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Mate in a traditional calabash gourd
|Country of origin||Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil|
|Introduced||16th century AD|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2010)|
Mate in a traditional calabash gourd
|Country of origin||Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil|
|Introduced||16th century AD|
Mate (Spanish: [ˈmate], Portuguese: [ˈmatʃi]; sometimes also spelled maté), also known as chimarrão (Portuguese: [ʃimɐˈʁɐ̃w̃]) or cimarrón (Spanish: [simaˈron]), is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink, particularly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and the southern states of Brazil and to a lesser degree in south of Chile, the Bolivian Chaco, Syria and Lebanon. It is prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba mate (llex paraguariensis, known in Portuguese as erva-mate) in hot water.
Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in some Latin American countries, a bomba in Portuguese, and a bombija or, more generally, a masassa (type of straw) in Arabic. The straw is traditionally made of silver. Modern, commercially available straws are typically made of nickel silver, called Alpaca; stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane. The gourd is known as a mate or a guampa; while in Brazil, it has the specific name of cuia, or also cabaça (the name for Indigenous-influenced calabash gourds in other regions of Brazil, still used for general food and drink in remote regions). Even if the water is supplied from a modern thermos, the infusion is traditionally drunk from mates or cuias.
As with other brewed herbs, yerba mate leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba. The bombilla acts as both a straw and a sieve. The submerged end is flared, with small holes or slots that allow the brewed liquid in, but block the chunky matter that makes up much of the mixture. A modern bombilla design uses a straight tube with holes, or spring sleeve to act as a sieve.
"Tea-bag" type infusions of mate (Spanish: mate cocido, Portuguese: chá mate) have been on the market in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay for many years under such trade names as "Taragüí Vitality" in Argentina, "Pajarito" and "Kurupí" in Paraguay, and in Brazil under the name "Mate Leão". This is considered a completely different drink. It is never drunk from cuias or called chimarrão, nor is it associated with the gaucho/gaúcho culture.
Both the spellings "mate" and "maté" are used in English. The acute accent on the final letter is likely added as a hypercorrection, and serves to indicate that the word and its pronunciation are distinct from the common English word "mate". But, the Yerba Mate Association of the Americas states that it is always incorrect to accent the second syllable, since this creates confusion with an unrelated Spanish word for killing. ("maté" literally means "I killed" in Spanish).
In Brazil, traditionally prepared mate is known as chimarrão, although the word mate and the expression "mate amargo" (bitter mate) are also used in Argentina and Uruguay. The Spanish cimarrón means "rough", "brute", or "barbarian", but is most widely understood to mean "feral", and is used in almost all of Latin America for domesticated animals that have become wild. The word was then used by the people who colonized the region of the Río de la Plata to describe the natives' rough and sour drink, drunk with no other ingredient to soften the taste.
The preparation of mate is a very simple process which consists of filling the gourd with yerba, pouring hot but not boiling water over the leaves, and drinking with a straw, the bombilla, which acts as a filter so as to draw only the liquid and not the yerba leaves. The method of preparing the mate infusion varies considerably from region to region, and which method yields the finest outcome is debated. However, nearly all methods have some common elements. The beverage is traditionally prepared in a gourd recipient, also called mate or guampa in Spanish and cuia in Portuguese, from which it is drunk. The gourd is nearly filled with yerba, and hot water (typically at 70 to 85 °C (158 to 185 °F), never boiling) is added.
The most common preparation involves a careful arrangement of the yerba within the gourd before adding hot water. In this method, the gourd is first filled one-half to three-quarters of the way with yerba. Too much yerba will result in a "short" mate; conversely, too little yerba results in a "long" mate, both being considered undesirable. After that, any additional herbs ("yuyo", in Portuguese "jujo") may be added for either health or flavor benefits; a practice most common in Paraguay, where people acquire herbs from a local yuyera (herbalist) and use the mate as a base for their herbal infusions. When the gourd is adequately filled, the preparer typically grasps it with the full hand, covering and roughly sealing the opening with the palm. Then the mate is turned upside-down, and shaken vigorously, but briefly and with gradually decreasing force, in this inverted position. This causes the finest, most powdery particles of the yerba to settle toward the preparer's palm and the top of the mate.
Once the yerba mate has settled, the mate is carefully brought to a near-sideways angle, with the opening tilted just slightly upward of the base. The mate is then shaken very gently with a side-to-side motion. This further settles the yerba mate inside the gourd so that the finest particles move toward the opening and the yerba is layered along one side. The largest stems and other bits create a partition between the empty space on one side of the gourd and the lopsided pile of yerba on the other.
After arranging the yerba along one side of the gourd, the mate is carefully tilted back onto its base, minimizing further disturbances of the yerba as it is re-oriented to allow consumption. Some avalanche-like settling is normal, but is not desirable. The angled mound of yerba should remain, with its powdery peak still flat and mostly level with the top of the gourd. A layer of stems along its slope will slide downward and accumulate in the space opposite the yerba (though at least a portion should remain in place).
All of this careful settling of the yerba ensures that each sip contains as little particulate matter as possible, creating a smooth-running mate. The finest particles will then be as distant as possible from the filtering end of the straw. With each draw, the smaller particles would inevitably move toward the straw, but the larger particles and stems filter much of this out. A sloped arrangement provides consistent concentration and flavor with each filling of the mate.
Now the mate is ready to receive the straw. Many people choose to pour warm water into the mate before adding the straw, while others insist that the straw is best inserted into dry yerba. Wetting the yerba by gently pouring cool water into the empty space within the gourd until the water nearly reaches the top, and then allowing it to be absorbed into the yerba before adding the straw, allows the preparer to carefully shape and "pack" the yerba's slope with the straw's filtering end, which makes the overall form of the yerba within the gourd more resilient and solid. Dry yerba, on the other hand, allows a cleaner and easier insertion of the straw, though care must be taken so as not to overly disturb the arrangement of the yerba. Such a decision is entirely a personal or cultural preference. The straw is inserted with one's thumb on the upper end of the straw, at an angle roughly perpendicular to the slope of the yerba, so that its filtering end travels into the deepest part of the yerba and comes to rest near or against the opposite wall of the gourd. It is important that the thumb forms a seal over the end of the straw when it is being inserted, or the negative pressure produced will draw in undesirable particulates.
After the above process, the yerba may be brewed. If the straw is inserted into dry yerba, the mate must first be filled once with cool water as above, then be allowed to absorb it completely (which generally takes no more than two or three minutes). Treating the yerba with cool water before the addition of hot water is essential, as it protects the yerba mate from being scalded and from the chemical breakdown of some of its desirable nutrients. Hot water may then be added by carefully pouring it, as with the cool water before, into the cavity opposite the yerba, until it reaches almost to the top of the gourd when the yerba is fully saturated. Care should be taken to maintain the dryness of the swollen top of the yerba beside the edge of the gourd's opening.
Once the hot water has been added, the mate is ready for drinking, and it may be refilled many times before becoming lavado (that is, washed out) and losing its flavor. When this occurs, the mound of yerba can be pushed from one side of the gourd to the other, allowing water to be added along its opposite side; this revives the mate for additional re-fillings and is called "reformar o/el mate" (reforming the mate).
Mate is traditionally drunk in a particular social setting, such as family gatherings or with friends. The same gourd (cuia) and straw (bomba/bombilla) are used by everyone drinking. One person (known in Portuguese as the preparador, cevador or patrão, and in Spanish as the cebador) assumes the task of server. Typically, the cebador fills the gourd and drinks the mate completely to ensure that it is free of particulate matter and of good quality. In some places passing the first brew of mate to another drinker is considered bad manners, as it may be too cold or too strong; for this reason the first brew is often called mate del zonzo (mate of the fool). The cebador subsequently refills the gourd and passes it to the drinker to his or her right, who likewise drinks it all (there isn't much; the mate is full of yerba, with room for little water), without thanking the server; a final gracias (thank you) implies that the drinker has had enough. It is possible that the cebador drinks the second filling as well, if he or she deems it too cold or bitter. When there is no more tea, the straw makes a loud sucking noise, which is not considered rude. The ritual proceeds around the circle in this fashion until the mate becomes lavado ("washed out" or "flat"), typically after the gourd has been filled about ten times or more depending on the yerba used (well-aged yerba mate is typically more potent, and therefore provides a greater number of refills) and the ability of the cebador. When one has had his fill of mate, he or she politely thanks the cebador passing the mate back at the same time. When someone takes too long, others in the roda (Spanish: "ronda"; English: "round") will likely friendly warn him or her by saying "bring the talking gourd" (cuia de conversar); an Argentine equivalent, especially among young people, being "no es un micrófono" ("it's not a microphone"), an allusion to the drinker holding the mate for too long, as if they were using it as a microphone to deliver a lecture.
Some drinkers like to add sugar or honey, creating mate dulce or mate doce (sweet mate), instead of sugarless mate amargo (bitter mate), a practice said to be more common in Brazil outside its southernmost state. Traditionally, natural gourds are used, though wood vessels, bamboo tubes and gourd-shaped mates, made of ceramic or metal (stainless steel or even silver) are also common. The gourd is traditionally made out of the porongo or cabaça fruit shell. Gourds are commonly decorated with silver, sporting decorative or heraldic designs with floral motifs.
Mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní and also spread by the Tupí people who lived in that part of Southern Brazil which was Paraguayan territory before the Paraguayan War. Therefore, the scientific name of the yerba mate is Ilex paraguariensis. The consumption of yerba mate became widespread with the European colonization in the Spanish colony of Paraguay in the late 16th century, both among Spanish settlers and indigenous Guaraní, who consumed it before the Spanish arrival. Mate consumption spread in the 17th century to the River Plata and from there to Chile. This widespread consumption turned it into Paraguay's main commodity above other wares like tobacco, cotton, and beef. Aboriginal labour was used to harvest wild stands. In the mid 17th century Jesuits managed to domesticate the plant and establish plantations in their Indian reductions in the Paraguayan department of Misiones, sparking severe competition with the Paraguayan harvesters of wild strands. After their expulsion in the 1770s, the Jesuit missions – along with the yerba mate plantations – fell into ruins. The industry continued to be of prime importance for the Paraguayan economy after independence, but development in benefit of the Paraguayan state halted after the Paraguayan War (1864–1870) that devastated the country both economically and demographically.
Brazil then became the largest producer of mate. In Brazilian and Argentine projects in late 19th and early 20th century the plant was domesticated once again, opening the way for plantation systems. When Brazilian entrepreneurs turned their attention to coffee in the 1930s, Argentina, which had long been the prime consumer, took over as the largest producer, resurrecting the economy of Misiones Province, where the Jesuits had once had most of their plantations. For years the status of largest producer shifted between Brazil and Argentina.
Today, Brazil is the largest producer with 53%, followed by Argentina, 37% and Paraguay, 10%.
Mate is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, where it is also consumed with either hot or ice cold water (see tereré), and Uruguay. Drinking mate is a common social practice in parts of Brazil, Chile, eastern Bolivia. Throughout the Southern Cone, it is considered to be a tradition typical of the gauchos or vaqueros, terms commonly used to describe residents of the South American pampas, chacos, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in parts of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, southeastern Bolivia, Southern Chile, and southern Brazil.
Parque Histórico do Mate, funded by the state of Paraná (Brazil), is a park aimed to educate people on the sustainable harvesting methods needed to maintain the integrity and vitality of the oldest wild forests of mate in the world.
Yerba mate tea contains significant levels of polyphenol antioxidants, and has a slightly higher antioxidant capacity than green tea. On average, mate tea contains 92 milligrams of the antioxidant chlorogenic acid per gram of dry leaves, and no catechins, giving it a significantly different antioxidant profile than other teas.
In-vivo and in-vitro studies are showing that yerba mate exhibits significant cancer-fighting activity. In 2011, research at the University of Illinois found yerba mate to inhibit the proliferation of colon cancer cells, adding to previous research at the University of Illinois in 2005 that found a similar effect for oral cancer cells.
Researchers in Mississippi found that both cold and hot water extractions of popular commercial yerba mate products contained high levels (8.03 to 53.3 ng/g dry leaves) of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (i.e. Benzo[a]pyrene). However, these potential carcinogenic compounds originate from commercial drying process of the mate leaves, which involves smoke from the burning of wood, much like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in wood smoked meat. "Un-smoked" or steamed varieties of yerba mate tea are available which may reduce this risk, though research comparing relative cancer risks of smoked versus steamed yerba mate is not available. One study found that the antioxidant properties of mate tea remain the same between both smoked and un-smoked varieties.
Other studies have highlighted limited evidence showing an association between esophageal cancer and hot mate drinking. Some research has suggested that this effect is almost entirely a consequence of hot mate's temperature; similar links to cancer have been found for tea and other beverages generally consumed at high temperatures. While drinking mate at very hot temperatures is considered as "probably carcinogenic to humans" on the IARC Group 2A carcinogens list, mate itself is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.
One study found a link between mate consumption and increased risk of bladder cancer, although the increased risk was relatively similar to the risks associated with the consumption of other common caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea.
A 2007 study from the University of Illinois conducted by Elvira de Mejia Ph.D, (Plant Biotechnology)  found that consuming 0.5 liters of yerba mate tea increases activity levels of the enzyme that produces HDL cholesterol, and lowers levels of LDL cholesterol. Study participants drinking mate tea had a 10% increase in the level of cardioprotective enzyme PON1, a precursor to HDL, compared to others drinking milk or coffee.
An in vivo study conducted by the University of São Francisco and the University of São Paulo in Brazil in 2009 found that mice fed high-fat diets for 12 weeks had significant improvements in blood serum levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and glucose after being orally administered a solution of purified water and instant yerba mate tea powder.
The Guaraní people started drinking mate in a region that currently includes Paraguay, southern Brazil, south-eastern Bolivia, north-east Argentina, and Uruguay. The Guaraní have a legend that says that the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the Earth one day to visit it but they instead found a Yaguareté (a jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man saved them, and, in compensation, the Goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant, from which he could prepare a "drink of friendship".
There is another drink that can be prepared with specially cut dry leaves, very cold water and, optionally, lemon or another fruit juice, called tereré. It is very common in Paraguay, northeastern Argentina and in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. After pouring the water, it is considered proper to "wait while the saint has a sip" before the first person takes a drink. In Southern Brazil, tererê is sometimes used as a derogatory term for a not hot enough chimarrão.
In Uruguay and Brazil the traditional gourd is usually big with a corresponding large hole. In Argentina (especially in the capital, Buenos Aires) the gourd is small and has a small hole, and people sometimes add sugar for flavor.
In Uruguay it is common to see people walking around the streets toting a mate and a thermos with hot water. In some parts of Argentina, gas stations sponsored by yerba mate producers provide free hot water to travelers, specifically for the purpose of drinking during the journey. There are disposable mate sets with a plastic mate and straw, and sets with a thermos flask and stacking containers for the yerba and sugar inside a fitted case. There is a national law In Uruguay that prohibits drinking mate while driving, because it caused many accidents of people getting scalded with hot water while driving.
In Argentina, mate cocido (boiled mate) is made with a teabag or leaves and drunk from a cup or mug, with or without sugar and milk. Companies such as Mar del Plata and Establecimiento Las Marías produce teabags for export to Europe.
Most urban Chileans do not drink mate, but travel narratives such as Maria Graham's Journal of a Residence in Chile, show that there is a long history of mate drinking in central Chile. Many rural Chileans drink mate, in particular in the southern regions, particularly Chiloé and Magallanes, perhaps due to the influence of neighboring areas of Argentina.
In some provinces of the Middle Eastern countries of Syria and Lebanon it is also common to drink mate. There, the custom of drinking mate came from Arabs who moved to South America during the early twentieth century, adopted the habit, and kept it after returning home. Syria is the biggest importer of yerba mate in the world, importing 15,000 tons a year. It is mostly the Druze and Alawite communities in Syria and Lebanon who maintain the culture and practice of mate.
According to a major retailer of mate in San Luis Obispo, California, by 2004 mate had grown to about 5% of the overall natural tea market in North America. Loose Mate is commercially available in much of North America. Bottled mate is increasingly available in the United States. Canadian bottlers have introduced a cane sugar-sweetened carbonated variety, remarkably similar to soda-pop, less the fructose, added caffeine and chemically-extracted preservatives. One brand, Sol Mate, produces 10-ounce glass bottles available at Canadian and U.S. retailers, making use of this clever pun for the sake of marketing.
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