Japanese Superfoods: Matcha

By Luisa Heenan
October 7, 2014
Food & Drink, Health & Beauty

“Tea is the ultimate mental and medical remedy and has the ability to make one’s life more full and complete.” These are the famous words of Zen Buddhist monk Eisai in the early 12th century on his introduction of matcha to Japan. This very special Japanese tea will be making you rethink your morning coffee.

9600173692_edd48dfab3_k by Kirinohana cropped

What It Is

Matcha is stone ground green tea leaves, and has been used in traditional tea ceremonies and in the Zen school in Japan for hundreds of years. Only the highest quality green tea leaves are used to make matcha, and Japan only exports somewhere around one to two percent of its total production due to the high domestic demand. (Note that matcha is not to be confused with regular green tea.)

Health Benefits

Due to the way matcha is cultivated in extremely special conditions, using only the highest quality leaves, as well as because of the fact that the whole tea leaf is ingested in powder form, the health benefits of matcha far exceed regular green tea (for which the leaves are steeped in hot water). Just one glass of matcha is the equivalent in nutritional and antioxidant value to drinking 10 cups of green tea!

  • Antioxidants are the key to anti-aging, while also being anti-inflammatory and fighting chronic diseases. Matcha is extremely high in antioxidants, specifically EGCG, which is known for its powerful anti-carcinogenic properties. Matcg has 137 times more of this antioxidant than regular green tea!
  • L-theanine is a super amazing compound that promotes relaxation and decreases stress, but at the same time can also aid with alertness and memory. Zen monks used to drink matcha to keep them alert but relaxed throughout their long sitting meditations. Research shows L-theanine can also raise levels of serotonin (happy hormone) and dopamine (pleasure hormone), and although all teas contain this quality, matcha contains five times the amount found in regular green and black teas. Although matcha contains caffeine (one serving matcha contains 35 milligrams, while one shot of espresso has approximately 75 milligrams), the L-theanine balances out the body’s response to the caffeine, so you are gaining alertness and sustained energy without the potential coffee jitters.

14773110133_9dedff3b08_k by Akuppa John Wigham cropped

  • Chlorophyll is the naturally occurring compound in plants that gives them their juicy green goodness. Growing matcha tea leaves in the shade results in a higher concentration of chlorophyll in the plant, hence the gorgeous emerald color of the tea. Chlorophyll is a potent detoxifier, as it binds to heavy metals and toxins in the body to clean and purify the blood. It is also highly alkalizing, so helps balance pH levels in the body. (Maybe one of the reasons sushi restaurants offer powdered tea at the table is to aid with mercury detoxification!)

In addition, matcha benefits may include:

  • Increased metabolism (a.k.a. fat burning)
  • Boosted energy and endurance
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower bad cholesterol
  • Balanced insulin levels
  • More beautiful skin

How to Use It

Traditionally matcha powder is used to make matcha tea, which tastes similar to a very strong brewed green tea. Nowadays, you can find matcha in plenty of things including baked goods, ice creams, candy bars and chocolates, matcha lattes, and whipped drinks, but please don’t think you’re doing great things for your body by consuming matcha in these things!

The best way to consume matcha is in its original tea form with just hot water, but if you want to mix it up and try something a little cooler and refreshing, this smoothie is delicious!

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Tropical Matcha Smoothie

What You Need

½ cup fresh or frozen mango

½ frozen banana

200–250 milliliters coconut water (depending how thick you like it)

½ teaspoon good quality matcha powder

1-2 tablespoons coconut milk (optional)

What to Do

Pop all ingredients into a blender and whiz until smooth. This makes a perfect breakfast to kickstart your day!

 

Top photo by Kirinohana; middle photo by Akuppa John Wigham.

Luisa is an Australian qualified personal fitness trainer who is also currently studying nutrition. She has been in Japan since 2007 and founded her health and fitness blog, Glow in Japan, to inspire women to enjoy active living and healthy eating in Japan. She loves experimenting with healthy recipes, traveling abroad to the beach, and sharing a good cappuccino with her husband or friends.

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