Matcha, made from ground whole green tea leaves, has been consumed for thousands of years both as a beverage and, in more recent years, as a coloring and flavoring agent in other foods, such as ice cream and cakes. Long hailed for its potential health benefits, a recent study indicates matcha may improve cognition and reaction time in healthy adult subjects.
The study, published in Nutrition Research, was done with ITO EN’s Japanese ceremonial-grade matcha (2021 April; 88: 44-52). ITO EN is a global supplier of authentic, organic ceremonial green tea and matcha powder. The authors defined ceremonial grade as “matcha made from the youngest tea leaves that have the highest levels of chlorophyll,” which also gives it a brighter and more vibrant green coloring than standard matcha.
For the study, 42 subjects aged 25-34 consumed 2 g of ceremonial grade matcha daily for two weeks. Subjects were then given tests meant to induce mild, acute physiological stress before having their memory, reaction time and other cognitive functions evaluated. The study also measured ability to gauge emotional state through a test matching mood descriptions to portraits (i.e., matching a smiling face to the descriptor “happy”).
The results of the study were mixed. While the researchers found “matcha had no effect on memory tasks, working memory tasks, visual information processing tasks and motor function tasks,” the did find it had significant effect on reactions times compared to the placebo group. Additionally, the matcha group was much more successful at recognizing positive emotions than the control group.
“In conclusion,” the authors wrote, “after two weeks of matcha intake, the attentional function was maintained after mild acute psychological stress. Thus, matcha might improve cognitive function during or after stress conditions in young adults.”
“Now we have even more evidence that it’s an indulgent flavor with cognitive benefits,” said Derek Timm, PhD, RDN, who serves as Taiyo International’s functional ingredient technology expert. Taiyo International and ITO EN recently announced a partnership to "supply sustainable high-quality matcha to the food, beverage and supplement industries in North America."
Food & Beverage Insider insights
Matcha already has a health halo working in its favor with consumers, and studies like this should only serve to continue to strengthen that connection.
“Consumers see matcha powder … as providing energy and supporting cognitive function via caffeine,” noted Micah Greenhill, beverage marketing director, ADM, in Food & Beverage Insider’s recent digital magazine, “Steeped in innovation: Coffee and tea go beyond energy.”
In that same digital issue, Sashee Chandran, founder and CEO, Tea Drops, noted matcha’s expanding interest among consumers.
“Matcha is another exciting trend which continues to grow, and still has significant room for expansion,” she noted. “The health benefits associated with matcha tea are becoming more widely known, which aligns with consumers’ commitment to personal wellness.”
With functional beverages continuing to grow in popularity, expect matcha’s popularity to continue. “Matcha green tea is showing up in everything from smoothies and juices to shakes, energy drinks and more for its versatility and health benefits as a functional ingredient,” said James Oliveira, account executive, ingredients division, Aiya America Inc.
As the benefits of matcha continue to be studied, expect the popular ingredient to continue carving out space in not just beverages, but snacks, confectionery, frozen desserts and more.