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  • Yerba mate is part of South American culture.

    Yerba mate is part of South American culture. | Photo: diarioactual-Vatican-Mundo

Published 30 November 2016

One word: mate.

As Argentina celebrates its "National Day of Mate" Wednesday, a hot drink made from mate leaves rich in caffeine that is a strong part of the culture of countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, parts of Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, it is worth remembering just who sipped the iconic Latin American hot drink.

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The National Day of Mate was established by the Argentine Congress after a law was proposed on Dec. 17, 2014, and approved on Jan. 20, 2015.

Yerba mate is placed in a silver gourd called a mate and hot water is added. The drink is sipped through a metal straw with a filtered end. People usually have a thermos with hot water to refill the drink. It is common to pass the mate around socially among relatives and friends.

Revolutionary leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the late President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez were both avid drinkers of mate. Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, author of "The Open Veins of Latin America" and author Mario Benedetti, also drank the famous drink.

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Nowadays, Argentine Pope Francis, former Uruguayan resident Jose "Pepe" Mujica and Argentine soccer players Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi also drink mate.

Other celebrities believed to drink mate include Madonna, Moby, Viggo Mortensen, Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meg Ryan, among others.

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According to the National Yerba Mate Institute, Argentina consumes 256 million kilos of yerba mate annually, which equates to each Argentine drinking 6.4 kilos a year. Yerba mate is present in 90 percent of households in the country, according to the organization.

"It's consumption, in the traditional form of mate, provides the body with large amounts polyphenols, vitamin B, potassium, magnesium, and xanthines," says the institute. "Polyphenols act as a powerful antioxidant, which helps increase defenses and reduce cellular aging."

"Potassium and magnesium are essential substances for the proper functioning of the heart and xanthines (caffeine, theobromine) are compounds that stimulate the nervous system,” the institute adds.

The consumption of yerba mate became widespread after the Spanish colonization of Paraguay in the late 16th century as they began transporting the drink with them across South America. The Guarani Indigenous people are believed to be the first cultivators and consumers of the drink.

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