Studies have revealed a variety of health benefits associated with matcha and its components, ranging from enhancing weight loss to decreasing the risk of heart disease.
So, what else makes matcha special? We’ve rounded up a few fast facts.
What is matcha?
Matcha is a type of green tea made by taking young tea leaves and grinding them into a bright green powder. The powder is then whisked with hot water. This is different to regular green tea, where the leaves are infused in water, then removed.
Drinking brewed green tea “is a bit like boiling spinach, throwing away the spinach and just drinking the water,” says Louise Cheadle, co-author of The Book of Matcha. “You will get some of the nutrients, but you’re throwing away the best bit.” With matcha, you’re drinking the tea leaves.
Matcha has a slightly bitter, vegetal taste and a vibrant green colour that comes from the leaves’ high chlorophyll levels. It’s been the cornerstone of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries, but it has become popular worldwide due to its touted health benefits.
Matcha comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant as green tea but goes through a completely different farming process, making it much stronger in flavour and caffeine than typical green tea, with a more appealing nutrient profile.
Green tea plants used for matcha are shade-grown for several weeks before harvest, which encourages the plant to produce a unique mix of caffeine and L-theanine, an amino acid that promotes calm. The leaves are then ground into a fine powder, splashed with hot water and whisked with a bamboo brush until the mixture froths like a milky latte.
Here are a few potential benefits of this green powerhouse.
1. May boost brain function
The caffeine in matcha promotes brain function, of course, but it also has other components that make it a brain-boosting beverage. It has been found to improve alertness, performance, memory and focus without giving you the jumpy feeling that you can get from coffee.
Another study was designed to assess how people performed on a series of tasks intended to measure brain performance. Some participants consumed four grams of matcha, while the control group had a placebo. The researchers found that matcha led to improvements in attention, reaction time and memory compared to the placebo.
Another small study showed that consuming two grams of green tea powder daily for two months helped improve brain function in older people.
2. It’s high in antioxidants
Matcha is a rich source of catechins, natural antioxidants that are found in plants. Research has widely found that antioxidants can help to slow the process of ageing by stabilising free radicals, compounds that cause damage to cells and can contribute to several chronic diseases.
Unlike green tea, where the leaves are infused in hot water and then discarded, matcha drinkers consume the leaf, giving it a greater kick of antioxidants. One study by the University of Colorado found that the catechin content in matcha is around 137 times greater than in regular green tea.
Another study showed that matcha supplements reduced damage caused by free radicals and enhanced antioxidant activity in mice.
So, including matcha in your diet could increase your antioxidant intake, which may help prevent cell damage and even lower your risk of several chronic diseases.
3. It gives you a less jittery energy boost compared with coffee
Matcha contains caffeine, but thanks to its high L-theanine content, the ‘buzz’ is much more long-lasting and energising.
L-theanine causes a slow release of caffeine into the body, and has a calming, relaxing effect that counteracts the caffeine rush. Basically, it should give you that all-important pick-me-up on the commute into work, but without the jitters and subsequent energy slump.
4. It may enhance ‘fat oxidation’
A study by three different universities last year examined the effect matcha green tea drinks have on metabolic responses in women while walking briskly. The researchers found that if participants consumed three drinks the day before and one drink two hours before a 30-minute brisk walk, matcha enhanced exercise-induced fat oxidation, aka burning fat. They did say, though, that the metabolic effects shouldn’t be overstated if you’re trying to lose weight.
5. May promote a healthy heart
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated one-third of all deaths in people over the age of 35.
Studies have shown that incorporating green tea into a healthy, well-rounded diet may help protect against heart disease. Green tea, which has a similar nutrient profile to matcha, has been shown to reduce levels of total and LDL cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.
Some things to keep in mind
It can vary widely in quality. Matcha tea is categorised in two ways – as ceremonial grade matcha tea or culinary grade matcha tea. The best matcha is typically ceremonial. This is the form used in Japanese tea rituals for its vibrant green colour, calming effects and smooth flavour. This high-quality powder is made from the youngest green tea leaves available with all stems and veins removed for the highest purity.
Culinary grade matcha tea is usually less expensive but can have a bitter taste.
Store it correctly. Matcha doesn’t have a long shelf life, store it in the fridge once you’ve opened it and use within two months.
Sweeten to taste. The grassy, umami flavour can be an acquired taste so don’t hesitate to add a splash of maple syrup or some honey to make it more enjoyable.
The great thing about matcha, apart from its distinctive green hue, is that it’s a really versatile cooking ingredient. As well as hot beverages, powdered matcha can be baked into cakes, used to flavour ice cream, whizzed into smoothies or spooned into pancake batter.
What type of tea do you drink? Have you tried matcha?
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Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.