Smoked vs Unsmoked?
I am always getting the question, “what brands are smoked and unsmoked?” This is because a very large U.S. brand of yerba mate has used their “unsmoked” yerba mate as part of their marketing platform. Here is a quote from their web site.
“Recently, there has been some suggestion that drinking large quantities of smoke-dried yerba mate might not be good for you. There are byproducts in all smoked foods called PAHs. These byproducts have been linked with many health issues, including some forms of cancer. So, if you are drinking yerba mate for its promise of healthy energy, you probably want to find a source that dries their yerba mate with 100% warm clean air instead of smoke.”
There are over 400 brands in Argentina, Uruguay, or Paraguay and none (other than Kraus) that claim to be “unsmoked” in their print or packaging. In their market they simply do not care, the only thing that matters is the flavor.
In my travels in those counties I ask often about the cancer issue and the common response is “it that were true we would be dropping like flies”. They always find the question humorous, I have found no one who knows anybody that has had cancer as a result of drinking yerba mate. As far as I know it is only in the US where this is an issue.
All the manufactures I have visited will run the harvested yerba mate through a very hot tumbler with open flames from wood in order to flash dry it and kill any microorganisms. The next step is to run it through a dryer, which can take several hours to a day depending on the producer.
There are only three brands (all produced by Kraus in Argentina) that claim to be "unsmoked". EcoTeas, Kraus, and Agua Mate. Kraus uses a very large open natural gas flame to scorch the leaves and stems in the tumbler as it comes in from the fields.
For the second step in the drying process Kraus uses a boiler heated by wood and runs the steam through pipes within drying chamber. The amount of smoke in the second step varies, some use none at all. It is all about taste.
Guayaki puts "unsmoked secondary drying process" on the front of the package. I am guessing this means that wood was used in the tumbler but no smoke was used in the dryer.
My advice is to find a yerba mate brand that you enjoy and don’t drink it too hot. Your mouth and throat should never be irritated from drinking mate or any other beverage for that matter.
The American Cancer Society says: "The studies that led IARC to classify drinking very hot beverages as a possible carcinogen mostly looked at maté, a type of tea that is traditionally drunk at very hot temperatures, mainly in South America, Asia, and Africa. The studies showed a link between the drink and esophageal cancer, but only when it was served at the traditional, very hot temperature."
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Rick Wiman (President)