If you follow culinary trends, you know that matcha is a big deal at the moment. Even if you don’t have a big interest in food and drinks, it’s hard to have missed the matcha trend — from cakes and ice creams flavored by matcha, to delicious smoothies and lattes, you’ll find matcha pretty much everywhere.
At first sight, matcha can look a bit scary — its bright green color looks poisonous to the uninitiated. Or at the very least like a green juice experiment gone wrong. For those of us who have had the unpleasant experience of drinking a smoothie with lots of spirulina, or wheatgrass, the sight of matcha can be nauseating. But fear not — matcha does not taste like spirulina, or wheatgrass. No, matcha tastes like green tea, if a little bit stronger.
As with any “fad” or “trend” in the food world, there’s a hype when something hits the world market. Matcha has been used for centuries in Japan, but now that it reached the rest of the world, it’s been touted as a “super food” and “health miracle.” For the skeptics out there, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow. However, matcha does come with health benefits that various studies have confirmed. That and the fact that you can finally make real monster looking drinks and cakes, makes it an exciting ingredient to include in your cooking.
So, let’s have a look at what matcha is and its many health benefits.
Please note that this article does not intend to give medical advice.
You may have heard of matcha tea as an alternative to regular green tea, or coffee, or you might have seen it used as a food colorant, or flavoring, in various treats. But what is matcha, really?
Matcha is a fine powder made of green tea leaves (from the Camellia sinensis plant). Matcha is used to create a drink. It is used traditionally in a Japanese tea ceremony and made by whisking the matcha powder with warm water (a little less than 100 degrees Celsius), to create a frothy cup of tea. The bamboo whisk is distinctly different from a regular whisk. In fact, it looks more like the kind of brush you’d find amongst a man’s beard trimming tools, than a regular whisk.
While green tea is made from Camellia sinesis, just as matcha is, the process of harvesting and preparing matcha, is different from that of regular green tea. Matcha needs to be shaded for three weeks before being harvested. This, in fact, leads to an increase in the production of caffeine, theanine and chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a green pigment, so an increase in this leads to the color intensifying.
When harvesting the matcha green tea powder, farmers remove the veins and stems of the plants. After that, the leaves are steamed to stop fermentation and then dried and aged in a cool place. Once that’s done, the matcha is finally ground into a powder.
Matcha, before sold, is graded into ceremonial, or premium grade, or culinary/cooking grade matcha. The ceremonial grade matcha consists of the top leaves of the plant and has a sweeter taste.
You may also have stumbled across blue matcha. Surprisingly, it has little to do with regular/green matcha. Blue matcha is a powder made from the butterfly pea plant (Clitoria ternatea a.k.a. Clitoris principissae). The only thing it really has in common with matcha is that it’s a powder coming from a plant.
If you’ve looked into the health benefits of matcha green tea, one of the first things you stumbled across was probably its high antioxidant count, or, if you prefer, ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value. This is because you consume the entire leaf of the tea when drinking matcha.
Antioxidants help prevent free radicals from damaging our cells. This is necessary to prevent disease, as well as to stay youthful. The ORAC value refers to the in vitro antioxidant capacity of a certain food. (1) (2)
Matcha has an incredibly high ORAC value at 1,384 per gram. As you use approximately one gram per cup, this is how much you get when drinking a cuppa!
The antioxidant most notably found in matcha is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — yes, the name is a handful, but all you really need to remember is that matcha comes with a lot of antioxidants! In fact, the concentration of EGCG available from drinking matcha is at least three times greater than other green teas and up to 137 times greater than many green teas on the market. As you drink the powder, not just the water the green tea has been soaked in, it makes sense you get more. (3)
ORAC values can be confusing in some ways. Cascara coffee cherries, for example, have a higher ORAC value at 3,439 per gram, but as you drink the water the bean has been soaked in, you generally end up with less in your cup than with matcha. On the other hand, some fruits and vegetables may have a lower ORAC value than matcha, but as you consume a lot more of them (like 100 grams per serving), you end up consuming more antioxidants. Also, there are different kinds of antioxidants in different plants, so they have slightly different effects on the body.
Is there proof that the antioxidants in matcha actually make a difference in the body? Well, studies have found that consuming matcha can lower antioxidant stress in rats. (4)
The bottom line is: matcha has one of the highest ORAC values of any plant out there. By drinking a cup of matcha you get a healthy dose of antioxidants that can help keep your cells happy and healthy and prevent disease.
Matcha green tea may be able to help increase your levels of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), while decreasing your levels of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C). In other words, matcha might help increase the level of good cholesterol and decrease the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. (4)
Admittedly these results were found when testing it on rats, but matcha has, in other studies, had similar effects on both mice and men.
Blood glucose has been linked to diabetes and you want to keep your levels down. An aide in doing so, might be consuming matcha. Different studies on rats found it significantly lowered blood glucose levels. (4) (5)
One study carried out on both mice and people found that: “High contents of theanine and arginine in matcha [exhibit] a high stress-reducing effect.” In plain language: the two amino acids found in matcha have a stress reducing effect. (6)
Now, this sounds great, but it depends on what kind of matcha you buy, if you’ll experience these benefits, or not. This is because if the matcha has a high content of caffeine and EGCG, the stress reducing effects are reduced, or completely eliminated.
As the story goes, not all foods are created equal, so be sure to buy matcha from a good tea company.
If you are suffering from a non-alcoholic fatty liver, or want to prevent getting one, matcha could be your new best friend! A study showed that it can help reduce liver enzymes. A high level of liver enzymes is a sign something is wrong, so this is very good indeed! (7)
Another study that compared 15 studies done on green tea and various liver diseases, found that the occurrence of liver disease was generally lowered by drinking green tea. So, in other words, drinking matcha appears to protect your liver in more ways than one! (8)
Yet another study found that matcha can help protect the liver in patients — or this case, rats — with diabetes. (5)
One thing to bear in mind is that overconsumption of matcha can damage your liver, meaning that it’s best to stick to two cups per day.
Coffee has been known to be a student, or late night worker’s, best buddy because of its caffeine content, which has been linked to brain function — ranging from improved memory, to faster reaction times and better attention. However, a cup of java leaves many people feeling jittery and once the high is over, just as many crash. (9) (10)
A gram of matcha contains about the same as half a cup of coffee, but it also contains L-theanine, which helps prevent you from crashing after a caffeine high. It also promotes relaxation, as mentioned previously, as well as alertness. This is the reason matcha has often been used for meditation — you want to remain alert, but also relaxed. Or as one study put it: “L-theanine significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness.” (11) (12)
If you’re worried about what will happen to your brain as you age, you will want to consider drinking matcha. Matcha might help improve cognitive functioning in the elderly (or prevent cognitive dysfunction). This might also be because caffeine, in general, improves cognitive performance. (13) (14)
Various studies have found that matcha can help inhibit and sometimes kill cancer cells, as well as reduce the size of tumors. Plenty of studies have been done on this, related to different types of cancer. However, the studies done have been performed in test tubes and on animals, not humans. It’s also important to note that some of the studies used extracts from green tea (in high concentration), as opposed to just drinking a cup of tea. (15) (16) (17) (18) (19)
The active compound that helps prevent and inhibit cancer, appears to be EGCG (a.k.a. the antioxidant). Interestingly, one study combined the EGCG with ascorbic acid (found, amongst other places, in lemon juice) with great effects. (19)
As mentioned earlier, matcha is good for cholesterol levels, which means it’s good for the heart. Studies have also shown that it’s good for overall heart health and can, possibly also prevent stroke. However, studies have sometimes been contradictory where stroke is concerned. (20) (21)
Studies have shown that green tea and green tea extract can help you burn fat during exercise, increase overall energy expenditure and help with weight loss and maintenance. (22) (23) (24)
In one experiment, boys with ADHD were given L-theanine twice daily. This led to improved sleep quality compared to a placebo. For those who suffer from sleep problems, but love caffeine hits, matcha may be the perfect coffee replacement! (25)
An analysis of 25 different studies, found that the consumption of green tea can lead to reduced blood pressure. This is great news for anyone suffering from hypertension. (26)
If you fear having bad breath on a date, try drinking a cup of matcha. The polyphenols in tea help killing off bad smelling bacteria and green tea also appears to have a deodorizing effect. The effect is immediate, but does not last for longer periods of time, so sipping a cup of tea just before a kiss, is a great idea! (27)
As green tea helps inhibit bacteria, it also seems able to help prevent cavities. In fact, toothpaste companies have started catching up on this! (28)
Green has shown promise, both when it comes to preventing skin cancer and preventing and treating acne. Thanks to the many antioxidants found in matcha, both drinking it and applying it directly on the skin may help improve skin health. (29) (30)
Matcha contains EGCG, which has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. This means that it might help prevent fungal infections, like candida, viral infections, like herpes, hepatitis and influenza, and bacterial infections, such as staph infections. (31) (32)
Matcha showing potential as an anti-inflammatory also has other implications, as chronic inflammation has been linked to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Arthritis is also a form of chronic inflammation. By eating an anti-inflammatory diet, you can help prevent inflammation in the body.
Matcha shows a lot of promise where health benefits are concerned. It’s a great addition to a healthy and varied diet. As it can be used both in drinks and treats, it’s super simple to use. The amount of antioxidants you get in a single one gram serving is incredible!
Some of the studies cited have used green tea, as opposed to matcha, but as green tea comes form the same plant, it should have similar health benefits. What’s important to note with studies related to disease, is that a lot of them are done on animals, or in test tubes, and often using extracts from matcha/green tea, which is not the same as drinking a cup of tea. Studies on cognitive functioning, on the other hand, are usually done with participants drinking the tea.
It’s been recommended that you only drink two cups of matcha a day, as overconsumption has been linked with liver disease. Also, due to pollutants in the soil, as well as fertilizers, etc. it’s important to buy organically certified Japanese matcha where possible.