Nutrition Trend: Matcha
WRITTEN BY ARIELLE KESTENBAUM | REVIEWED BY LAURA KAHN MS, RDN, CDN
Nutrition trends often come from near and far, and some stay for years or only a few months. One nutrition trend, however, seems like it’s here to stay! Matcha, meaning “ground”, originated in Japan and adapted its name from the words matsu, meaning “rub” in Japanese and cha meaning “tea” in Chinese. This unique tea has hit almost every big coffee chain and small corner cafe. It has been associated with meditation and wellness, as well as can be used as an ingredient in many different items, such as teas, smoothies, and ice creams.
Both matcha and green tea come from the same plant (Camellia sinesis), but are processed differently. Tea leaves are infused into hot water, creating green tea. Contrastly, to produce matcha, the same tea leaves are ground into a fine powder and are then added to steamed water or milk. There are greater nutritional benefits when consuming whole ground tea leaves rather than leaves infused in water. Before the tea leaves are processed to create matcha, they are steamed, allowing for less oxidation, and thus, preserving its vibrant green color. The leaves are then left to air dry and are processed through stone grounding, a method that preserves phytonutrients in the cell wall.
Matcha is often associated with calm and relaxation. The powder contains the amino acid L- Theanine, which creates specific alpha waves in the brain that are associated with feelings of relaxation. Matcha also contains antioxidants and polyphenols that have been shown to help protect against heart disease and certain types of cancers, help regulate blood sugar, help lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol, as well as help boost metabolism.
Since matcha has become so popular in many places outside of Asia, specifically nationwide, many tea manufacturers have tried to mimic this vibrant green leaf, creating matcha drinks that contain many additives. Because of its unique processing, Japanese matcha is the most natural and nutritionally beneficial form. Therefore, it’s important to look for Japanese matcha and avoid powdered teas that resemble matcha, as many of them include added sugar and other additives.