Like most mate drinkers, I started out with a typical mate gourd made from the hollowed and dried end of a calabash squash. These gourds appear to be the most traditional way of drinking mate and for well over a year I stuck with them, mainly because I didn’t know of any other options.
From time to time, while walking around the “Centro” (Center) district of Buenos Aires, I’d see these gourds encased with metal, and the inside was 100% wood. They seems curious to me and I told myself that I’d rather stick to the traditional mate gourds.
Then one day, almost at random, I purchase a nice little gourd on the street that had a metal lining and wooden inside. The man even imprinted my name on the outside. He said, in Castellano: “here, smell how nice the wood is…real good, yeah?” The smell was sweet and pine-like…sort of maple syrupy and caramel…
Wooden vs Calabash Yerba Mate Gourds
Since then, I’ve stuck with my wooden gourd and am happy to drink out of wood for the rest of my mate life. For me, it’s much better than drinking from the squash, though I’m always still excited to be drinking mate with anyone, regardless of what sort of gourd they’re using. I’ve drunk from all types: metal gourds, wooden gourds, gourds wrapped in leather, gourds that were insanely huge, very small gourds (like the one I use now)…I’ve had my share of gourds, that’s for sure!
And that’s one of the real fun things about this mate experience, — this mate way of life — that you’ll always encounter different sorts of yerba and different sorts of people and different sorts of gourds, and different sorts of conversations that arise. Such is mate. Differences coming together in harmony and respect. Cultures and characters seeping into one another, like swirling grains of wood.
It’s not just mate that’s being prepared, shared, and experiences, but expression, ideas, and feelings between those that sit and spend time with one another around a hot gourd.
What I really like about the wooden mate gourds is the low maintenance nature of them. They dry over very easily and retain almost no moisture between finishing a gourd, clearing out the mate, and the next time you fill it up again for another mate experience. I believe this has to do with the sap or resin that exudes from the wood when heated — this acts as a sealant that not only plugs up the microscopic holes and cracks in the gourd, but can been seen accumulating around the rim of the gourd.
Wooden mate gourds impart their natural flavors
There’s a “seasoning” effect that takes place in the gourd, as one can see happening in a cast iron pan — that infuses the mate with a sweet, hickory-like smell and taste each time. However, I don’t find it offensive to the yerba at all. It’s extremely subtle. This is why it’s important to never clean out of your gourd with soap — never, never, never. Just rinse it out and let it air dry. If you’re really worried about germs, you can add extremely hot water to your gourd every now and them, let it soak, and add a bit of hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes.
The calabash gourds still rock, of course! Most people use these sort of traditional gourds, as can been seen throughout Argentina and Uruguay — they’ve been tried and tested and just work; plain and simple. But they retain moisture, due to the porous and rough lining of the squash. Water tends to set into these minute cavities and produce mold over time. Some seasoned mate drinkers will say that this improves the taste and no need for concern. Over several months of use, you’ll notice that the entire inside of the gourd will turn a uniform greenish to blackish hue, from the connecting mold stains.
Keep your mate gourds dry
It’s important to let these sort of gourds fully dry, typically by setting them on an angle or upside down, on a dishwashing rack, before reusing them. Unlike their wooden counterparts, they take a bit longer to dry. It’s not such a bad idea to have 2-3 gourds to switch between while some are drying and others are perfect dry and ready to go. Currently, due to the fast drying action of my wooden gourd, I don’t switch between gourds at all.
It’s going to come down to preference and each mate drinker will build a unique relationship with their own sort of gourd; however, since mate is relatively new to North America and many parts of Europe, people simply didn’t know of the options between wooden and traditional, calabash, gourds. Now you know!
Tell us about your gourd experiences below in the comment section.