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Amy Eddings' Food for Thought: Discovering Yerba Mate

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My first cup of yerba mate. Maybe my last. Note my notebook, nearby. Carrying on.... (Amy Eddings/WNYC)

UPDATE: Here's another reason for me not to drink yerba mate...and not just because I don't really like the taste. It turns out it is not as healthful as it sounds. A colleague directed me to the Caring4Cancer Web site. Some sources say that the cancer-causing properties of mate are not in the mate leaves themselves, but are due to the drying process, which often involves wood-burning fires.

I love coffee. Not for the caffeine -- I've been drinking decaf for several years now -- but because I like the strong taste and the creaminess of coffee with frothy, warmed milk. So, it's been a big drag to have to give it up for my 21-day detox.

Coffee is acidic, while the body is meant to be alkaline. Decaf coffee is chemically processed, which adds to my already-high toxic body burden. (I've been reading, with increasing alarm, McKay Jenkins' "What's Gotten Into Us? Staying Healthy In a Toxic World." Listen to his interview on The Takeaway here.)

So, I've switched, for the time being, to tea. And I'm trying yerba mate, which, as Wikipedia puts it, has "anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, lipid-lowering activities."  Sounds good to me. 

It's a strong tea. You'd think I'd like that because I like a good, rich, robust coffee, but I'm not yet a fan. 

What I like is the ritual surrounding it in South America, where the yerba mate plant is found. It's a group indulgence. The dried tea leaves and bits of bark are infused in a gourd with hot, not boiling, water -- boiling water makes it bitter, which may be why I am not digging the brand of yerba mate I'm sipping now -- and the gourd is passed around to the group, who sip the tea through a communal straw. 

My business editor, Charlie Herman, says a fellow student in a Spanish class he was taking brought in yerba mate for "show and tell," and he was the only one to sample it. Americans aren't too keen on communal germs, I guess ... except when it comes to eating the same dessert. 

Suffering through a cup of yerba mate is when I really tire of being "healthy." I don't like to drink something because it's good for me. I want to eat and drink food I enjoy, and truly want to eat. So many diets and detoxes are about beating the love of food out of you with blandness and just plain awfulness. Think egg white omelets, skim milk, and wheat grass. And yerba mate.

Just 19 days to go until I get my decaf coffee with steamed milk again. Counting the days.....

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