Tea Catechins 101

With all of the attention to the many alleged health benefits of tea nowadays, you tend to hear certain terms a lot. One of those terms is catechins. Which leads to the obvious question – what are they? I have to admit that, as much as I write about tea, I wasn’t completely clear on this issue myself. So I set out to demystify the matter.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition and go from there. Merriam-Webster says catechins are “a crystalline compound C15H14O6 that is related chemically to the flavones, is found in catechu, and is used in dyeing and tanning.” Which doesn’t much sound like something one wants in their tea but let’s look into the matter a little more closely.

Wikipedia says that a catechins are “a flavan-3-ol, a type of natural phenol and antioxidant. It is a plant secondary metabolite. It belongs to the group of flavan-3-ols (or simply flavanols), part of the chemical family of flavonoids” and thankfully does not reference it as something used in tanning. Besides tea, catechins are also found in cocoa, argan oil, many types of fruit and dark chocolate, to name a few.

A fact sheet from the University of California at Davis breaks things down in terms that are generally more suited for laypeople. If you’ve wondered, like I have, if a catechin is different from a flavonol, they clarify the matter by noting, “catechins are classified as flavanols and include the following compounds: catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate.

They also provide a chart of some items that are high in catechin content. Tea doesn’t rank too high when it comes to catechins and epicatechin but green tea is number one on the list when it comes to epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, and epigallocatechin gallate, with black tea taking second place. The sheet goes on to comment on some of the alleged benefits of catechins and “media hype” regarding red wine, chocolate and tea.

For yet another perspective on the above take a look at this summary of components and health benefits of tea, courtesy of a Japanese tea maker.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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