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December 4, 2009

Widespread caffeine use explains a lot about the twentieth century.

Greg Egan, Australian SciFi Author (1961-)

Guarana Antartica

Guaraná com gelo e laranja... guaraná with ice and orange, the most popular way to drink this beverage

As products containing guaraná (make sure to emphasize the last A, not the second – gwa-ra-NA) become more and more popular in the United States, many are asking the questions “What is it?” and “Where does it come from?” If you’re like most Americans, you’ve seen guaraná in two major forms : energy drinks and diet/weight loss pills.

The guaraná berry is indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and has been cultivated by the Guaraní tribe for centuries.  According to a myth attributed to the native tribes, guaraná’s domestication originated with a deity killing a beloved village child. In order 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 guaraná. The god then plucked the right eye from the child and planted it in the village, giving rise to domesticated guaraná. In the Guaraní language, guaraná means “fruit like the eyes of the people.” (I found a full version of the story here if you’re curious). The guaraná berry is small and red, with a black seed on the interior surrounded by white arils (attachment or casing of a seed to the body of a fruit). The contrast of black against the white “popping” out of the red shell is reminiscent of an eyeball, from which the myth stems.

Guarana berries

Guaraná berries : the eyeball fruit

The taste of guaraná is distinctive and unique, and the main reason for its success in Brazil as a soft drink. I hadn’t consumed soft drinks for several years before having guaraná soda (high fructose corn syrup isn’t too tasty, you know), but I instantly fell in love. It’s a fruity, low-acid, slightly citric tasting berry that’s incredibly refreshing and delicious, especially when complimented with a slice of fresh orange. The soda isn’t too sweet, either – something that was always a turnoff for me. I haven’t found any sources for this, but many Brazilians that I’ve met say that Guaraná Antarctica (ONLY the Antarctica original brand – most won’t dare drink the generic brands!) is the only drink popular enough to compete with the major Cola brands, which is why they haven’t tried to export it to the US.

The main chemical component of guaraná is guaranine, which is chemically identical to caffeine. This is the reason for the energy boost people get after taking guaraná. Guaraná takes about one hour to be metabolized via the digestive system. The slower rate of absorption leads to less tension in the body and does not lead to stress reaction or “caffeine jitters” which might happen in case of high coffee intake.  There are many rumors and stories about the effects of guaraná on the human body, but don’t expect medical miracles from taking guaraná in any form.

Some quick facts:

  • quickens perceptions
  • delays sleep
  • helps with endurance based activities
  • can help to recover from a hangover
  • impairs the appetite
  • will lead to more frequent visits to the toilet
  • causes a higher blood pressure and an increased heart rate
  • can make you feel jittery and may prevent sleep at all, depending on your caffeine tolerance levels.

Guaraná is not:

  • a ‘miracle medicine’
  • a dangerous drug
  • an easy way to lose weight
  • a vitamin
  • a food supplement

Not proven by scientific research, but some users state that:

  • Guaraná is a ‘Smart Drug’
  • Guaraná is an aphrodisiac
  • their health improved thanks to guaraná


  • Theoretically, it is possible to overdose on caffeine or guaraná. The fatal dose has been estimated at 10 grams of pure caffeine / guaranine (taken at once!). Guaraná seeds contain maximal 10% caffeine, so when you would swallow at least 100 grams guaraná seeds at once, things start to look ugly. Our advice: don’t even think about it.
    To put all of this in perspective: the average cup of coffee contains 65-130 milligrams of caffeine; some very strong guaraná-based syrups can contain up to 350 milligrams.
  • People with cardiac problems or a high blood pressure should avoid Guaraná (and smoking or drinking coffee, for that matter) When in doubt – consult your doctor.
  • As with all stimulants, dependency may occur.

Medical uses and remedies:

  • Antibacterial
  • Antioxidant
  • Decreased formation of platelet thromboxane
  • Diarrhea
  • Fat cell reduction
  • Fatigue
  • Increased memory retention
  • Increased physical endurance
  • Migraine headaches
  • Obesity (weight loss)
  • Platelet aggregation inhibition

The Guaraní tribe would customarily make a tea by shelling and washing the seeds. After the seeds are shelled and washed they are roasted for six hours, put into sacks and shaken until their outside shell comes off, and then pounded into a fine powder.  The powder is kneaded into a dough and then shaped into cylinders.  The cylinders are then dried in the sun or over a slow fire until they become very hard and turn a rough and reddish-brown color, marbled with the seeds. They break with an irregular fracture, have little smell, taste astringent, and are bitter and tannic (like chocolate without its oiliness, and similar in color to chocolate powder); it swells up and partially dissolves in water. This product is known as guaraná bread or “Brasilia coke”, which would be grated and then immersed into hot water along with sugar. The Brazilian miners drink this constantly and believe it to be a preventive of many diseases, as well as a very refreshing beverage. It is customary to carry the stick or a lump of it in their pockets, with a palate bone or scale of a large fish to grate it.

My verdict: I believe that guaraná has helped me consume less coffee while I’ve been here. Coffee wakes me up in the morning, but I always crash about 2 hours later, and I get very jittery and often feel faint if I don’t drink at least a pint of water with my coffee.  Guaraná doesn’t have that effect on me – and, in my opinion, it tastes a LOT better. My favorite way to drink it here is in the popular mate drink, blended with açaí pulp (their version of iced tea – I’ll save that for another post!). I tested out the “hangover cure” theory after my first experience with cachaça here, and – needless to say, I’m a believer. 🙂

Have any of you tried guaraná or guaraná-based products? What’s your opinion?

The Guaranís would make a tea by shelling and washing 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 or Brazilia coke, which would be grated and then immersed into hot water along with sugar.[6]

This plant was introduced to western civilization in the 17th century following its discovery by Father Felip Betendorf. By 1958, guarana was commercialized

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Calvin permalink
    February 1, 2010 2:12 am


    Yerba mate is also really good, I believe they serve mate tea in Brazil. Ginseng is also very popular in Asian cultures for energy and other health benefits but I don’t think they have it in Brazil.

    P.S. This blog is awesome, keep up the awesome work! Makes me want to come visit you guys!

    • February 1, 2010 10:17 pm

      Mate is the BEST. I am going to bring SO MUCH home in my suitcase, haha. We make it at home almost every day here and blend it with frozen fruit pulp… deeeelicious.

      Thanks!! You should come visit…you’re always welcome to… you’d love the beaches :p

  2. Mom permalink
    February 1, 2010 2:37 am

    If I’m not mistaken, there was a carbonated drink sold here several years ago that contained guarana. Again, if memory serves me right (and it doesn’t always any more) I believe it was taken off the market because of the elevated caffeine content. Young kids and teens were drinking tons of it and developing some real problems. Perhaps it’s something you have to kind of develop a tolerance for – as the people of Brazil likely have growing up with it.
    By the way, the actual berries are both cool and kind of creepy looking – especially after reading your accounting of the myth behind it! Oh, and I think I’ll steer clear of this particular product…….”will lead to more frequent visits to the toilet”……. I don’t need to add any more than I already make!!! hahaha

    • February 1, 2010 10:15 pm

      You’re right… it was called JOLT and it was marketed as an energy Cola. I remember the scene in Jurassic Park with the computer guy – his desk was covered in JOLT bottles 🙂 I think it didn’t work because they used pure caffeine + guarana + all the other energy drink additives + sugar… not too natural, and the artificial stuff is what makes you crash.
      If I remember right, I think Jolt filed for bankruptcy last year… haha.

  3. Mom permalink
    February 2, 2010 2:11 am

    I remember Jolt Cola, but not the scene in Jurassic Park. I’m going to have to rewatch the movie and look for it now! haha

  4. Ludmilla Silva permalink
    December 16, 2011 10:24 am

    Hi guys ! You are doing a great job. I love your blog! I’m from Recife, Brazil and moved to Florida 20 years ago, when I was 19 years old. Have you been to Recife ? The food in the northeast is to die for (and so are the beaches…) ! When I visit Recife I always eat sarapatel and cozido. By the way, I grew up on Guarana Antarctica and never had any problems. I guess I adapted well, since I started drinking it when I was a baby…lol . The Brazilian Supermarket (in Orlando) sells it and I found it at Publix Supermarket in Deltona as well. I haven’t had guarana in a while, but every time I go to the Brazilian Supermarket I buy a case. Keep up the good work ! : )

    • February 4, 2012 3:00 pm

      Hi Ludmilla! We have also been able to find it at several stores in Boston (mostly in Union Square/Somerville area) and Chicago as well. I’m sure that you can find it in ethnic stores in Los Angeles/NYC too. It’s such a treat! I haven’t been to Recife, but I hope to make it there soon – hopefully before my visa expires! =)

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