US firm brushes off Yerba Mate beverage 'bitterness' claims, hopes for sparkling growth

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

US firm brushes off Yerba Mate beverage 'bitterness' claims, hopes for sparkling growth

Related tags Caffeine

US firm Guayaki has launched a sparkling-based beverage containing natural stimulant Yerba Mate in Rexam sleek cans in an ‘ongoing effort’ to reach a more mainstream audience, and dismissed suggestions that the plant's sometimes bitter taste could deter uptake.

Guayaki’s previous offerings include bottled cold drinks, tea bags, loose leaf tea and energy shots – all using a Yerba Mate (IIex Paraguariensis​), a natural caffeine source derived from the leaves and stems of the South American holly tree.

According to Guayaki, the tree contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids and antioxidants; the leaves and stems are commonly infused or decocted for stimulant, antioxidant, antimicrobial and diuretic activity and Yerba Mate has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status in the US.

An influential recent toxicology study raised the question of whether the plant extract’s “unusual bitter taste​” could restrict its appeal to certain people and regions.

'Unusual bitter taste'?

Writing in the February 2012 issue of Food and Chemical Toxicology, ​Andrade et al. warned that Yerba Mate had an “unusual bitter taste [that] might be the cause of aversion to Yerba Mate-based beverages by a number of people, making the use of Yerba mate restricted to certain regions only.”

Andrade et al. noted that South American countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay had used yerba mate for centuries, attracted to its bitter taste and stimulant properties.

For this reason, the scientists noted increased interest in new delivery vehicles for yerba mate such as capsules, tablets, pills and other manufactured products.

But Guayaki co-founder, David Karr told "First off, not all [Yerba] mate are bitter tasting. Commercial sun grown mates are much more bitter that the shade grown, native rainforest mate that we source. It is a much different flavor and more balanced energy. But mate is definitely green like green tea, but i would say even less bitter than green tea, so that answers the mainstream question."

Rexam ‘sleek can’ targets women

Explaining Guayaki's efforts to penetrate the mainstream, Karr said: "We market across the gamut to natural, grocery and convenience. Sparkling is just another format that is popular, in fact carbonated soft drinks are the biggest category of all drinks. It's a bigger pond to fish in!"

The company has also tied-up with can maker Rexam to package the new sparkling beverages in 12oz (354ml) 'sleek' cans, to promote shelf stand out and sustainability.

"We like the Rexam can because it is smaller and we were looking to create a product with less liquid and more interesting for woman,"​ Karr told this publication, adding that the beverages were not currently available in Europe, but could be later in the decade.

Andrade et al. noted that yerba mate folk medicine uses include employment as a stimulant against physical and mental weakness and for treating hepatic and digestive diseases, arthritis, rheumatism, obesity, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia.

They added that 2009 research (Morais et al.) showed that digestion of yerba mate for 40 days by normolipidemic and dyslipidemic subjects reduced serum LDL-cholesterol and non-HDL cholesterol.

In their February 2012 toxicology study, the scientists noted an absence of toxic effects for dried yerba mate administered to rats and rabbits at dose rates of 2g per kg of body weight “with no obvious signs of toxicity”.

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