Get to know the secrets of Yerba Mate.
The species Ilex Paraguariensis Saint Hilaire, known to us as “yerba Mate” is native of subtropical areas such as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The tree, of similar characteristics to those of laurel, has a light grey trunk of up to 50 cm diameter and an average height of 5 to 6m. Its leaves barely reach 10 cm long and have uneven rims. It belongs to the botanic family of aquifoliaceae. Originally, yerba mate was used by the guaraní Indians who lived in Argentina’s Mesopotamia and northeast areas, Paraguay and the neighboring regions of Uruguay and Brazil. Its consumption as an infusion has been widened so much that it has become a traditional drink for millions of people regardless of socio-economic and geographical barriers.
Rich in A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C and E vitamins.
According to a study made by researchers of Instituto Pasteur and the Scientific Society of Paris, yerba mate contains practically all the vitamins a person could need.
It is a powerful antioxidant.
It contains phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.
Vitamin B contributes to a better use of the energy coming from foods.
Decreases the risk of heart conditions among others.
It stops cellular aging.
Increases the body’s natural defenses.
Harvest begins in April/May and extends until October.
The first harvest – of low output – is usually performed between the 4th and 5th year of implantation. It can be done annually, but the rational managing of the crops proved that collecting every year and a half (called “tarefa”) results more convenient for the production.
Sapecado is a very fast drying process (lasts 20 to 30 seconds approximately) which must be performed during the first 24 hours after the harvest.
It entails exposing the leaves to the direct heat of the flames, which causes steam, and as a consequence creates small blobs that break the epidermis of the leaves with a slight crackling.
The process also inactivates the protoplasm, destroying the enzymes responsible of the biological degradation processes. This prevents the oxidation of the tannic substances that exist in the leaf, ensuring the prevalence of the green color. During sapecado yerba mate obtains its characteristic aroma and loses the green leaf flavor, or tisane.
After sapecado, the product must undergo a drying process to reduce its humidity until reaching values between 3% and 6% which also causes a weight loss.
There are different types of drying processes:
By conveyor belt: it entails a series of mobile belts that receive heat from underneath. The yerba mate circulates on these belts making the yerba lose its humidity. This process takes 3 to 5 hours.
By rotating tubes: these pieces of equipment cause a fast drying and take less than an hour.
Barbacuá: Simple tube structures usually built out of tacuara canes in which the yerba mate is placed. It is a long process that takes a minimum of 8 hours, reason why it is traditionally done during the night.
Milling comprises successive grinding, shaking and mixing operations that as a result produce a special yerba mate targeted at specific regions and groups of consumers.
The raw material is placed over conveyor belts that transport it into a wire round sieve, known as “cleaning sieve”, which eliminates foreign bodies, and big sticks and branches. The process continues with a first classifying shaking that discards the big branches and sticks.
These leaves undergo an intense grinding process in a mill that has a shaft with sharp blades, which when spun drag the product and throw it over a flat area called counter-rotating blades; afterwards it is shaken again. At this point, rotating or vibrating sieves allow the extraction of different products depending on the degree of grinding. When finished, the product is stored in silos.
When the classification is over, the next step is to mix the yerba with “sticks” (which were previously evenly cut by a “stick cutter”), in different quantities depending on the desired characteristics of quality, origin and flavor, among others. The flavor which determines the different yerba varieties depends strictly on the process and grain-size measurement.
After milling, classifying and mixing, the final product goes to packing. In order to preserve the organoleptic characteristics of yerba mate the packs have a series of layers of different materials. Quality, flavor and scent of the yerba depend on these. The most recommended is the three-layered one.
The most used packs contain half a kilo and one kilo, although there are also packs of just a quarter of a kilo.