Health

Matcha's the Internet's Latest Superfood Obsession. Does It Live Up to the Hype?

Published On 06/03/2016 Published On 06/03/2016
matcha
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You may have noticed a new green food taking over your Instagram feed (yep, there are more green superfoods out there). That's matcha, one of the buzziest food trends going, which makes it simultaneously intriguing and insufferable. 

Matcha lovers say the powder has tons of superfood-like benefits. It gives you the energy of Spider-Man! It keeps you looking young! You're less likely to die if you drink it! But is there any truth behind these claims, or are the benefits of matcha oversold?

What the hell IS matcha? 

Start with the basics. Matcha is made from whole green tea leaves ground down into a powder. But it's not just any green tea; matcha comes from special shade-grown tea leaves, with the shade resulting in boosted chlorophyll levels and a deeper green hue. Traditionally, it's whisked together with hot water until it makes a frothy tea drink. But today, matcha is quickly making its way into trendy coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and even hipster cocktail bars.

Matcha is to green tea as smoothies are to juice

To understand matcha, you have to break down why it's unique. When you juice fruits and vegetables, you're throwing a lot of the nutrients in the trash. Green tea is similar, in that matcha is the full leaf. By choosing matcha, you're not leaving any part of the leaf behind, unlike green-tea bags, which are steeped then thrown away. 

It's crazy-packed with antioxidants

And you're getting all of them, since you're retaining the whole leaf. One study found that matcha has at least three times the amount of catechins, a kind of antioxidant, as the highest recorded value of green tea, meaning many times more than the average cup. And as you know, antioxidants help prevent cancer, heart disease, and more -- you'll probably live forever if you drink matcha. Right? 

It boosts your endurance

Like coffee, green tea has been shown to enhance physical capacity. Part of this is because of the caffeine, but it's also because green tea is chock-full of those catechins already mentioned, which may improve performance in athletic activities.

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It's great for weight management

Hang on, hang on, there's no sales pitch for "Miracle Matcha Diet Pills" here. The good: drinking hot green tea is inversely related to obesity. The bad: adding matcha powder to desserts and cocktails does not cancel out the sugar or booze you're consuming. 

Not all matcha powders are equal

The highest-quality matcha usually comes from Japan, which is why Japanese matcha is so pricey. Other countries, like China, are getting in on matcha production, and the results are sometimes less than desirable -- Chinese producers may not shade-grow the tea, and they've been known to use banned pesticides, which probably negates a lot of matcha's health benefits. 

Generally, the greener the matcha, the truer the product. Be sure to check the ingredient label to make sure you're getting true tea -- some pre-made drinks have so many added sugars and preservatives that they barely qualify as matcha.

Beyond the pesticides, tea leaves grown in China may have high levels of lead, and Americans are becoming pretty familiar with the problems lead poses when people drink it. Consume too much, and you could end up with liver damage way worse than anything you've experienced after a boozy brunch. It's yet another reason to spend more for higher-quality matcha.

Does it live up to the hype? 

If you're willing to drop a significant amount of money on your tea habit, yes! A 0.7oz can of organic Japanese matcha, for example, could cost you $12 before tax and shipping, and depending on how much you drink, that could add up quickly. But the benefits are objectively positive. 

If you're willing to take the plunge, there are infinite possibilities for adding it to your routine. You could surely drink matcha the traditional way, frothy and hot, or add it to a milk of your choice for a tasty latte. But since matcha is a powder, it's easy to add to any recipe, from muffins to puddings to granola -- the list goes on.

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Kristin Schwab writes about health, fitness, and the arts. She’s still learning to love tea. Follow her on Twitter: @kkschwab.

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