Yerba mate: cultivation systems, processing and chemical composition. A review

Camila Pereira Croge Francine Lorena Cuquel Paula Toshimi Matumoto Pintro About the authors

ABSTRACT:

The unique chemical composition of yerba mate and its functionalities suggest that it needs to be explored for its innovation potential. New uses may boost consumption, surpassing the traditional consumption barrier, and making yerba mate accessible on a global level. Thus, to highlight the importance of yerba mate as a potential source of agro-economic resources, we present a review on its botanical, ecological, agronomic, and industrial aspects, along with information on the biochemical composition of this species and its biological activity.

Keywords:
Ilex paraguariensis; natural product; agro-economic resources

Introduction

In recent years, more studies have been conducted on yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), focusing mainly on its health effects. Yerba mate has several pharmacological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, anti-obesity, and cardioprotective functions (Gómez-Juaristi et al., 2018Gómez-Juaristi, M.; Martínez-López, S.; Sarria, B.; Bravo, L.; Mateos, R. 2018. Absorption and metabolism of yerba mate phenolic compounds in humans. Food Chemistry 240: 1028-1038.). These benefits are related to a unique chemical composition including alkaloids, polyphenols, terpenes, and essential oils, among others (Mateos et al., 2018Mateos, R.; Baeza, G.; Sarriá, B.; Bravo, L. 2018. Improved LC-MSn characterization of hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives and flavonols in different commercial mate (Ilex paraguariensis) brands. Quantification of polyphenols, methylxanthines, and antioxidant activity. Food Chemistry 241: 232-241.; Riachi et al., 2018Riachi, L.G.; Simas, D.L.R.; Coelho, G.C.; Marcellini, P.S.; Silva, A.J.R.S.; Maria, C.A.B. 2018. Effect of light intensity and processing conditions on bioactive compounds in maté extracted from yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.). Food Chemistry 266: 317-322.).

Ilex paraguariensis is abundant in the understory of Araucaria forests and has a considerable economic value and a significant importance in agricultural production systems, generating income and playing a strategic role in the preservation of native forest areas in ecosystems with a multiple-use perspective of natural resources (Inventário Florístico Florestal de Santa Catarina, 2013).

However, with some exceptions, scientific evidence shows that implementation of yerba mate had a late onset, while studies on Camelia sinensis and Coffea sp. are numerous. Compared to mate, these species have a similar economic and biological potential and are widely consumed worldwide due to their stimulating effects on the nervous system (Heck and Mejia, 2007; Baeza et al., 2017Baeza, G.; Sarriá, B.; Bravo, L.; Mateos, R. 2017. Polyphenol content, in vitro bioaccessibility and antioxidant capacity of widely consumed beverages. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 98: 1397-1406.). The consumption of infusions prepared from the leaves of yerba mate dates back to the XIX century, while studies on this species have only be performed in the last three decades (Heck and Mejia, 2007).

Our current knowledge on yerba mate is rather fragmented, requiring further studies. The species has potential to be used not only as a drink, but also as raw material for the cosmetics, nutraceutical, and pharmaceutical industries (Heck and Mejia, 2007; Bracesco et al., 2011Bracesco, N.; Sanchez, A.G.; Contreras, V.; Menini, T.; Gugliucci, A. 2011. Recent advances on Ilex paraguarensis research: mini review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136: 378-384.; Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.; Souza et al., 2015Souza, A.H.P.; Correa, R.C.G.; Barros, L.; Calhelha, R.C.; Santos-Buelga, C.; Peralta, R.M.; Bracht, A.; Matsushita, M.; Ferreira, I.C.F.R. 2015. Phytochemicals and bioactive properties of Ilex paraguariensis: an in-vitro comparative study between the whole plant, leaves and stems. Food Research International 78: 286-294.; Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.). Thus, changes are necessary in agronomic research to obtain a high-quality raw material through breeding programs, variety selection, as well as improved production strategies in efficient systems that ensure the best chemical composition, thereby, optimizing its biological activities (Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.).

To emphasize the importance of this species as potential source of agro-economic resources and highlight its versatile chemical composition and the possibility of multiple uses, we conducted a literature review on its botanical, ecological, agronomic, and industrial aspects. In addition, we present information on its biochemical composition and biological activity.

Classification and botanical aspects

Yerba mate was first described in 1822 by the French naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire, who published in “Mémoires du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle” in France. His observations described a perennial tree with many branches and leaves, relatively developed size, and an outline that resembled that of cypresses. The leaves are dark green in the ventral aspect and odorless when fresh; however, with an herbaceous and bitter flavor. When prepared for consumption, the faint aroma reminds that of Swiss tea (Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.). Its complete botanical classification is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Botanical classification of yerba mate (Bracesco et al., 2011Bracesco, N.; Sanchez, A.G.; Contreras, V.; Menini, T.; Gugliucci, A. 2011. Recent advances on Ilex paraguarensis research: mini review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136: 378-384.; Cabral et al., 2018Cabral, A.; Cardoso, P.H.; Menini-Neto, L.; Santos-Silva, F. 2018. Aquifoliaceae in Serra Negra, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Rodriguésia 69: 805-814 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Yerba mate is a perennial tree of the family Aquifoliaceae, which can reach 8 to 15 m high. Its leaves are perennial, alternating, coriaceous, obovate to elliptic, with slightly shallow margins, an obtuse apex, and a wedge-shaped base. The petioles are up to 15 mm long. In its original habitat, flowering occurs from Oct to Dec. Inflorescences are pistils in fascicles, with monoic flowers that can appear grouped in the axilla, petals, and rounded ones. Fruits are drupes, ranging from red to black, oval to globose, with 4.5 to 6.5 mm diameter and four to five seeds (Figure 2) (Bracesco et al., 2011Bracesco, N.; Sanchez, A.G.; Contreras, V.; Menini, T.; Gugliucci, A. 2011. Recent advances on Ilex paraguarensis research: mini review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136: 378-384.; Cabral et al., 2018Cabral, A.; Cardoso, P.H.; Menini-Neto, L.; Santos-Silva, F. 2018. Aquifoliaceae in Serra Negra, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Rodriguésia 69: 805-814 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Figure 2
Yerba mate: tree, leaves, branches and flowers – A) tree; B) flowering; C) leaves and branches. (Source: A and C = Author; B = Herbário Dr. Roberto Miguel Klein (FURB), 2018).

Ecological aspects and geographical distribution

The family Aquifoliaceae, in its present constituency, is represented solely by the genus Ilex, with more than 600 species. Ilex has a predominantly tropical distribution, extending to temperate regions of the northern and southern hemispheres, with East Asia and South America as the global centers of diversity (Yi et al., 2017Yi, F.; Sun, L.; Hao, D.; Peng, Y.; Han, F.; Xiao, P. 2017. Complex phylogenetic placement of Ilex species (Aquifoliaceae): a case study of molecular phylogeny. Pakistan Journal of Botany 49: 215-225.; Cabral et al., 2018Cabral, A.; Cardoso, P.H.; Menini-Neto, L.; Santos-Silva, F. 2018. Aquifoliaceae in Serra Negra, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Rodriguésia 69: 805-814 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Yerba mate is the most important commercial species of the genus and occurs in its native state in the subtropical and temperate regions of South America, including Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, between latitudes 21°00'00” S, 30°00'00” S and longitudes 48°30'00” W, 56°10'00” W (Figure 3), preferably at altitudes between 500 and 1,500 m (Heck and Mejia, 2007; Chaimsohn et al., 2014Chaimsohn, F.P.; Machado, N.C.; Gomes, E.P.; Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.; Marques, A.C. 2014. Yerba mate's traditional and agroforestry systems and impacts on territorial development: the center-south of Paraná and northern Santa Catarina = Sistemas tradicionais e agroflorestais da erva-mate e impactos no desenvolvimento territorial: o centro-sul do Paraná e o norte de Santa Catarina. p. 47-54. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).). About 80 % of the species are native to Brazil and mainly distributed in the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul (CEPA, 2015Centro de Socioeconomia e Planejamento Agrícola [CEPA]. 2015. Santa Catarina Agriculture Numbers = Números da Agricultura Catarinense. CEPA/EPAGRI, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil (in Portuguese).).

Figure 3
Natural distribution area of yerba mate. Adapted from Voigt et al., 2016Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.A. 2016. The mate activity in north plateau, Santa Catarina state: the geographical indication as an alternative to valorization of yerba mate. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 64-87 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English)..

The species are endemic and distributed in the wild exclusively in the forested regions of South America, composed of Mixed Ombrophilous Forest, in the Atlantic Forest biome, always in associations, and clearly evolved with Araucaria angustifolia (Heck and Mejia, 2007). To develop, Ilex requires average annual temperatures between 17 and 21 °C and regular rainfall, with high air and soil humidity. Ilex occurs in the sub-forest layer in acidic soils of low natural fertility, high aluminum content, low available phosphorus levels, and high organic matter concentration. It tolerates shade at any age and is considered an ombrophilous species with slow or moderate growth, typical of mature forests, where it can reach density of hundreds individuals per hectare (Caron et al., 2014bCaron, B.O.; Schmidt, D.; Manfron, P.A.; Behling, A.; Eloy, E.; Busanello, C. 2014b. Efficiency of the use of solar radiation for plants Ilex paraguariensis A. St. Hil. cultivated under shadow and full sun. Ciência Florestal 24: 257-265 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Chaimsohn et al., 2014Chaimsohn, F.P.; Machado, N.C.; Gomes, E.P.; Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.; Marques, A.C. 2014. Yerba mate's traditional and agroforestry systems and impacts on territorial development: the center-south of Paraná and northern Santa Catarina = Sistemas tradicionais e agroflorestais da erva-mate e impactos no desenvolvimento territorial: o centro-sul do Paraná e o norte de Santa Catarina. p. 47-54. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).).

Agronomic aspects - cropping systems

The world production of yerba mate in 2016 amounted to 937,310 tons, mainly from Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay (FAO, 2017Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]. 2017. Faostat: statistics database. FAO, Rome, Italy.). In Araucaria forests, the species is abundant, with a considerable economic value and a significant importance in agricultural production systems, becoming a stabilizing factor of income and having, many times, a strategic preservation function of native forests in their ecosystems with perspective of multiple use of natural resources (Marques et al., 2014Marques, A.C.; Denardin, V.F.; Reis, M.S.; Wisniewski, C. 2014. The landscapes of mate in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil = As paisagens do mate no planalto norte do estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. p. 33-46. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).; Pires et al., 2016Pires, D.A.C.K.; Pedrassani, D.; Dallabrida, V.R.; Benedetti, E.L. 2016. The yerba mate in the north of Santa Catarina state: the bioactive compounds in maté in the region as variable in determining the specifics required for recognition as a geographical indication. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 207-227 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

In general, herbs occur is diverse habitats, based on their adaptability to different light conditions and management strategies, enabling different designs of production systems. In this sense, we highlight the extractive systems, consorted with native forests, agroforestry, and monoculture (full sun) (Marques et al., 2014Marques, A.C.; Denardin, V.F.; Reis, M.S.; Wisniewski, C. 2014. The landscapes of mate in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil = As paisagens do mate no planalto norte do estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. p. 33-46. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).; Vogt et al., 2016Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.A. 2016. The mate activity in north plateau, Santa Catarina state: the geographical indication as an alternative to valorization of yerba mate. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 64-87 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

The extractive activity of a natural forest (Araucaria Forest or Mixed Ombrophilous Forest) is considered the traditional system of cultivation, mainly in terms of native herbs. Yerba mate produced in this system is extracted sustainably from the most significant native forest areas of southern Brazil. In this system, management or cultural treatments are not common and crops are harvested periodically (Marques et al., 2014Marques, A.C.; Denardin, V.F.; Reis, M.S.; Wisniewski, C. 2014. The landscapes of mate in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil = As paisagens do mate no planalto norte do estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. p. 33-46. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).; Vogt et al., 2016Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.A. 2016. The mate activity in north plateau, Santa Catarina state: the geographical indication as an alternative to valorization of yerba mate. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 64-87 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

A system in consortium with native forest, also called “mixed cultivation” or “caívas”, is traditionally the exploration of forest remnants where yerba mate grows naturally or in cultivations managed in association with other plant species, usually native species, and in some cases even associated with cattle livestock. This system also has economic, social, and environmental importance, since it contributes to the preservation of forest remnants and generates income to the farmer (Chaimsohn et al., 2014Chaimsohn, F.P.; Machado, N.C.; Gomes, E.P.; Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.; Marques, A.C. 2014. Yerba mate's traditional and agroforestry systems and impacts on territorial development: the center-south of Paraná and northern Santa Catarina = Sistemas tradicionais e agroflorestais da erva-mate e impactos no desenvolvimento territorial: o centro-sul do Paraná e o norte de Santa Catarina. p. 47-54. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).).

Most of these caívas are forest fragments of different sizes in rural properties of southern Paraná and northern Santa Catarina States in Brazil. These fragments in the region contribute to the landscape formation, composing a mosaic of cultivated areas interspersed by forests (Hanisch et al., 2010Hanisch, A.L.; Vogt, G.A.; Marques, A.C.; Bona, L.C.; Bosse, D.D. 2010. Structure and floristic composition of five caiva area in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil. Pesquisa Florestal Brasileira 30: 303-310 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

The agroforestry system is the yerba mate cultivation associated with logging and/or agricultural activities. These systems are composed of plant species in the arboreal and/or herbaceous-shrub layer and managed in a way that favors the production of yerba mate in the understory. The species planted have different cycles, sizes, and functions, resulting in an increased biodiversity, which promotes physical-chemical, hydrological, and microbiological improvements of the soil, besides generating income (Barbosa et al., 2017Barbosa, J.S.; Silva, K.R.; Carducci, C.E.; Santos, K.L.; Kohn, L.S.; Fucks, J.S. 2017. Physical-hydric Attributes of a humic inceptisol in agroforestry on the Santa Catarina plateau. Floresta e Ambiente 24: e20160251 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Monocultures allow cultivation of more plants in an area, generating higher yields, and enabling mechanized harvesting. However, trees are exposed to full sun, which can lead to alterations in their metabolic processes and damages in leaf quality. These species have evolved as Ombrophilous species and are subjected to physiological stresses when cultivated in open places, making them more susceptible to pest attacks and diseases (Marques et al., 2014Marques, A.C.; Denardin, V.F.; Reis, M.S.; Wisniewski, C. 2014. The landscapes of mate in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil = As paisagens do mate no planalto norte do estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. p. 33-46. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).).

Maintenance of native herbs in traditional systems (extractive and intercropped with native forests) can represent an important stimulus for environmental conservation to ensure maintenance of the forest and its significant economic value, providing monetary value to forest remnants. In addition, such systems generally have fewer phytosanitary problems, favoring plant production without the use of agrochemicals (Marques et al., 2012Marques, A.C.; Mattos, A.G.; Bona, L.C.; Reis, M.S. 2012. National forests and research development: yerba mate management (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) in flona in Tres Barras/Santa Catarina. Biodiversidade Brasileira 2: 4-17 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Chaimsohn et al., 2014Chaimsohn, F.P.; Machado, N.C.; Gomes, E.P.; Vogt, G.A.; Neppel, G.; Souza, A.M.; Marques, A.C. 2014. Yerba mate's traditional and agroforestry systems and impacts on territorial development: the center-south of Paraná and northern Santa Catarina = Sistemas tradicionais e agroflorestais da erva-mate e impactos no desenvolvimento territorial: o centro-sul do Paraná e o norte de Santa Catarina. p. 47-54. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).). Characteristics of the consortium system are common, such as shading of plants, presence of other forest species, and sometimes conservation of the original material of mate (Marques et al., 2014Marques, A.C.; Denardin, V.F.; Reis, M.S.; Wisniewski, C. 2014. The landscapes of mate in north plateau of Santa Catarina State, Brazil = As paisagens do mate no planalto norte do estado de Santa Catarina, Brasil. p. 33-46. In: Dallabrida, V.R., ed. Territorial development: Brazilian public policies, international experiences and geographical indication as a reference = Desenvolvimento territorial: políticas públicas brasileiras, experiências internacionais e indicação geográfica como referência. LiberArs, São Paulo, SP, Brazil (in Portuguese).).

In addition to the significant volume of yerba mate produced in traditional and agroforestry systems, the product obtained from these systems has a higher value, since the shading provided by other tree species results in a product with a better flavor, more accepted in the Brazilian and Uruguayan markets (major yerba mate consumers in the world) (Marques et al., 2012Marques, A.C.; Mattos, A.G.; Bona, L.C.; Reis, M.S. 2012. National forests and research development: yerba mate management (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) in flona in Tres Barras/Santa Catarina. Biodiversidade Brasileira 2: 4-17 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).). Industrial demands for this type of weed have increased markedly in recent years (Caron et al., 2014aCaron, B.O.; Santos, D.R.; Schmidt, D.; Basso, C.J.; Behling, A.; Eloy, E.; Bamberg, R. 2014a. Biomass and accumulation of nutrients in Ilex paraguariensis A. St. Hil. Ciência Florestal 24: 267-276 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Caron et al., 2014bCaron, B.O.; Schmidt, D.; Manfron, P.A.; Behling, A.; Eloy, E.; Busanello, C. 2014b. Efficiency of the use of solar radiation for plants Ilex paraguariensis A. St. Hil. cultivated under shadow and full sun. Ciência Florestal 24: 257-265 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Composition of yerba mate varies considerably depending on factors, such as seasonality, temperature, water and nutrient availability, cultivation system, and adopted management practice, with effects on its physiological effects. Thus, studies that elucidate the relationship between its composition and its constituent factors are necessary to determine the association between health benefits, mate consumption, and maintenance of sustainable supply chains with forest preservation (Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.; Pires et al., 2016Pires, D.A.C.K.; Pedrassani, D.; Dallabrida, V.R.; Benedetti, E.L. 2016. The yerba mate in the north of Santa Catarina state: the bioactive compounds in maté in the region as variable in determining the specifics required for recognition as a geographical indication. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 207-227 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.; Kahmann et al., 2017Kahmann, A.; Anzanello, M.J.; Marcelo, M.C.A.; Pozebon, D. 2017. Near infrared spectroscopy and element concentration analysis for assessing yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) samples according to the country of origin. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 140: 348-360.; Riachi et al., 2018Riachi, L.G.; Simas, D.L.R.; Coelho, G.C.; Marcellini, P.S.; Silva, A.J.R.S.; Maria, C.A.B. 2018. Effect of light intensity and processing conditions on bioactive compounds in maté extracted from yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.). Food Chemistry 266: 317-322.).

Processing and uses

The first explorers of yerba mate were the native inhabitants of northeastern Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, who consumed mate due to its stimulating and medicinal properties. Several tribes, such as the Guaranis, the Amerindians (Incas and Quechuas), and the Caingangues, consumed its leaves, infused, or chewed. Infusion of leaves became a popular drink and, nowadays, the product obtained from dry leaves, also called mate or maté, is used in several types of infusions, such as the chimarrão, tereré, and mate tea (roasted leaves) (Holowatt et al., 2016Holowaty, S.A.; Trela, V.; Thea, A.E.; Scipioni, G.P.; Schmalko, M.E. 2016. Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis st. Hil.): chemical and physical changes under different aging conditions. Journal of Food Process Engineering 39: 19-30.; Lima et al., 2016Lima, J.P.; Farah, A.; King, B.; Paulis, T.; Martin, P.R. 2016. Distribution of major chlorogenic acids and related compounds in Brazilian green and toasted Ilex paraguariensis (maté) leaves. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 64: 2361-2370.).

Yerba mate exploration is based on the use of selected leaves and branches, which are subjected to thermal bleaching (sapeco) for enzyme inactivation, followed by drying, grinding, and separation. These last two steps allow obtaining a product with standard particle size, followed by milling and aging for up to 24 months, depending on the desired product (Figure 4). Intensity, grinding type, and the aging period result in products with differentiated standards (Meinhart et al., 2010Meinhart, A.D.; Bizzotto, C.S.; Ballus, C.A.; Rybka, A.C.P.; Sobrinho, M.R.; Cerro-Quintana, R.S.; Teixeira-Filho, J.; Godoy, H.T. 2010. Methylxanthines and phenolics content extracted during the consumption of mate (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil) beverages. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 58: 2188-2193.).

Figure 4
Traditional processing of yerba mate (Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.; Silveira et al., 2017Silveira, T.F.F.; Meinhart, A.D.; Souza, T.C.L.; Cunha, E.C.E.; Moraes, M.R.; Godoy, H.T. 2017. Chlorogenic acids and flavonoid extraction during the preparation of yerba mate based beverages. Food Research International 102: 348-354.; Riachi et al., 2018Riachi, L.G.; Simas, D.L.R.; Coelho, G.C.; Marcellini, P.S.; Silva, A.J.R.S.; Maria, C.A.B. 2018. Effect of light intensity and processing conditions on bioactive compounds in maté extracted from yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.). Food Chemistry 266: 317-322.).

The agro-industrial processing of yerba mate has not been significantly altered since the beginning of its economic exploration, with disadvantages related to its high energy requirement, difficulties in controlling its variables and, consequently, in the standardization of the final product. Another negative aspect concerns the oxidative environment of the bleaching and drying process, which potentially contributes to the degradation of the biochemical compounds of the leaves. Thus, the development of new technological processes for preserving its compounds is a strategy that must be considered (Meinhart et al., 2010Meinhart, A.D.; Bizzotto, C.S.; Ballus, C.A.; Rybka, A.C.P.; Sobrinho, M.R.; Cerro-Quintana, R.S.; Teixeira-Filho, J.; Godoy, H.T. 2010. Methylxanthines and phenolics content extracted during the consumption of mate (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil) beverages. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 58: 2188-2193.; Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.).

Mate is consumed as leaf infusion, with variations in the manufacturing and preparation of the beverage. The leaves are infused in hot water and sipped through a tube and gourd. Tereré is a cold drink, while mate tea is obtained from the roasted leaves and consumed hot or cold (Bracesco et al., 2011Bracesco, N.; Sanchez, A.G.; Contreras, V.; Menini, T.; Gugliucci, A. 2011. Recent advances on Ilex paraguarensis research: mini review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136: 378-384.; Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.).

Roasted mate can also be subjected to the extraction of soluble solids with hot water, followed by drying in a spray-dryer, resulting in soluble roasted mate. Soluble solid extraction from the crushed green yerba mate yields the soluble green mate; both products are intended primarily for export and present as market innovation (Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.).

The per capita consumption of yerba mate in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil is estimated at 8 to 10 kg yr–1, 5 to 6 kg yr–1, and 1.2 to 5 kg yr–1, respectively (Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.; Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.). In Brazil, the state of Rio Grande do Sul is the largest consumer of herb for chimarrão (70,000 t yr–1), while Rio de Janeiro is the largest consumer of roasted mate tea (1,500 t yr–1). In Brazil, the entire yield is exported, mainly to Uruguay and Chile, followed by the United States, Europe, and Asia, which receive the product as whole or ground dried leaves or extracts for the pharmaceutical industry (Anesine et al., 2012Anesine, C.; Turner, S.; Cogoi, L.; Filip, R. 2012. Study of the participation of caffeine and polyphenols on the overall antioxidant activity of mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Food Science and Technology 45: 299-304.; Lima et al., 2016Lima, J.P.; Farah, A.; King, B.; Paulis, T.; Martin, P.R. 2016. Distribution of major chlorogenic acids and related compounds in Brazilian green and toasted Ilex paraguariensis (maté) leaves. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 64: 2361-2370.).

In the last decade, along with the traditional use, yerba mate has been grown for raw material in the production of beers, soft drinks, cosmetics, sweets, and functional cheeses as well as other non-traditional uses (Table 1). In the case of functional cheeses, a recent study showed that the addition of yerba mate, besides increasing the biological activities due to the interaction between herb polyphenols and milk proteins, increases the sensorial characteristics, with good acceptance by consumers (Marcelo et al., 2014Marcelo, M.C.A.; Martins, C.A.; Pozebon, D.; Dressler, V.L.; Ferrão, M.F. 2014. Classification of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) according to the country of origin based on element concentrations. Microchemical Journal 117: 164-171.; Saraiva et al., 2019).

Table 1
Yerba mate uses.

Leaves are also used to produce energy drinks as an alternative to coffee, widely appreciated in Europe and the United States because of their high levels of antioxidants and nutritional benefits (Bercher et al., 2011; Bergottini et al., 2017Bergottini, V.M.; Hervé, V.; Sosa, D.A.; Otegui, M.B.; Zapata, P.D.; Junier, P. 2017. Exploring the diversity of the root-associated microbiome of Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil. (Yerba Mate). Applied Soil Ecology 109: 23-31.). However, studies on new uses, such as food preservatives, food supplements, dyes, or hygiene and cosmetics products, need to be conducted to allow consumption to exceed the traditional barrier and become increasingly accessible in Latin America, which is also interesting for innovations in the agro-industrial sector (Table 1) (Cardoso Junior and Morand, 2016Cardoso Junior, L.; Morand, C. 2016. Interest of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as a new natural functional food to preserve human cardiovascular health: a review. Journal of Functional Foods 21: 440-454.).

As a secondary use, yerba mate wood produces a blade of excellent quality (Table 1). However, the species is considered inadequate to produce energy, pulp, and paper. Its residue, after processing, has been used by horticultural workers as organic fertilizer and in animal feed, providing forage with 13 % crude protein. In addition, the species is highly recommended because of its ornamental value and biological properties, mainly for afforestation, gardening, and the ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems (Embrapa, 2019).

Rodríguez-Arzuaga and Piagentini (2017)Rodríguez-Arzuaga, M.; Piagentini, A.M. 2017. New antioxidant treatment with yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) infusion for fresh-cut apples: modeling, optimization, and acceptability. Food Science and Technology International 24: 223-231. optimized yerba mate concentrations in an aqueous dipping solution to maximize the antioxidant capacity and minimize the browning occurrence without affecting the sensory quality of freshly cut apples. Our results suggest that chemical treatment with yerba mate applied to apples cut freshly was successful in delaying enzymatic browning development, providing compounds with antioxidant capacity with potential benefit for human health (Table 1).

Biodegradable and edible starch-glycerol based films containing different concentrations of a natural antioxidant as yerba mate extract were evaluated to obtain promising biodegradable edible films to be used as packaging. The study demonstrated that yerba mate extract acted as a plasticizer when incorporated as an antioxidant into starch-glycerol based films. Besides, the use of the extract improved biodegradability of the films in compost and preserved their stability (Medina Jaramillo et al., 2016Medina Jaramillo, C.; Gutiérrez, T.J.; Goyanes, S.; Bernal, C.; Famá, L. 2016. Biodegradability and plasticizing effect of yerba mate extract on cassava starch edible films. Carbohydrate Polymers 151: 150-159.).

Yerba mate was used for dyeing silk, wool, linen, and cotton fabrics. Dyed silk fabrics presented the highest color strength (Yoo and Jeon, 2012Yoo, H.J.; Jeon, S.T. 2012. Dyeing properties of yerba mate tea on the fabrics. Journal of the Korean Society of Clothing and Textiles 36: 412-421.). Giacomini et al. (2016)Giacomini, F.; Menegazzo, M.A.B.; Santos, J.C.O.; Arroyo, P.A.; Barros, M.A.S.D. 2016. Ecofriendly dyeing of silk with extract of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis). Textile Research Journal 87: 829-837. investigated the best dyeing conditions, such as pH, temperature, and dyestuff concentration of silk fabric using roasted yerba mate. The authors concluded that silk fabrics can be dyed easily with yerba mate, providing a yellowish brown color, and the best silk dyeing result was achieved at 90 °C, pH 3.0 and 20 g L–1 dye concentration. Bulut and Akar (2012)Bulut, M.O.; Akar, E. 2012. Ecological dyeing with some plant pulps on woolen yarn and cationized cotton fabric. Journal of Cleaner Production 32: 1-9. used some oil-free yerba mate wastes to dye cotton and wool yarn previously cationized without metal salts. Fabrics were dyed successfully with high color strength.

Another study evaluated the effectiveness of extracts of unripe yerba mate fruits for chemical control of piped apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) and non-target species, such as South American catfish (Rhamdia quelen), under laboratory conditions. The extracts were particularly attractive considering the source of compounds and their effectiveness as molluscicides (Brito et al., 2018Brito, F.C.; Gosmann, G.; Oliveira, G.T. 2018. Extracts of the unripe fruit of Ilex paraguariensis as a potential chemical control against the golden apple snail Pomacea canaliculata (Gastropoda, Ampullariidae). Natural Product Research 33: 2379-2382.).

Chemical aspects, bioactive compounds and their functionalities

Much attention has been dedicated to yerba mate due to its potential health benefits (Figure 5). These benefits seem to be related to the phytochemical variability, determining the unique chemical composition. Studies have detected different chemical groups, such as polyphenols, saponins, alkaloids, and essential oils (Tables 2, 3 and 4). The leaves also contain vitamins (A, C, B1, and B2), magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, sodium, and potassium (Heck and Mejia, 2007; Berte et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.).

Figure 5
Some potential health benefits associated with yerba-mate consumption (in vitro and vivo tests).
Table 2
Phenolic compounds found in yerba mate (2015 – 2018).
Table 3
Phenolic acid content found in yerba mate (2015 – 2018).
Table 4
Methylxanthine contents found in yerba mate (2015 – 2018).

Compounds, such as polyphenols, saponins, alkaloids, and essential oils from the secondary metabolism of plants and, because of their chemical diversity, these compounds have a variety of functions in plants. Numerous substances act as defense against herbivores and pathogens, while others play a role in mechanical support, as a pollinator or in fruit disperser attraction, protection against ultraviolet radiation, or growth reduction of adjacent competing plants (Taiz et al., 2017Taiz, L.; Zeiger, E.; Moller, I.M.; Murphy, A. 2017. Plant Physiology and Development. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.; Neugart et al., 2018Neugart, S.; Baldermann, S.; Hanschen, F.S.; Klopsch, R.; Wiesner-Reinhold, M.; Schreiner, M. 2018. The intrinsic quality of brassicaceous vegetables: how secondary plant metabolites are affected by genetic, environmental, and agronomic factors. Scientia Horticulturae 233: 460-478.).

In humans, these compounds have multiple functions. In vitro studies show that yerba mate extract helped to prevent cancer and had a high anti-inflammatory potential (Souza et al., 2015Souza, A.H.P.; Correa, R.C.G.; Barros, L.; Calhelha, R.C.; Santos-Buelga, C.; Peralta, R.M.; Bracht, A.; Matsushita, M.; Ferreira, I.C.F.R. 2015. Phytochemicals and bioactive properties of Ilex paraguariensis: an in-vitro comparative study between the whole plant, leaves and stems. Food Research International 78: 286-294.). In vivo studies show that infusion could inhibit oxidation of LDL (low density lipoprotein), also contributing to treatments of obesity, diabetes, and arteriosclerosis (Godoy et al., 2013Godoy, R.C.B.; Deliza, R.; Gheno, L.B.; Licodiedoff, S.; Catia, N.T.; Frizon, C.N.T.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R. 2013. Consumer perceptions, attitudes and acceptance of new and traditional mate tea products. Food Research International 53: 801-807.; Habtemariam, 2019Habtemariam, S. 2019. The chemical and pharmacological basis of yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) as potential therapy for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. p. 943-983. In: Habtemariam, S., ed. Medicinal foods as potential therapies for type-2 diabetes and associated diseases. Academic Press, New York, NY, USA.; Luís et al., 2019Luís, A.F.S.; Domingues, F.C.; Pereira Amaral, L.M.J. 2019. The anti-obesity potential of Ilex paraguariensis: results from a meta-analysis. Brazilian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 55: e17615.). Recent research has shown numerous therapeutic qualities of yerba mate, including hepatoprotective, neuroprotective, resistance against oxidative stress, anti-obesity, cardioprotection, and antioxidant effects (Figure 5) (Baeza et al., 2017Baeza, G.; Sarriá, B.; Bravo, L.; Mateos, R. 2017. Polyphenol content, in vitro bioaccessibility and antioxidant capacity of widely consumed beverages. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 98: 1397-1406.; Cahuê et al., 2019Cahuê, F.; Nascimento, J.H.M.; Barcellos, L.; Salerno, V.P. 2019. Ilex paraguariensis, exercise and cardioprotection: a retrospective analysis. Journal of Functional Foods 53: 105-108.; Cittadini et al., 2019bCittadini, M.C.; Repossi, G.; Albrecht, C.; Di Paola Naranjo, R.; Miranda, A.R.; Pascual-Teresa, S.; Soria, E.A. 2019b. Effects of bioavailable phenolic compounds from Ilex paraguariensis on the brain of mice with lung adenocarcinoma. Phytotherapy Research 33: 1142-1149.; Panza et al., 2018Panza, V.P.; Brunetta, H.S.; Oliveira, M.V.; Nunes, E.A.; Silva, E.L. 2018. Effect of mate tea (Ilex paraguariensis) on the expression of the leukocyte NADPH oxidase subunit p47phox and on circulating inflammatory cytokines in healthy men: a pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 70: 212-221.; Valenca et al., 2019Valenca, S.S.; Valenca, H.M.; Lanzetti, M. 2019. Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) and dimethyl fumarate can improve metabolic syndrome condition induced by high fat diet in mice. FASEB Journal 33: 820.2.).

Yerba mate samples from different processing steps were analyzed for the chlorogenic acids content and the highest content was found in green leaves and stems (Butiuk et al., 2016Butiuk, A.P.; Martos, M.A.; Adachi, O.; Hours, R.A. 2016. Study of the chlorogenic acid content in yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil.): effect of plant fraction, processing step and harvesting season. Journal of Applied Research on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants 3: 27-33.). Structurally, chlorogenic acids are a family of non-flavonoid phenolic compounds, comprising caffeic and quinic acid esters and their mono and dicaffeoylquinic isomers. Chlorogenic acid (5-CQA) isomers include 3-O-caffeoyl-quinicacid (3-CQA), 4-O-caffeoyl-quinic (4-CQA), 3,4-dicaffeoylquinic acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid and 4,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid (Table 3). Potentially beneficial properties to humans, such as antioxidant, hypoglycaemic, antiviral and hepatoprotective activities have also been attributed to chlorogenic acids in in vitro, in vivo and epidemiological studies (Butiuk et al., 2016Butiuk, A.P.; Martos, M.A.; Adachi, O.; Hours, R.A. 2016. Study of the chlorogenic acid content in yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis St. Hil.): effect of plant fraction, processing step and harvesting season. Journal of Applied Research on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants 3: 27-33.; Meinhart et al., 2018Meinhart, A.D.; Caldeirão, L.; Damin, F.M.; Filho, J.T.; Godoy, H.T. 2018. Analysis of chlorogenic acids isomers and caffeic acid in 89 herbal infusions (tea). Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 73: 76-82.; Riachi et al., 2018Riachi, L.G.; Simas, D.L.R.; Coelho, G.C.; Marcellini, P.S.; Silva, A.J.R.S.; Maria, C.A.B. 2018. Effect of light intensity and processing conditions on bioactive compounds in maté extracted from yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.). Food Chemistry 266: 317-322.).

In addition, caffeine, theophylline and theobromine alkaloids are important active components of yerba mate, derived from xanthine and known as methylxanthines (Table 4). They all have the stimulating effect on the central nervous system in common, with caffeine as the most potent representative. Methylxanthines also affect the cardiovascular system, with theophylline generating the strongest effect. Thus, caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine concentrations in yerba mate beverages is generally of great interest (Holowaty et al., 2016Holowaty, S.A.; Trela, V.; Thea, A.E.; Scipioni, G.P.; Schmalko, M.E. 2016. Yerba maté (Ilex paraguariensis st. Hil.): chemical and physical changes under different aging conditions. Journal of Food Process Engineering 39: 19-30.; Friedrich et al., 2017Friedrich, J.C.; Gonela, A.; Vidigal, M.C.G.; Vidigal-Filho, P.S.; Sturion, J.A.; Cardozo-Junior, E.L. 2017. Genetic and phytochemical analysis to evaluate the diversity and relationships of mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. ST.-HIL.): elite genetic resources in a germplasm collection. Chemistry and Biodiversity 14: e1600177.; Konieczynski et al., 2017Konieczynski, P.; Viapiana, A.; Wesolowski, M. 2017. Comparison of infusions from black and green teas (Camellia sinensis L. Kuntze) and erva-mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.) based on the content of essential elements, secondary metabolites, and antioxidant activity. Food Analytical Methods 10: 3063-3070.).

The biochemical composition of yerba mate varies according to the locality, cultivation system or processing method. Yerba mate contents can vary widely (Table 2), and environmental conditions to which the plants are submitted (seasonality, temperature, water and nutrient availability, radiation) determine their biosynthesis (Dutra et al., 2010Dutra, F.L.G.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Ribani, M. 2010. Determination of phenolic compounds by isocratic high performance liquid chromatografic method during storage of yerba-mate. Química Nova 33: 119-123 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Pires et al., 2016Pires, D.A.C.K.; Pedrassani, D.; Dallabrida, V.R.; Benedetti, E.L. 2016. The yerba mate in the north of Santa Catarina state: the bioactive compounds in maté in the region as variable in determining the specifics required for recognition as a geographical indication. Desenvolvimento Regional em Debate 6: 207-227 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).).

Thus, cultivation and management systems greatly affect the levels of these substances (Dutra et al., 2010Dutra, F.L.G.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Ribani, M. 2010. Determination of phenolic compounds by isocratic high performance liquid chromatografic method during storage of yerba-mate. Química Nova 33: 119-123 (in Portuguese, with abstract in English).; Berté et al., 2014Berté, K.A.S.; Rodriguez-Amaya, D.B.; Hoffmann-Ribani, R.; Maccari-Junior, A. 2014. p. 145-153. Antioxidant activity of maté tea and effects of processing. In: Preedy, V., ed. Processing and impact on antioxidants in beverages. Elsevier, London, England.); thereby, affecting quality of the final product and its effect on human health. However, studies that interrelate these factors are still scarce (Heck and Mejia, 2007; Neugart et al., 2018Neugart, S.; Baldermann, S.; Hanschen, F.S.; Klopsch, R.; Wiesner-Reinhold, M.; Schreiner, M. 2018. The intrinsic quality of brassicaceous vegetables: how secondary plant metabolites are affected by genetic, environmental, and agronomic factors. Scientia Horticulturae 233: 460-478.; Riachi et al., 2018Riachi, L.G.; Simas, D.L.R.; Coelho, G.C.; Marcellini, P.S.; Silva, A.J.R.S.; Maria, C.A.B. 2018. Effect of light intensity and processing conditions on bioactive compounds in maté extracted from yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil.). Food Chemistry 266: 317-322.).

Final Remarks

Consumption statistics show that the production chain of yerba mate is based on the use of traditional drinks, such as the chimarrão and the tereré. However, the innovation potential of yerba mate still needs to be explored, considering its chemical composition and functionalities. The implementation of new uses, such as food preservatives, food supplements, dyes, hygiene and cosmetic products, leads to the increase of yerba mate consumption worldwide. In addition, studies that explain the effects of crop systems on chemical composition and product quality need to be developed.

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    24 Aug 2020
  • Date of issue
    2021

History

  • Received
    30 Oct 2019
  • Accepted
    05 Apr 2020
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