Guaraná (pronounced gwa-ra-naa) is a berry that grows in the Amazon River drainage basin in northern parts of Brazil. Guaraná’s berries are widely regarded as an exceptional source of natural caffeine and have been used for centuries by native Amazonians to help maintain their stamina and increase physical endurance. It is the number one source of caffeine for South Americans. It has a different effect, however, than the caffeine normally consumed through coffee. This disparity in experience and effect from the natural caffeine of the guarana is due to its plant source that also contains widely varying mixtures of other xanthine alkaloids, including the stimulants theophylline and theobromine, and other substances such as polyphenols that form insoluble complexes that help to slow the release of caffeine into the bloodstream.
The really amazing thing about the guaraná berry, though, is that contained in its antioxidants there seems to be something that causes the memory to sharpen. So not only are you getting a boost of energy when you are consuming guaraná but you are also developing a sharper memory. It is a perfect complement with açaí.
There are three powerful alkaloids found in the guaraná seed, guaranine (chemically identical to natural caffeine), theophylline, and theobromine. These alkaloids tone the central nervous system, the heart, and additionally they promote mental focus and clarity, with the added enhancement of memory functions. The guaraná seed contains natural caffeine about 2.5 times stronger than the caffeine found in coffee, tea, or cocoa. However, guaraná benefits from phytonutrients and their link to the fatty molecules in their seeds. This allows the guaraná to be absorbed gently over a sustained time period of 4-6 hours, thus providing the lasting stamina and alertness we all want. The result is a beneficial energizer for the heart and brain that is mild on the body. In contrast, the caffeine found in coffee gives a sudden rush with a relatively fast drop off.
As guaraná is rich in natural caffeine, it is regarded for its potential effects on cognition. On studies performed on rats, guaraná increased memory retention and physical endurance when compared with a placebo. A 2007 study on humans in a double-blind, counterbalanced, placebo-controlled study assessed the acute mood and cognitive effects throughout the day of a standardised guaraná extract. Guaraná improved secondary memory performance and increased alert and content mood ratings further supporting previous findings of cognitive improvements following guaraná consumption. The study suggested that the effects could not be attributed to caffeine alone.
Preliminary research has also shown guaraná may affect how quickly the body perceives itself to be full. One study showed an average 11.2 pound (5.1 kilogram) weight loss in a group taking a mixture of yerba mate, guaraná, and damiana, compared to an average one pound loss in a placebo group after 45 days.
Other laboratory studies have shown antioxidant and antibacterial effects, and also fat cell reduction in mice when combined with conjugated linoleic acid (as found in açaí) from frequent intake of guaraná. Furthermore, guaraná has been found to stimulate the flow of lipids, so fat can more readily be burned as energy. In this action it helps the body use up accumulated excess calories. It has also been proven to help the body reduce the number of adipocytes (fat storage in the tissues). In South America, guaraná is popular for treating cellulite and obesity.
The use of the guaraná berry pre-dates the discovery of Brazil. The Guaranis, an Amazon tribe, were found taking a drink made from the powder of the roasted and ground seeds of the berries. The natives claimed that this drink made from a "miraculous plant" could give such endurance that by drinking it one could go on a hunt for days without food and without feeling hunger or fatigue. The Guaranis would also tell of the drink taking away headaches, fever and painful muscle spasms, and a cure for bowel movements. In the Guaranis culture, guaraná plays a very important role, as it is believed to be magical, and a way to regain strength.
The Guaranís would make their drink, a tea, by shelling and washing the seeds, followed by pounding them into a fine powder. The powder is kneaded into dough and then shaped into cylinders, known as guaraná bread, which would be grated and then immersed into hot water along with sugar.
Today science has been able to confirm the claims of the Amazon natives by clinically researching the chemical composition of this medicinally-rich berry, and established the guaraná seeds as having numerous therapeutic properties. The first researchers collected the plant for study in the 17th centruy after it was introduced to European colonizers and Europe. By the late 1950’s, guaraná was commercialized. Today the guaraná plant is a sustainable rain forest product of enormous value and is used to provide a natural energy boost in teas, sodas and açaí. Guaraná is a big part of Brazilian culture, and for most Brazilians it has become a part of their everyday life.
Some of the many common uses of guaraná are:
Amazon Legend about Guaraná
In the deep forest of Amazonas, where the Maué Natives lived, there was a highly respected couple that had given birth to a special boy child. This boy was an only child and the whole tribe regarded him as their guardian angel. He had an influence to always bring abundance where there was lack, health where there was illness, and peace where there was unrest. One day the little boy climbed up a tall tree to harvest a fruit. Jurupan, a jealous evil spirit transformed himself into a snake and killed the boy who fell down from the tree. When his people found him he appeared to be taken by a deep sleep but with his eyes open. All the tribe gathered mourning the death of their precious boy. At that moment a lightning bolt descended. Tupá, their supreme God, spoke through the mother of the boy and tried to soothe their affliction. The voice told them that they should harvest the eyes of the child and plant them. At that site there would be a sacred plant sprouting that would always bring the Maués nourishment and healing for all their evils and illnesses. With great reluctance they performed this deed of planting the eyes of the small one into the earth. They watered the site with their tears, and left the elders deep in the forest to guard such precious seeds. Soon after the planting, the guaraná plant sprouted.
Guaraná is harvested as a sustainable rainforest product from the Amazon. It can be grown amongst the natural rainforest, thus preserving the natural ecosystem. It is harvested for the berries’ seeds which are used to produce a powder that is quite rich with caffeine content.
Guaraná is bought from small farmers who have been harvesting the berry for years in the region. The commercial extraction process then starts by automatically weighting toasted and ground seeds. Next the seeds are sent to rotary extraction vessels with the addition of an extracting solvent fluid and, after a certain amount of contact time, the initial extract is obtained. This extract will then follow 3 steps: decantation, filtering, and vacuum concentration. Afterward, the extract is analyzed by the physical-chemical laboratory to assess whether it meets specifications established. Only after the entire process is completed will the extract be stored in fiber vessels, located in the cellar, and be ready for use.
While small farmers may have a more modern extraction process, the people of the Guarani culture in Brazil still perform the centuries-old process for making guaraná in a similar manner as their ancestors. First the seeds are shelled, washed, and then roasted for six hours. After the roasting process the seeds are then put into sacks and shaken until their outside shell comes off. They are then pounded into a fine powder and made into dough with water and rolled into cylindrical shapes about 8 inches long. The paste is then dried in the sun or over a slow fire until they are hard and a rough and reddish-brown color. These cylinders of guaraná seed powder are then grated, and the gratings put into a cup, and hot water is added to make a tea. Sugar is often added as well.