He offers the next participant mate in hand.

Another way to sweeten, since the end of the 20th century, is to pour one or two squirts of liquid artificial sweetener into the thermos with hot water. In this case, then, it is not required to sweeten each mate that is primed.

When more than 20 or 30 mates have already been taken, the flavor begins to dilute. That is called “washed mate.”

Saddle mate

Saddling mate is the act of scooping out some used yerba (not all of it), and adding some new yerba to it. With this, the mate can maintain the flavor a little longer if one does not want to prepare it again completely.

Types of mate

Traditional mate

  • Bitter mate (without the addition of sugar or sweetener);
  • Sweet mate (adding sugar or sweetener);
    • mate de leche (replacing hot water with hot milk or 50% hot milk mixed with hot water).

In either case – although it is more common in sweet mate – some other additives can be added, such as:

  • orange peels, either fresh or dried near the fire
  • some “yuyo” (‘grass’ such as mint , cedron , boldo , lime , chamomile , donkey).
  • grated coconut (only in Paraguay),
  • banana peel (only in Brazil).

Cooked mate

The cooked mate is an infusion of yerba mate. In Brazil it is called «chá mate» (‘te mate’, in Portuguese ). In the Cuyo region (Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis) it is called “yerbeado” (pronounced [ierbeádo]);

The yerba mate is boiled in water in a bowl over the fire, strained and served in a cup. It is a drink that replaces coffee at breakfast or snack. It is consumed in Argentina , Brazil , Paraguay and Uruguay .

Several companies offer yerba mate packed in sachets, similar to tea, or even cooked mate soluble in hot water.

Tea mate

Tea mate is considered another variant of sweet mate; This mate is not made with yerba mate and is very common in the province of Entre Ríos, especially among children and adolescents. As its name implies, it is prepared with tea (black) and lemon as the main ingredients. The mate gourd is not used, but some container similar to a cup (since this mate, being sweet and with tea, would give its flavor to the “maroon”), what they have in common is that a light bulb is used.

It is also popular to add some other additives like

  • orange peels
  • some “yuyo” (‘herb’ such as mint , cedron , boldo , lime , chamomile ).
  • orange slices
  • pieces of apple

Once the ingredients are selected and placed inside the mate, hot water is added to accompany each sugar barley (or a sweetener if preferred).

It is a tradition for this type of mate to take it at naps, during the winter, because the water is a little warmer than the traditional mate (between 80 and 90  ° C ) and also due to the digestive properties of lemon tea and of the “weeds” normally used. It is not related to yerba mate. What it does have in common is sharing it, hot water and a light bulb.

Mate soda

During the 20th century, on several occasions, some companies produced soft drinks based on yerba mate, although so far the success has been insignificant. The first brand to launch the mate flavor in Argentina was Ricky Sodas in the 1960s .

Other brands were Che Mate (which San Isidro Refrescos introduced in 2002), and Harlem Mate (whose flavor was “washed mate”, cold and with gas).

In November 2003, the Argentine branch Coca-Cola company launched the Nativa brand, in which it invested four million pesos (1.4 million US dollars). Nativa did not achieve the planned commercial objectives (to sell about four million liters in a year) and was withdrawn from the market.

The most probable explanation for the low acceptance of these beverages is perhaps due to the fact that the so-called “colas” have been imposed as stimulant soft drinks and, as regards mate, the population of the southern cone has been of traditionalist tastes.

Yerba mate beer

The Brazilian beer maker DaDo Bier launched the first beer with yerba mate, under the brand name Ilex. In addition to yerba mate, it contains hops, mineral water, ferments and a blend of malts. It has a greenish color, low fermentation and a medium alcoholic strength.


Mate is a light tonic and diuretic. It is not true that mate is a powerful stimulant of the nervous system , since mateine ​​is considerably weaker than caffeine in coffee (which is also not a “potent stimulant”).

Like coffee , mate favors attention and with it intellectual activities.

In some people it has an antidepressant effect.

Unlike coffee drunk in excess, mate is not addictive, and there have been no cases of insomnia due to it; This is due to the fact that mate is drunk well diluted in water and – generally – between several people, and that in addition to all this, mate contains much less caffeine than tea, coffee, guarana, cocoa, etc. Also, it could influence that this is consumed preferably in the time slot that goes from early morning until afternoon until 9 at night, approximately. On the other hand, the diuresis caused by mate quickly removes the alkaloid catabolites from caffeine.

The diuretic capacity of mate explains a paradox of the “gaucho diet” until the beginning of the 20th century: until then, the inhabitants of the rural areas of the southern cone used to have a hyperprotein diet , which would have caused –in the most benign of cases– a very high concentration of urea that would be quickly reflected in disabling conditions such as gout . However, the diuresis achieved by high fluid intake counterbalanced the excesses of a hyperprotein diet.

Mate, on the other hand, has antioxidants. According to the conclusions of a study carried out in the United States, the consumption of mate can reduce LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol), while promoting HDL cholesterol (or “good” cholesterol). Research states that mate has properties that induce the activity of important antioxidant enzymes in the body; one of the most important is paraoxonase 1, which helps remove bad cholesterol and has cardioprotective effects.

The mate also provides some xanthines and up to twelve beneficial polyphenols, among which chlorogenic acid and quercetin stand out.

Another characteristic (currently almost anecdotal) was quite fortuitous: the creole or gaucho fighters during the War of Independence obtained most of their water through the intake of mate (with light bulb) and mate cocido (boiled infusion); in this way the water was purified of a large part of the bacteria and possible parasites; European mercenaries (both Spanish and from other countries), who used to consider mate as something “barbaric” or “primitive”, drank the waters without the necessary heating, therefore they frequently contracted parasitosis. Therefore, it is observed that mate is a beneficial drink only contraindicated in cases of very anxious personalities, suffering from insomnia or some severe kidney dysfunctions .

A previous study from Uruguay reported an increased risk of bladder cancer associated with drinking too much mate, which is quite common in many Uruguayans. It is also suggested that the consumption of mate could be a risk factor for esophageal cancer , if it is drunk at a boiling point, due to the high temperature of the water which, over time, can gradually damage the mucosa. esophageal .


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