Matcha–Japanese for powdered green tea–has been around for centuries, having frequented tea ceremonies throughout and before the earliest dynasties of Japan. Matcha was mostly overlooked in the west before the US caught on a few years ago and it became the craze fad super-health “clean” food of the moment with matcha bars taking the place of fore-closed frozen yoghurt shops all around downtown New York. And with the ever constant flux of food trends that hit the US, two things can be certain: that few people know the actual health benefits and history of the food before jumping on that “detox” bandwagon, and that this too shall (eventually) pass. But despite the ebb and flow of beloved food trends...quinoa to kale to chia seed puddings... even when the matcha bars give way to camel milk spas (no joke: camel milk has incredible benefits… Cleopatra’s milk baths? Yup, it was camel) the incredible health benefits of this anti-oxidant packed powdered green tea will remain.
Ceremonial grade or culinary grade matcha? While all matcha is grown in the shade, ceremonial grade matcha is made of finer, higher quality leaves and has a softer taste and deeper green colour as opposed to culinary grade matcha. While ceremonial is intended to be enjoyed in its pure form, whisked with slightly boiled water, culinary grade is meant to be mixed as an ingredient in cakes, smoothies and lattés. (1)
Where does it come from? Look for matcha that comes from the West of Japan, Kyoto region, and avoid leaves that are grown near Fukishima (including Tokyo region and northeast and southeast of the city) due to the residual presence of cesium 137. The Hong Kong Center for Food Safety found samples of vegetables and green tea from Japan with “unsatisfactory” levels of radioactive contaminants. (2)
While such levels of radiation wouldn’t make a difference for the occasional matcha consumer, someone whose daily morning ritual includes an almond milk matcha latté should try and buy matcha powder from the West of Japan. (2)
Research the company selling your matcha. The best matcha brands will post their quality standards, origin, and a certification of radiation testing results.
Price (usually) matters. Often, price can be a determinant of the quality of the matcha. Lower priced matcha can sometimes contain stems and branches for bulk rather than the pure powdered baby tea leaves.
Several studies have showed that EGCG can help balance your metabolism and facilitate weight loss. These catechins in green tea can help increase the rate at which stored fat is burned. One study evaluating the weight loss potential of EGCG found that it increases fat oxidation (burning) by over 30%. Matcha is known to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone that triggers appetite and increase stomach fat. (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Antioxidants are essential for our bodies’ ability to repair cell damage caused by our daily exposure to free radicals like pollution and toxins. They seek out oxygen-free radicals and neutralize their harmful effects on the body and fight against inflammation associated with oxidative stress which can catalyse the ageing process. Matcha is unique in that it contains high levels of catechins, a powerful family of anti-oxidant. Within these catechins found in matcha is EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a very powerful antioxidant known for its vast effects including anti-cancer properties. (8)
Studies have found that matcha has over 100X the EGCG in other green tea products. (9)
Matcha green tea has nearly 20X the antioxidants of blueberries and 60X the antioxidants found in an equal quantity of spinach. (10)
Because matcha is grown in the shade, it contains around 5X the level of chlorophyll of ordinary green tea. Chlorophyll helps the body to flush out unwanted toxins from the blood in addition to maintaining alkalinity of blood and tissues, which is why it is effective at caring for skin and fighting inflammation. (11)
Matcha targets heart health in a variety of ways including its ability to lower cholesterol levels. A study published in 2011 showed that green tea catechins significantly reduce both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. (12) (13)
Asian cultures have been using matcha to help relax for over a thousand years. Buddhist monks in Japan and Daoists in China use matcha in conjunction with meditation. L-Theanine, a unique amino acid contained in green tea leaves is responsible for promoting the brain’s alpha waves, which induce relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety. (13)
While matcha does contain caffeine, unlike coffee which gives a spike of temporary energy followed by a crash, the energy kick you receive from matcha comes from its chemical make-up and the ‘high’ can last up to 6 or more hours, and combined with it’s anti-inflammatory effects, it makes an interesting option for athletes. (14)
The high levels of catechins in matcha improve overall health and boost the immune system. Matcha green tea is alsorich source of Vitamins A and C as well as potassium, protein, iron and calcium. (14)
The EGCG in matcha is effective at fighting various bacterial, viral and fungal infections. According to several studies, EGCG binds to the lipid membrane of infected cells and helps inhibit the spread of various pathogens including influenza A virus, hepatitis B and C virus, herpes virus, adenovirus, staphylococcus aureus bacteria and candida albicans yeast and zika virus. (15) (16) (17)
Matcha can be used to treat a variety of GI disorders. One study revealed that matcha stimulates fecal excretion and helps rid the body of harmful chemicals and toxins, particularly targeted those logged inside stomach lining and intestinal tracts. (18)
Matcha assists in the prevention of cancer thanks to the presence of EGCG which has chemopreventative properties. Multiple studies have concluded that polyphenols (natural antioxidant compounds) present in matcha fight against the proliferation of malignant cancer cells by promoting apoptosis (the balancing of cell life-death cycles), a disruption in this essential cycle of cell birth and death catalyses the spread of cancer. In particular, matcha has been shown to reduce the risk of various cancers including bladder cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24)
Matcha Health Notes
Despite its vast benefits, the caffeine in matcha can trigger adverse reactions in people with certain conditions like cardiac arrythmia. Caffeine can also create drug interactions so consult a doctor if taking medications that interact with caffeine or other stimulants.