The antioxidant potential of green tea is well documented. A seemingly endless stream of studies has shown its potential to combat various cancers, heart disease and general DNA destruction by free radicals.
This kind of good news has led food formulators to incorporate green tea's benefits into other food productsâeven a pill.
The Taiwan Tea Experiment Station, a government body set up to promote and research ways of enhancing the island's tea industry, recently unveiled a green tea pill aimed at time-starved adults. Each pill contains catechins, flavonols and carotene as well as vitamins A, B, C and E, but, as Station section chief Chen Kuo-jen highlights, only water-soluble nutrients make it into a cup of green tea. That means carotene, vitamin E, fibre and other minerals are literally left in the bag. Not so with the pill.
Although Station researchers had developed a means of grinding the tea leaves into a powder so that all nutrients were available, the taste was so bad as to render it unusable. It also numbed the tongue and was difficult to keep fresh. Its only use proved to be as an artificial flavouring for products such as cookies and cakes.
Then two years ago the researchers hit upon the idea of compressing tea into pill form. "Tablets are easy to carry," said Chen. "Consumers can take it anywhere, anytime."
Chen said Station researchers are now working on ways to incorporate the smell of tea into the tiny capsules. "Many people enjoy tea because of its soothing aroma," he said. "It is a pity that we still do not know how to keep the smell in the tablets."
The pills come in three forms: one that can be swallowed directly, one that can be left to dissolve on the tongue and one that is chewable. "We added sweeteners and other popular tastes like plum and yam to the chewable ones since chewable tablets stay in the mouth longer," said Chen. "We are considering adding other flavours and herbs in addition to working on a green tea chewing gum," he noted.
Chen said the Station had been inundated with interest from potential investors keen to take the "tea in a pill" concept to market. "Our job is to develop the product and then transfer the techniques to interested parties, not to take it to market," Chen emphasised.
Green tea is also being used in Alternativa Natural's new Pro-Energy Bar, while in Europe, green tea is an ingredient in a new yoghurt product. Launched recently in Italy by Italian food giant Parmalat, Kyr Pineapple and Green Tea yoghurt also contains Bifidobacterium Bb 12, Lactobacillus acidophilus, fibre and vitamins.
Other recently launched products containing green tea include spring water, chewing gum, sugar-free confectionary, juices and breakfast cereals.