Saponins represent the frothy, foamy bubbles seen upon adding hot water to your yerba mate. These somewhat mysterious compounds are related to myriad health benefits associated with yerba mate, and their presence may even indicate the nutritional strength of a particular mate.
A few years ago we published an article that presented yerba mate as an adaptogenic herb — an herb that contains “adaptive energy”, helping the body adapt to external and internal stress, such a psychological stress, disease, bacteria, environmental, any sort of stress you could image.
Most adaptogenic herbs contain these saponin compounds, offering a growing range of health benefits1 that are constantly being uncovered:
- Anti-atherosclerotic: Helps keep your heart and arteries pumping blood freely.
- Antioxidant: Helps enhance immune system; slow aging process; enhances general well-being.
- Hepatoprotective: Prevents damage to liver.
- Hypocholesterolemic: Lowers bad cholesterol.
- Anti-obesity: Increases metabolism and aids in weight loss.
- Anti-carcinogenic: Fights cancer cells.
Previously, as far as mate researchers knew, only 5 saponins had been identified in mate, known as Matesaponins 1–5 2–3. However, as of 2017, a new study revealed a total of 19 saponins, most of which are newly discovered.
Some notable findings in the study were:
- Matesaponin D (also known as J3a) was the most abundant, accounting for 30–35% saponin content, followed by Matesaponon 1, Matesaponin 2, Matesaponon 4 (it was previously thought that Matesaponin 2 was most abundant).
- Saponins, depending on environmental conditions, plant variety, and processing methods varied from mate brand to brand.
- Yerba mate berries contain about 30% saponins compared to 4% found in the leaves. Humans don’t generally consume mate berries due to their toxicity.
As yerba mate pharmacology continues to broaden and deepen, surely more pieces to mate’s growing cornucopia of health benefits will be unearthed and quantified.
Based upon what we now know, the cornerstone compounds of these health benefits are from chlorogenic acids and saponins. However, it’s clear that scientists still don’t fully understand these saponins and the precise mechanisms how they function. Only time will tell.
So the next time you see the foam, remember our saponin friends are present, doing their job to help protect the heart, lower cholesterol, and aid your immune system with a flurry of antioxidants.