Referred to by some as "green tea on steroids," matcha is a powdered green tea from Japan that delivers even more health benefits than brewed tea. "When you [consume matcha], you ingest one hundred percent of the nutritional benefit of the entire leaf, not the just brew as with loose leaf tea," explains Matcha Source founder Alissa White.
To make matcha, farmers steam and air dry the green tea leaves after harvesting. The leaves are sorted for grade, destemmed and deveined. "At this stage, the leaves become tencha, the precursor to matcha. The tencha is then ground and becomes matcha," says White. "Matcha Source tea grade matcha is ground on a stone mill to achieve a fine powder texture, unlike industrial grade matcha which is ground by machines." The stone mill grinding process improves the characteristic taste and mouth feel of matcha.
According to White, matcha has been linked to longevity, prevention of cancer and other disease, detoxification, and mood enhancement. "It has also been recognized as having a beneficial impact on blood sugar regulation, cholesterol control and heart health support," the Matcha Source founder explains. "These benefits are derived from antioxidants (specifically EGCg), amino acids (specifically L-theanine), chlorophyll and vitamins A, C and E."
Matcha powder is superior in nutrition compared to brewed tea because some green tea nutrients stay locked in the leaf, which is removed from brewed tea once it has steeped.
Research shows that matcha increases metabolism, fights cancer, delays premature aging, and relaxes the mind.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims that matcha green tea produces a significant increase in energy expenditure (a measure of metabolism) in individuals, combined with a significant effect on fat oxidation.
"While some of the effects were originally attributed to the caffeine content of green tea, the researchers discovered that the matcha green tea effects on energy and weight loss go beyond those that would be caused by the caffeine," says White. "In fact, they found that consuming matcha green tea can increase thermogenesis (the body's own rate of burning calories) from a normal 8 to10 percent of daily energy expenditure to between 35 and 43 percent of daily energy expediture."
Of critical importance is the fact that none of the research subjects reported any side effects, and no significant differences in heart rates were noticed. "In this respect, matcha green tea is different from some of the prescription drugs for obesity, and herbal products like ephedra, which can raise heart rates and blood pressure, and are not recommended for many individuals," stresses White.
According to experts, one glass of matcha is the equivalent of 10 glasses of green tea in terms of its nutritional value and antioxidant content. Research done by Tufts University indicates that the ORAC (measure of antioxidant levels in foods) capacity of matcha green tea is exponentially higher than other high-antioxidants foods, such as blueberries and spinach. "The ORAC rating of matcha is 1300 units/g, compared to 105 units/g for pomegranates and 91 units/g for wild blueberries," adds White.
Further, the type of antioxidants found in green tea are particularly beneficial to health. In addition to forestalling premature aging, antioxidants are, more importantly, believed to combat cancer. There are many types of antioxidants. However, the class known as catechins, only found in green tea, may be the most potent of all, according to White. "Of the catechins, EGCg (epicgallocatechin gallate) is the catechin with the broadest and most potent cancer-fighting properties. Sixty percent of the catechin content of matcha tea is EGCg," says the matcha expert.
Matcha isn't a newly discovered mood booster. White says, "Buddhist monks drank matcha to assist in meditation, as matcha's amino acids combined with caffeine, offer a sustained calm alertness over time." In particular, the amino acid L-theanine found in matcha has been shown to relax the mind. "For this reason, matcha is also known as a mood enhancer," she adds.
Matcha not only delivers a potent nutritional punch, the high-antioxidant green tea powder also enhances the flavor of foods in which it is incorporated. "Amino acids are also what gives matcha its distinctive taste," explains White. "They contribute to what is known as the fifth taste, or umami, characterized by a rich, creamy mouth feel." This is especially appealing to a growing number of chefs and home cooks who are including matcha in a number of mouthwatering meals.
Matcha, which was recently featured in the October 2009 issue of Bon Appetit in a Matcha Pots de Crème with Blueberry Compote recipe, is a versatile ingredient that can be used in hot, cold, sweet or savory dishes.
You can sip matcha in the traditional way, by preparing it in a ceramic tea bowl and whisking the tea and water into a frothy beverage using a bamboo whisk, or you can use it more inventively in both food and drink.
White recommends blending matcha into smoothies and lattes, stirring it into Greek yogurt with berries and honey, including it in homemade ice cream, whipping it into basic buttercream frosting for cakes and cupcakes, and combining the green tea powder with rock salt and sprinkling it on fish or eggs.
"One of my customers uses matcha in batter for deep fried savory recipes with fish, chicken and tofu," says White. "We've also created a number of interesting recipes for you to try. You'll be amazed by matcha's versatility."
To learn more about the health benefits and culinary applications of matcha, visit MatchaSource.com.
(Click to download the Matcha Source e-cookbook of sweet and savory matcha recipes)
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