The first time I saw matcha, I was entranced by its vibrant green color. I was also intrigued about its possible health benefits.
What is matcha, and what health benefits does it offer?
What is Matcha?
Matcha is a powdered green tea, enjoyed for nearly 1,000 years in China and Japan. The word ‘matcha’ comes from the Japanese words ma, which means ground, and cha, or tea, to describe the fine powder made from steamed and dried green tea leaves.
The leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are processed in different ways to create white, green, oolong, and black teas. Smaller young leaves and leaf buds are used for making green tea, the older larger leaves for oolong and black tea, and the buds for white tea.
To make matcha, the tea bushes are covered to shade the leaves from direct sunlight, which enables the plants to produce higher amounts of amino acids and bioactive compounds, including chlorophyll and theanine, responsible for the unique, non-bitter taste and the characteristic, bright green color of matcha.
After a brief period of steaming, the leaves are dried, stems and veins are removed, and the remaining leaves are ground into a fine powder.
Other types of tea leaves are steeped in water and discarded; matcha is powdered and stirred into the water with nothing to discard.
Health Benefits of Matcha:
All types of tea are prized not only for their taste, but also for health benefits. Matcha is considered a tea health powerhouse for these reasons:
Antioxidants: Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that account for as much as 30% of the dry weight of green tea. The amount of polyphenols present in the tea you drink depends on the type of tea, amount of tea leaves per portion, the water brewing temperature and the time the tea is steeped.
Matcha green tea may contain anywhere from three to ten times the quantity of antioxidants contained in standard green tea. Antioxidants are substances naturally found in plants that prevent or delay some types of cell damage that are associated with the risk of developing some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.
Catechins: Catechins are an important class of antioxidants found in all types of tea. EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) is the most important catechin and is associated with the anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-atherosclerotic, anti-diabetic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-dental caries effects of tea. Matcha contains higher amounts of ECGC than other types of tea
Vitamin C: All green tea contains vitamin C, but matcha has been found to contain more than double the amount of Vitamin C of other types of green tea. Matcha tea contains 32-44 mg of vitamin C per liter. Matcha tea can contribute significant amounts of this important vitamin that is crucial for collagen formation, iron absorption, and our immune system.
Chlorophyll: Because matcha is prepared from tea leaves grown in the shade, it contains more chlorophyll than other types of tea. Chlorophyll allows plants to absorb energy from the sun during photosynthesis and is responsible for the bright green color of matcha. Chlorophyll is also an important source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that promote health and may decrease risk of some types of cancer.
Caffeine: Compared to other types of green tea, matcha has a higher caffeine content. The content of caffeine in green teas was found to fall within the range of 11.3–24.67 mg/g while in matcha it amounted to between 18.9 and 44.4 mg/g.
For the sake of comparison, most coffee beans will contain 10.0–12.0 mg caffeine/g of beans.
Caffeine not only stimulates the nervous system; it also may reduce oxidative stress and contains anti-inflammatories.
Theanine: Theanine is an amino acid naturally occurring in the tea plant Camellia sinensi. However, because plants grown for matcha production are shaded, theanine doesn’t break down. The higher theanine in matcha provides its distinctive taste, and the combination of theanine and caffeine may enhance concentration and help manage stress.
Want to learn more about matcha? Don't miss the sister post How to Make Matcha Part of Your Eating Pattern!
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC
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Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.