Once a rarity in the Western world, white tea is earning impressive accolades for its potential health benefits.
There is nothing better than a hot cup of tea to relax the body and refresh the mind after a long, stressful day. Before indulging in your usual cuppa, consider the newest addition to the beverage market–white tea.
Once a rarity in the Western world, white tea is earning impressive accolades for its potential health benefits. It is produced primarily in the Fujian province of China and comes from the same tea plant (Camellia sinensis) as black, green, and oolong teas. Each tea is distinctly different in flavour, colour, and nutritional compounds based on the harvesting and processing methods that are used.
White tea has a delicate, slightly sweet, fresh taste and no “grassy” aftertaste sometimes associated with green tea. A cup of white tea contains less fluoride than other teas and only 15 mg of caffeine, considerably less than the 40 mg in black tea and 20 mg in green tea.
More Than Just Good Taste
White tea is brimming with naturally occurring polyphenols, powerful health-promoting antioxidants that improve immune function and suppress free-radical activity to maintain the body’s good health.
A recent study published in the African Journal of Biotechnology compared the antioxidant benefits of different teas. In the study, the antioxidant capacity of white tea was shown to be similar to that of green tea. This can be attributed to the high level of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a major polyphenol being studied for its effects on cancer cells.
Potential Anticancer Agent
Laboratory tests on four varieties of white tea showed that it inhibited mutations in DNA, the earliest stage in the progression of a healthy cell to a cancerous one, more efficiently than green or black teas, suggesting increased potential for fighting cancer.
A 2003 study published in the journal Carcinogenesis from the Linus Pauling Institute found that white tea was as effective as green tea or sulindac, a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in suppressing precancerous intestinal tumours in mice. The scientists also found that mice treated with a combination of white tea and sulindac had significantly fewer tumours than they did when treated with either substance alone.
Germ-Fighter In a Cup
White tea may also be beneficial in fighting viruses and bacterial and fungal infections. In 2004 researchers at Pace University found that the antibacterial action of white tea may help retard the growth of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and other bacteria that cause infections, pneumonia, and dental caries. The study also showed that white tea has an antifungal effect on Penicillium spores and Saccharomyces yeast cells, rendering them inactive.
Despite the early stages of white tea research, the findings are encouraging, making white tea a good choice not only for flavour but also for its health benefits. Look for Silver Needles and White Peony, two popular varieties, at your favourite natural health store.
It’s All in the Processing
Processing methods for teas differ as does the final product. The following chart shows the differences and lists teas in order of most to least processed.
|Type of Tea
|Mature leaves are withered to reduce moisture content, rolled, and left to fully ferment or oxidize. Darkened leaves are then dried to stop the fermentation process.
|Leaves are processed in a similar manner to black tea but with a shorter fermentation period.
|Leaves, not subjected to the fermentation process, are withered, steamed, rolled, and dried to stabilize their natural green colour, flavour, and nutrients.
|Least processed of all, immature leaves are harvested in early spring with the unopened silvery white, downy buds. Leaves and buds are steamed and air-dried to prevent oxidization and to preserve more of the natural plant nutrients and antioxidant content.