What Are the Health Benefits of Matcha?

Are there any health benefits to matcha? What can this trendy superbrew do for you?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
April 12, 2016
Episode #377

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Marcia writes:  

"I am reading a lot about matcha. Is this just another superfood fad or is it for real? And if it is a good thing, how do you determine whether matcha is good quality?"

Matcha may be a bit of a trend right now, but it's been around for centuries. And while it's not going to torch body fat, kill cancer, detoxify your organs, or lower your cholesterol (as some of the websites out there claim), it does contain many beneficial compounds. 

The word 'matcha' is Japanese and it refers to a particular way of processing and consuming green tea. Green tea that is grown for matcha is covered with cloths for several weeks before harvesting, which stimulates chlorophyll production and makes the leaves even brighter green.

The leaves are then harvested, steamed, and dried, as they are for tea. But instead of steeping the dried leaves in hot water to make tea, the leaves are ground into a fine powder. The traditional matcha beverage is made by adding a teaspoon or so of this bright green powder into a small amount of water and whisking it until is frothy. Matcha powder can also be added to foods such as noodles, muffins, and even ice cream.

What Does Matcha Taste Like?

The flavor of matcha is quite a bit more intense than traditionally brewed green tea—in part because each serving contains a lot more tea. It shouldn't taste fishy, metallic, or unpleasantly bitter (which are signs of poor quality matcha powder). But even at its best, it can be a bit of an acquired taste.

Although price isn't an infallible guide to quality, I would be suspicious of very inexpensive matcha. Good quality matcha will be very bright—almost electric green—in color and have a pleasant grassy or vegetal fragrance. One good description I found described it as similar to the smell of freshly pureed peas. As for the flavor, some people describe it as savory, almost like a broth. Matcha is sometimes mixed with milk or sweeteners to make it more palatable.

What's the Difference Between Matcha and Green Tea?

Matcha contains the same nutrients and active compounds as green tea. The big difference is that you're actually consuming the entire leaf rather than steeping and straining the leaves out of your tea. That means you get a much bigger dose of all those active compounds, including the caffeine. 

Depending how much matcha powder you use, a serving of matcha may contain almost as much caffeine as an 8 oz cup of coffee. Matcha also contains a compound called theanine, which has been shown to promote a state of relaxed alertness or focus. Many people find that the theanine seems to mellow the effect of the caffeine, giving them a nice lift without the jangly buzz.

Matcha also gives you a more concentrated dose of catechins—antioxidants thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits of green tea, which include reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. 

We shouldn't assume, however, that getting a more concentrated dose of catechins will multiply those effects.  


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