A Day for Mate, A South American Culinary Infusion

Image from the Flickr account by user Diego (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Typical calabash gourd where mate is served. Image from the Flickr account by user Diego (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Last November 30 marked the first Day of Mate—a culinary infusion that combines the cultural heritage of several South American countries. Popular throughout the region, it's particularly ever-present in Argentina and Uruguay, where the dish is widely consumed.

The mate is prepared with dry and ground leaves and twigs of yerba mate, also known as yerba from Paraguay. The name “mate” comes from the name of the calabash gourd that is traditionally used as a container for the infusion.

The history of story of yerba mate has even inspired cartoons, like the one below uploaded to YouTube:

Today, it would be unimaginable to ban mate in Argentina, though that is precisely what happened in the 17th century, when sipping mate was considered an “abhorrent habit,” and a “dangerous contagion among indigenous people”:

En una carta dirigida al rey, [el gobernador de Buenos Aires, Diego Marín de Negrón] le informaba acerca de ese “vicio abominable y sucio que es tomar algunas veces al día la yerba con gran cantidad de agua caliente”. Tomar mate “hace a los hombres holgazanes, que es total ruina de la tierra, y como es tan grande (la extensión y hondura del vicio), temo que no se podrá quitar si Dios no lo hace”, decía el funcionario […].

Más adelante, [el gobernador de Buenos Aires, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, conocido como] Hernandarias prohibió la yerba (mate). “Que nadie en adelante fuese ni enviase indios a haber hierba a ninguna parte donde la haya, ni la traiga, ni traten ni contraten so pena de pérdida de ella, que se ha de quemar en la plaza pública”.

In a letter to the king, [Buenos Aires Governor Diego Marín] Negrón explained that “abhorrent and dirty vice that consists in drinking some times during the day the herb with big amounts of hot water.” Drinking mate “makes men lazy, which is a total ruin of the earth, and as it is big (both the extension and depth of the vice), I'm afraid it can't be taken away if God doesn't do it,” claimed Negrón […].

Later on, [the Governor of Buenos Aires, Hernando Arias de Saavedra, known as] Hernandarias banned the herb (mate). “May no one, from now on, go nor request Indians to get herb nowhere where it can be found, nor bring it, nor deal nor take on, under penalty of losing it, which shall be burnt in the public square.”

But the punishment wasn't limited to the incineration of the herb: Hernandarias also sentenced anyone who “smuggled or pretended to smuggle [the herb] into the city” to 100 lashes.

According to research by the National Institute of Yerba Mate, the average Argentinian consumes up to one hundred liters of mate each year:

En el país, las cifras del consumo del mate son elocuentes: una investigación del Instituto Nacional de la Yerba Mate indicó que los consumidores de la infusión ingieren un promedio de 100 litros anuales de mate. […] cada año se compran 240 mil toneladas de yerba mate, mientras que de café se compran 33.400 toneladas y 6 mil toneladas de té. […]
El mate contiene nutrientes y aporta diversos beneficios a la salud de sus consumidores. En primer lugar, la mateína, su compuesto principal, tiene propiedades energizantes que estimulan al sistema nervioso central, brindan lucidez intelectual y aumentan la concentración.
Además, la yerba mate fue revelada como un antioxidante más potente que el ácido ascórbico, de la Vitamina C. […]
Como si fuera poco, el mate aporta al organismo las vitaminas A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, E y hasta 15 aminoácidos.

In the country, the figures of the consumption of mate speak for themselves: a research by the National Institute of Yerba Mate found out that consumers of the infusion drink an average of 100 liters of ros mate per year. […] Each year, purchases of yerba mate are as high as 240,000 tons, compared to the 33,400 tons of coffee and the 6,000 tons of tea. […]
Mate contains nutrients and provides several benefits to the health of the consumers. In the first place, the xanthines (its main ingredient) has energizing attributes that stimulate the central nervous system, it provides intellectual clarity and enhances concentration.
Furthermore, the yerba mate is an antioxidant more powerful that the ascorbic acid, from Vitamin C. […]
And as if that weren't enough, mate provides the body with vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, E, and up to 15 amino acids.

As usual, the fans of mate used Twitter to express themselves:

Happy National Mate Day! Bitter, sweet, very hot even dipped; the mate is the great companion of Argentinians. Cheers!

On November 30 Argentina celebrated the National del Mate, the most popular drink in the country.

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