CULTURE

Maté: The soul of Argentina in a cup

Argentina is rich in traditions and customs, including the ritual of maté, which plays a key role. This drink, made from the dried leaves of the Yerba Mate shrub (Ilex paraguariensis), is much more than a simple infusion: it is a symbol of conviviality and sharing, a strong social bond that unites Argentines.

 

Origin and history

Late 18th century engraving of Paraguayan Indians harvesting and drying yerba mate.

Late 18th century engraving of Paraguayan Indians harvesting and drying yerba mate.

The history of mate goes back to the time of the Guaranis, an indigenous people of South America. They used the leaves of the Yerba Mate shrub not only as a staple food, but also as a currency of exchange with other peoples, and even as an object of worship. The Spanish conquistadors discovered the virtues of mate thanks to the Guaranis, and contributed to its spread.

Over the centuries, mate cultivation has evolved, but has remained confined to its regions of origin: Uruguay, Paraguay, the province of Misiones and the north of Corrientes in Argentina, as well as the south-west of Brazil. These regions offer a humid tropical climate ideal for the growth of the Yerba Mate shrub.

 

Preparation and consumption

Preparing mate is a ritual in itself. The maté leaves are placed in a calabash, a type of dried gourd that serves as a container. Hot water is then added, but not boiling hot, so as not to burn the leaves and preserve their aromas. The mate is drunk through a bombilla, a metal filtering straw used to strain the broken mate. The leaves can be infused several times, up to ten times for the best matés.

 

Maté, a social bond

In Argentina, mate is much more than just a drink. It is a symbol of sharing and conviviality. It is common to see groups of friends, colleagues or family members sharing a mate, each taking their turn to drink from the bombilla. Refusing a mate can be interpreted as withdrawing from the social circle.

 

The benefits of mate

Maté is also appreciated for its stimulating properties. It contains caffeine, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It is a natural stimulant that helps combat fatigue. It is also a diuretic and can help relieve certain ailments such as rheumatism and migraines.

Over the last few years, this traditional drink has become a trend, winning over internationally renowned fans such as Leo Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Barack Obama, Stephen King, Pope Francis and Kevin Bacon, who is regularly seen with a maté calabash in his hands.

 

Mate is much more than just a drink in Argentina. It’s a symbol of conviviality, a social bond and a cultural heritage. So the next time you visit Argentina, don’t forget to share a mate with the locals. You’ll discover an essential part of the Argentine soul.

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