The ingredient guaraná is appearing on the labels of more and more health and energy products, but what is it? Guaraná is a berry of the Amazon rainforest that has been harvested for energy and medicinal purposes for centuries. The seed of the berry contains a high level of caffeine. However, there is much more to guaraná culturally and botanically than just its properties as a stimulant.
Guaraná is indigenous to the Amazon Basin, located in the northern parts of Brazil and Venezuela. The name comes from the Brazilian Guarani tribe who was the first to harvest the plant. The botanical name for guaraná is Paullinia cupana, named for the German scientist C.F. Paullini who first discovered the plant along with the Guarani tribe in the 18th century. It is also known as Brazilian cocoa. Guaraná is a climbing plant of the maple tree family; it produces large flat leaves and red berries that grow to about the size of a coffee bean.
Guaraná extract is taken from the seed of the berry. The seed contains a stimulant known as guaranine, which has a chemical structure identical to caffeine. The amount of gauranine (i.e. caffeine) in guaraná, averaging 5.5 percent, is nearly twice the concentration found in a coffee bean. The remainder of the seed contains nearly 50 percent vegetable fiber, 8.3 percent starch, 7.6 percent water, nearly 6 percent guaraná acid, 7.5 percent pectin and trace amounts of malic acid, mucilage, dextrin and salts, colorant and acids.
Guaraná Seed Extract
Guaraná extract, usually a light brown powder, is water soluble. The extract is often used mixed with water or juice. You'll find guaraná powder a key ingredient in popular energy drinks, such as Rock Star, Cult and Sobe, and in energy pills. The powder extract is also a flavoring for other food items such as chewing gum, chocolate, ice cream and alcoholic beverages. Stores that carry herbal supplements usually sell guaraná powder. As a stimulant, guaraná reduces fatigue, sharpens perceptions, reduces appetite and relieves muscle tension and hangover effects.
In Brazil guaraná is popular in soft drinks for its flavor. Guaraná Antarctica is the most popular brand of guaraná soft drink, though in recent years many alternatives have tried to compete for the market with little success. Outside of Brazil, guaraná is known for its chemical effects as a stimulant, not for its unique taste.
The active ingredient guaranine may aid in the suppression of appetite, though it is not considered a weight loss drug. Guaraná powder extract can be used as part of a weight loss program or regime, though not for any nutritional supplementation. As with all stimulants, addiction or overdose is possible. Though to reach a dangerous level of consumption one would have to consume 100g of pure guaraná seeds or extract at a single sitting.
- Photo Credit Koehler's Medicinal-Plants 1887: Wikimedia Commons
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