Green smoothies, green lattes, green ice cream and green noodles all have one thing in common, well two, if you count being delicious. They all likely contain dried, pulverized green tea leaves, called matcha, that give them their green colour and contain a host of health benefits.
Matcha has been growing in popularity in the west of late, but has a long history in East Asia. Consumption of dried, ground tea leaves can be traced as far back as the Tang dynasty in China, some thirteen hundred years ago, when green tea leaves were steamed and formed into bricks for trade and easy storage. The bricks were later roasted, pulverized, decocted in hot water and served with salt.
The preparation and drinking of powdered tea was later adapted into a ritual by Chan Buddhists and transplanted to Japan by Zen Buddhists in the twelfth century. The Tea ceremony is still an important part of Japanese culture to this day.
Matcha, like green tea, is known for a variety of health benefits. Some three to four weeks before harvest, the green tea plants are shaded in almost total darkness, which increases the production of caffeine and theanine. Caffeine is well-known for its ability to promote alertness - very important for Zen Buddhists meditating for long periods of time - while theanine has been shown to significantly reduce stress.
Matcha is also known to contain significant amounts of catechins, which are natural antioxidants that may reduce cell damage and prevent disease. One of these catechins, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, may have significant cancer-fighting properties. There is also some evidence that matcha may prevent liver disease, as well, but more research still needs to be done to confirm this.
At the same time, some studies have shown that green tea, from which matcha is derived, may promote heart health and weight loss. Additional studies would be needed to confirm that matcha shares these properties.
Drinking matcha may not bring you enlightenment, like the Zen Buddhists, but it is good for the body and mind. Check with your health care provider before making any major changes to your diet