Ever wondered about the benefits of eating tea leaves, or whether or not you should do that at all? We’ve seen all sorts of claims, like sites saying that eating green tea makes you younger, or that there are certain tea leaves that could be dangerous to eat, so let’s dig in a little deeper and see what we come up with.
See also: Are tea bags good for your eyes?
There was a question on Quora where somebody asked if its okay to eat tea leaves, and why we don’t see it more often. As a matter of fact, eating tea leaves is quite common. If you’ve ever seen recipes using matcha, that’s just ground up green tea leaves. It’s quite common to consume the leaves of green tea, but what about other types of tea?
A user on Chowhound brought up the following points:
There are three issues possible when eating something “weird”.
1. Is it poisonous?
2. Is it unchewable?
3. Is it sharp/pointy?
So, for example, you don’t want to eat toadstools because of #1; you don’t eat lime leaves, even sliced, because of #2; and you don’t eat whole artichoke leaves principally because of #3.
Tea leaves have none of these issues.(source)
There’s a book called New Tastes in Green Tea by Mutsuko Tokunaga which discussed eating the leaves like you would any cooked vegetable. Mixing it in with rice, and even just chrewing on it after you’ve finished your cup of tea.
The belief many people have is that a lot of the nutrients in the tea remain in the leaves, even after you’ve allowed them ample time to steep in water. By drinking the tea itself, you gain a certain amount of whatever was water soluble, but by actually consuming the entire leaf afterwards, you’re supposedly gaining the full benefits.
Do tea leaves taste good to eat?
It’s a personal preference. Some find them to be too bitter, others love the taste and eat them simple for that reason alone.
In Burma, there are a number of recipes using tea leaves. It’s one of the few places where its common to see tea eaten in its leaf form. Lahpet is a dish made from fermented tea leaves, and a Burmese tea leaf salad is apparently delicious.
In the Wuyishan region in China, some people like to fry tea leaves in oil before eating them.
Finally, there’s a story that dates back to the 1800s, when loose leaf tea was being introduced to more rural areas, given as gifts without instructions on how to prepare the tea, and one family boiled the entire pound of tea in water, strained it, and served it with salt and butter.
Safety concerns about eating tea?
Era from Stackexchance brought up the following health concern of eating tea leaves: “Note that some people avoid eating tea leaves because they may contain small amounts of lead and other heavy metal contaminants. This is due to lead in the soil (from pollution), so it depends on where it was grown. This applies to green tea as well. Most people have nothing to worry about, but if you eat very large quantities of tea leaves you may want to consider getting your tea from somewhere that guarantees lead-free leaves.” (source)
If you’re someone who feels uneasy if you drink tea on an empty stomach, you may be more sensitive to some of the stuff in green tea, or other types of tea, and in that case you may want to avoid eating the leaves on an empty stomach.
Julian from Amazing Green Tea has touched on this subject as well, and here is his take:
As for eating tea leaves, doing it occasionally is fine, but I do not recommend.
Many people say by eating the leaves whole you are getting all the health benefits. This is not true.
This is because important tea compounds such as the catechins (antioxidants), caffeine and theanine (a relaxant that gives tea its characteristic taste) are all water soluble. So are many of the lesser compounds.
What is not water soluble are some of the pesticides and other unknown compounds. Because they are not water soluble, they have greater chance of accumulation in the body.
So it turns out that in green tea the safest way to consume it is the old trial and tested way – by steeping the leaves in hot water.
This is my personal preference, other people will probably have a different take.(source)
Conclusions about eating the leaves of tea?
At the end of the day, there are arguments on both sides. Some point out the reasons this could be dangerous (you could be consuming pesticides and other compounds that aren’t water soluble), and that it’s counter-productive when it comes to health benefits because all the good stuff is water soluble anyways.
It stands to reason that if you’re looking to eat tea leaves, beyond the occasional one that may get loose in your cup, it’s probabally a good idea to stick to higher quality and organic teas.
It is worth noting that people generally consider the consumption of tea leaves to be a safe practice in moderation, but if you’re doing it for added health benefits, you may not be doing yourself any favors beyond just drinking the tea itself.