What is Guarana?
What is commonly referred to as guaranàis a drink obtained from the seeds of Paullina cupana, a plant native to Brazil grown in the Amazon rainforest basin. Currently, 70% of the products obtained from the cultivation and processing of this plant are used to produce energy drinks , while the remainder is consumed by infusion or in the form of guarana powder in capsules.
The seeds of guarana are derived from fruit of the plant that, once mature, they open making them visible. The typical processing of the seeds requires that these are collected, chopped and then mixed with water until a paste is obtained. The resulting pasta is then dried in the form of rolls and marketed.
Alternative processes also include a light roasting of guarana seeds which, in contact with heat, dehydrate, facilitating subsequent milling (fine grinding). The preparation of the drink takes place with a process similar to that of tea, by boiling water and putting the dried pasta inside for the extraction to take place. The resulting drink is refreshing and has energizing properties . The slightly bitter and astringent taste is due to the presence of caffeine and polyphenols (tannins). Another sales format is the freeze-dried one, that is in the form of guarana powder, also in this case used to prepare a drink.
How are guarana supplements made?
The extracts are the product obtained following the extraction of the active ingredients from the raw material. To obtain the guarana extract, you start by removing the pulp of the fruit from the seeds, drying them at a controlled temperature up to a humidity of 8-10%. Controlling the temperature allows you not to damage the compounds contained in guarana seeds. Once dry, the seeds are ground up and put in contact with a solvent (a liquid that is capable of extracting compounds from seed powder) for extraction.
After the extraction, the seeds are removed from the diluent and washed again to remove other active substances. Subsequently, the products of the washes and the initial extraction are combined in order to guarantee a minimum content of active ingredients (for example, caffeine ). The solution is then allowed to cool and the unwanted substances separated from it by precipitation. At the end of the process, a final filtration follows which guarantees the purity of the extract.
The extracts are used to prepare guarana food supplements or pharmaceutical products.
The substantial difference compared to a food is the quantity of active ingredients that we find in the products. In fact, it very often happens that in order to obtain the beneficial effect attributed to a compound through the consumption of a food, excessive quantities must be consumed. This can be compensated for by using an extract.
Properties of guarana
Properties of guarana
The guarana has always been known for its energizing properties and, because of that - in addition to being used as a food supplement itself - is widely used as an ingredient to produce:
- energy drink,
- pre-workout supplements.
To these effects are added the benefits on attention and memory , demonstrated through studies conducted on humans. The products obtained from this plant, along with others such as tea and coffee, are part of a category of foods called nerve foods . The peculiarity of nerve foods is that they contain compounds capable of interacting with the nervous system, mostly as stimulants .
Another property that some studies attribute to guarana is the ability to positively influence lipid metabolism and increase both basal metabolism and weight loss .
Guaranine, theophylline, theobromine
The compound responsible for guarana's strong energizing properties is called guaranine . This molecule, in reality, is nothing but caffeine present in the seeds in variable quantities, from 3 to 5%. Also in this case, similarly to what happens for theine, it is usual to use a different name for the same compound. This phenomenon is due to the fact that many names were attributed to compounds before it was possible to identify them precisely. In addition to caffeine, we find two other molecules that possess nervine activity: theophylline and theobromine .
These three compounds are purine alkaloids, so defined because their origin is connected to that of the purine bases adenine and guanine which make up the nucleotides and nucleosides. In this case, theobromine is believed to be responsible for the slight diuretic action of guarana, while theophylline has a stimulating action similar to that of caffeine and acts as a bronchodilator .
These elements are present in guarana in much smaller doses than caffeine: we are talking about 0-0.25% in the case of theophiline and 0.2-0.02% for theobromine.
Beneficial effects of guarana
Several benefits have also been shown in adults who used guarana constantly. Habitual consumption seems to lead to a lower incidence of:
- metabolic syndrome.
In addition to the benefits attributable to the content of the alkaloids described above, the antioxidant properties are very important . Per the seeds of this plant, in fact, the polyphenol content is about 7-9%. There are mainly condensed tannins such as catechins and epicatechins.
- The word "guarana" has a specific meaning in some dialects of the indigenous Amazonian peoples. The term is translated with the Anglo-Saxon "vine" or vine . This is due to the fact that guarana plants, in the wild, grow very high (up to 10 meters) by climbing the branches of other trees. Furthermore, guarana fruits are grouped in cluster-like structures and before opening at the time of harvest, they change hues from dark green to yellow-brown or intense yellow-orange.
- A second curiosity concerns a fundamental characteristic for its identification. This consists in the fact that, when ripe, the guarana fruits open and their white interior becomes visible. From the innermost part the black seed emerges which creates a strong visual contrast giving the impression that you are looking at a human eye.
Guarana, together with the other plants used to obtain nerve foods, is an excellent support for both energizing and antioxidant properties . Consuming regularly, without exceeding, these drinks or the extracts of these plants can be considered a winning strategy to better deal with problems such as mental fatigue caused by stress.
Furthermore, being aware of the great qualities that plants possess is a way to get closer to nature and appreciate the immense treasure it represents. Putting the attention in a deeper way on the relationship that nutrition has with nature and the advantages that can be drawn from this knowledge is certainly a milestone in the education of future generations to respect nature and themselves.
- Food Chemistry, Paolo Cabras, Aldo Martelli;
- Chemistry, Biosynthesis and Bioactivity of Natural Substances, Paul M. Dewick;
- Review: Guarana: Revisiting a highly caffeinated plant from the Amazon;
- The Complete Guide To Herbal Medicines Di Charles W. Fetrow, Juan R. Avila