Guarana (// from the Portuguese guaraná [ɡwaɾɐˈna]), Paullinia cupana, syns. P. crysan, P. sorbilis) is a climbing plant in the family Sapindaceae, native to the Amazon basin and especially common in Brazil. Guarana has large leaves and clusters of flowers and is best known for the seeds from its fruit, which are about the size of a coffee bean.
As a dietary supplement or herb, guarana seed is an effective stimulant: it contains about twice the concentration of caffeine found in coffee seeds (about 2–4.5% caffeine in guarana seeds, compared to 1–2% for coffee seeds). The additive has gained notoriety for being used in energy drinks. As with other plants producing caffeine, the high concentration of caffeine is a defensive toxin that repels herbivores from the berry and its seeds.
The colour of the fruit ranges from brown to red and it contains black seeds that are partly covered by white arils. The colour contrast when the fruit is split open has been compared with the appearance of eyeballs and has become the basis of an origin myth among the Sateré-Mawé people.
History and culture
Guarana plays an important role in Tupi and Guaraní Paraguayan culture. According to a myth attributed to the Sateré-Maué tribe, guarana’s domestication originated with a deity killing a beloved village child. To console the villagers, a more benevolent god plucked the left eye from the child and planted it in the forest, resulting in the wild variety of guarana. The god then plucked the right eye from the child and planted it in the village, giving rise to domesticated guarana.
The Guaranís make a herbal tea by shelling, washing and drying the seeds, followed by pounding them into a fine powder. The powder is kneaded into a dough and then shaped into cylinders. This product is known as guarana bread, which is grated and then immersed into hot water along with sugar.
This plant was introduced to European colonizers and to Europe in the 16th century by Felip Betendorf, Oviedo, Hernández, Cobo and other Spaniard chroniclers. By 1958, guarana was commercialized.
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According to the Biological Magnetic Resonance Data Bank, guaranine (better known as caffeine) is found in guarana and is identical to caffeine derived from other sources, like coffee, tea and mate. Guaranine, theine and mateine are all synonyms for caffeine when the definitions of those words include none of the properties and chemicals of their host plants except caffeine. Natural sources of caffeine contain widely varying mixtures of xanthine alkaloids other than caffeine, including the cardiac stimulants theophylline, theobromine and other substances such as polyphenols, which can form insoluble complexes with caffeine.
The main natural phenols found in guarana are (+)-catechin and (-)-epicatechin.
In the United States, guarana fruit powder and seed extract have not been determined for status as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration, but rather are approved as food additives for flavor (but not non-flavor) uses.
Guarana is used in sweetened or carbonated soft drinks and energy drinks, an ingredient of herbal teas or contained in dietary supplement capsules. Generally, South America obtains most of its caffeine from guarana.
Brazil, the third-largest consumer of soft drinks in the world, produces several soft drink brands from guarana extract. Paraguay is also a producer of guarana soft drinks with several brands operating in its market. The word guaraná is widely used in Brazil and Paraguay as a reference to soft drinks containing guarana extract.
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