Theanine, the amino acid that makes up 50 percent of green tea, is full of flavor and health benefits. Despite frequent confusion, yerba mate does not, in fact, contain theanine. The two are similarly processed, packaged, and enjoyed, but are different types of plants. Both offer benefits, both in the experience of drinking them and in long-term health.
What is Theanine?
Theanine is an amino acid, found in tea leaves, most concentrated in the green tea leaf gyokuro. Theanine is also present in one mushroom species, the Boletus badius. Highly valued for its health benefits, specifically its effect on mental health, theanine makes up 50 percent of the amino acids in green tea. Although theanine is most concentrated in green tea, it also appears in several types of white and oo-long teas. In 1950, theanine was extracted from the gyokuro tea leaf, so there are other ways to get theanine than through tea. Theanine can be purchased in powder, pill and supplement form.
Benefits of Theanine
The major reason theanine is so nutritionally valued is its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. In other words, theanine can enter your brain, and therefore can have psychoactive benefits. Theanine can reduce stress and increase relaxation, as well as help with cognition, especially when taken in with caffeine. Regularly ingesting theanine can increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can ward off depression and anxiety. It has also been shown to boost the immune system and help the body fight against diseases (amazing-green-tea.com).
Does Yerba Mate Contain Theanine?
Yerba mate is a species of holly that grows in several countries in South America. The shrub plant grows about 15 meters tall, and was first classified in Paraguay in 1895. The leaves are dried, sold in bags similar to tea bags, and steeped in a similar process. Yerba mate has been likened to tea, as both in taste and in health benefits; yerba mate also has a calming effect, helps with focus and cognition. But although yerba mate has similarities to tea, theanine is not contained in it. The two are biologically different, despite their similarities.
Where Can I Get Theanine and Yerba Mate?
Both theanine and yerba mate are healthful, and one should not cancel out the other. You can add both to your daily diet, or alternate between the two. Theanine-rich tea, and yerba mate, can be found at most health food stores, as well as the health food section of most grocery stores. Additionally, many coffee and tea shops sell special blends that are pure and concentrated.
Other similar teas and beverages
If you enjoy tea and yerba mate, try roobois, chai tea, red tea and olive leaf tea.
Abbey Baker is a writer and teacher at an alternative school in Burlington, Vt., where she specializes in working with students who have learning disabilities. Baker has a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing and writes short stories. She recently had a short story published in "Eleven Eleven" journal.