The yerba mate gourd is the most traditional way of experiencing yerba mate. Oh man, I remember it like it was yesterday. My friend in Argentina pulled out a calabash gourd from his pantry and said “Here you go, Dave. Here’s your first gourd.”
What an honor. Over seven years later, I’m still sipping mate from a gourd, be it a ceramic, glass, wooden, or calabash. There’s nothing else like it. Now let’s talk about the whole “curing process” you’ve probably heard of by now.
Do I need to cure my yerba mate gourds?
Good question. If you asked me that seven years ago, I wouldn’t definitely said “heck yeah, man! Go cure that baby right away.” I even made several popular youtube videos about the entire traditional curing process.
The entire process of adding your yerba, adding warm water, letting it sit for about a day, then dumping out the mate and you’re set to go. Yup, that’s what I used to swear by…but not so much these days as you’ll learn.
Then why are so many people still curing yerba mate gourd?
When I first learned about yerba mate while living in Argentina, everyone I spoke to told me to cure my gourd. Many Argentines believe that curing helps to concretize the calabash (squash) gourd and prepares it for many years of use.
Other Argentines cure the gourd to establish a certain taste and aroma from the gourd, using their favorite mate during the curing process. The is akin to seasoning a cast iron pan.
And still, other Argentines cure the gourd for both reasons or simply because they’ve been told to through the grapevine of oral tradition.
Now I’m not going to categorically say that a gourd should never be cured the traditional way, as the aforementioned reasons still hold some value. Curing a gourd for flavor definitely makes sense. And in some instances, the curing process can save a gourd from future leaks by essentially swelling hairline cracks and microscopic holes within the calabash vessel. True indeed.
So here’s the deal on naturally curing your gourd vs curing the traditional method
After many years of curing hundreds of gourds, I’ve come to realize that, more times than not, curing serves as the ultimate strength test of a mate gourd. If a gourd has a structural weakness beyond a certain threshold, no matter what, it’s going to be exposed and usually cause leaking. No amount of curing is going to correct that; in fact, it’s going to speedily exploit the weakness (which is fine if that’s what you’re seeking).
I’ve found that simply using the calabash mate gourd right away, without any traditional curing process, creates the best situation to extend the life of your gourd. Ironically, not curing the gourd traditionally, makes for a stronger gourd.
Using the gourd right away and gently scraping out the inner walls of the gourd every night after a day of sipping mate is all you need to do. Over several weeks, the gourd will naturally cure on its own and form a dark and relatively smooth patina on the inner walls of the gourd.
Once the color becomes uniform and all the lingering debris from the plant fibers have naturally eroded, your gourd is fully cured. You’ll now notice that the gourd stays perfectly dry and all the funny business of mold, dampness, and oxidation now completely subsides.
So enjoy your gourd and sip on, Materos.