It’s showing up on menus, and in various parts of the supermarket (such as in the freezer as an ice cream variety) – but what is matcha and why is it nutritious and health-promoting?
Matcha is green tea but prepared in a different way. According to one source, unlike typical loose-leaf green tea where the leaves are discarded and the infusion from the boiling water is consumed, matcha tea uses the entire leaf, made by grinding each specially grown and harvested for use in this fine powder. Since none of the rich nutrients are lost, matcha holds the ultimate green tea superpowers for health.”
There are several grades of matcha tea; the uppermost being ceremonial (premium) grade known as koicha, which is has a thick consistency, rich emerald-green color and bold flavor; its higher tannin content imparts an appealing (to some) bitterness. Culinary grade, found in many foods and beverages, is made from more mature green tea leaves that are harvested later in the season; thus, it has a greater content of catechins and tannins. Both grades also have abundant chlorophyll and L-theanine content.
Matcha was initially popularized during China’s Tang Dynasty and in Japan, where it has been consumed for centuries. And the highest quality is said to come from the Uji region; “matcha from this area represents the most brilliant of green color, smooth flavor, and it's amazing benefits on mood and health.”
Matcha, according to one review, is abundant in four biologically active compounds – L-theanine, caffeine, chlorophyll and specific catechins. The health-promoting catechins in all green teas, especially matcha are epicatechin (EC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), epigallocatechin (EGC) and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) – EGCG is the most active and abundant and matcha is the best condensed source of this catechin. An examination of matcha constituents found that concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is 137 times greater than the amount of EGCG in conventional green teas.
Overall, say the authors of this review, matcha’s “health-promoting properties are attributed to the high content of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances. Studies confirming the high antioxidant potential of tea beverages claim that it originates from the considerable content of catechins, a type of phenolic compound with beneficial effects on human health. Due to its potential for preventing many diseases and supporting cognitive function, regular consumption of matcha may have a positive effect on both physical and mental health.”
Matcha and Stress
In a murine study, according to authors of another review examining the role of matcha in symptoms of high nervous tension, the stress-reducing effect of matcha it was found that high contents of theanine and arginine in matcha exhibited a high stress-reducing effect. They also reported that in a human clinical trial, those who consumed matcha had significantly lower stress-induced anxiety than those in the placebo group. In another mouse study, matcha tea powder was shown to act as an anxiolytic by activating the release of both dopamine and serotonin (the “feel good’ hormones).
Researchers saw the growth in matcha-containing foods and beverages and wondered – are these useful in managing stress? Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate, in humans, the stress-reducing effect of matcha in cookies using test-matcha or placebo-matcha, looking specifically at the caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate to theanine and arginine ratio (CE/TA) of 2 or less. Participants, who were pharmacy college students, consumed 4.5 g of matcha in three pieces of cookie daily for 15 days. Salivary α-amylase activity, a reliable stress marker, was found to be significantly lower in the test-matcha group than in the placebo group. The authors write, “These results indicate that the CE/TA ratio of tea components is a key indicator for the suppression of stress. Moreover, matcha with a CE/TA ratio of 2 or less displays a stress-reducing effect, even if it is included in confectionery products. Such products may also benefit individuals who have no habit of drinking matcha as a beverage.”
Matcha and Brain Health
“Matcha tea is gaining popularity throughout the world in recent years and is frequently referred to as a mood-and-brain food,” write authors of a study examining the effects of consumption of matcha tea and food containing matcha on cognitive performance.
In the randomized, placebo-controlled, single-blind study, 23 participants engaged in four test sessions. In each session, they consumed one of the four test products: matcha tea, matcha tea bar (each containing 4g matcha tea powder), placebo tea, or placebo bar. The assessment was performed at baseline and 60min post-treatment. The participants performed a set of cognitive tests assessing attention, information processing, working memory, and episodic memory.
After consuming the matcha products compared to placebo versions, the authors found significant improvements in tasks measuring basic attention abilities and psychomotor speed in response to stimuli over a defined period of time. In most cognitive performance measures the drink format outperformed the bar format, particularly in measuring speed of spatial working memory and delayed picture recognition.
Matcha and Weight/Fat Management
It is already known that consuming the combination of EGCG and caffeine from green tea and matcha can increase exercise-induced fat oxidation. This served as the basis for a team of researchers to examine the effects of matcha consumption on metabolism during brisk walking in 13 female participants. The found that, “Matcha green tea drinking can enhance exercise-induced fat oxidation in females.”
Green tea, likewise, has numerous studies showing value and efficacy in thermogenesis. According to authors of one scientific paper, “available evidence shows that green tea can interrupt lipid emulsification, reduce adipocyte differentiation, increase thermogenesis, and reduce food intake, thus green tea improves the systemic metabolism and decreases fat mass.”
In another study of healthy participants, those who consumed green tea extract exhibited average fat oxidation rates that were 17% higher than those who took placebo during moderate-intensity exercise. Also, the researchers found that in the green tea group, the contribution of fat oxidation to total energy expenditure was also significantly higher.
Drinking matcha tea not only has health benefits similar to its green tea relative, but you can acquire a taste for it and enjoy it as an afternoon respite. According to environmental toxins expert and certified holistic health coach Lara Adler, many brands add milk powders and sugars, so read the labels to choose those that have only one ingredient – matcha. And, she advises, “Be especially careful when ordering matcha at a coffee shop, as these are often made from these mixes. Matcha should always come in an airtight, light-proof container, as this helps seal in freshness and prevent oxidation. Look for matcha powders that are bright green.”
On her website, Adler also provides instructions on how to make traditional matcha tea. Whether you make it yourself or purchase it, consider adding matcha to your daily wellbeing regimen. It’s a match made in health!