Thursday, January 11, 2007

Do you know what a bombilla is?

Well, since you asked, a bombilla is a metal straw, sometimes of gold or silver, that is used in South America to drink yerba mate. Mate is a tea brewed from the leaves of an evergreen tree (as opposed to the tea plant) and is traditionally sipped out of a carved gourd. The decorated gourds and bombillas are really quite beautiful. Take a look at the collection at Patagonia Gifts.

One reason that yerba mate has its own drinking paraphernalia and is treated with such affection and reverence is that it is astonishingly high in caffeine. One website noted that pre-Columbian Indians liked the tea because it provided "an increased resistance to fatigue" and it had "thirst and hunger mitigation powers." A fancy way of saying that it is astonishingly high in caffeine.

Anyway, this is just my long-winded way of getting to a book that has been recently published by Elvira de Mejia, assistant professor of food science at the University of Illinois. The book, which is called Chemistry and Flavor of Hispanic Foods (probably not a bestseller title), investigates the nutraceutical value of the Hispanic diet, from Mexican beans to Margaritas. One of the book's main focuses is on mate, which de Mejia says "has the highest antioxidant capacity of the ethnic teas we have studied in my lab. There is evidence that three to four cups of this tea per day could have a protective effect against chronic diseases."

It will be interesting to see if yerba mate gives white, green and black teas a run for their money in the healthy drink market, though frankly 3 to 4 cups of mate would have me bouncing off the walls.

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