Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of Sociology and Anthropology: Sociology
Yerba mate, Ilex paranguariensis, is a shrub commonly found in the Atlantic Forest of South
America which covers part of northeast Argentina, eastern Paraguay, and southern Brazil. The
dried leaves and stem of the tree are used to make an infusion, called mate, used first by indigenous
Guaraní people. Today, yerba mate is widely consumed in the Southern Cone region and is
regarded as the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. I argue that yerba mate has
entered the U.S. as a “superfood,” marketed as a product with nutritional and symbolic medicinal
In this thesis, I trace yerba mate’s construction as a symbol of Argentine national identity which
entailed both the exploitation of indigenous labor and erasure of the mate’s indigenous roots. I
show that this history continues to be relevant for understanding the meaning of yerba mate today
in Argentina. I focus specifically on two successful yerba mate brands, Taragui and Titrayju.
Drawing on a semiotic analysis of product packaging and a discourse analysis of contemporary
media narratives on yerba mate, I situate these brands within a larger historical context. I then
follow yerba mate transnationally with an analysis of its more recent marketing to U.S. consumers.
I focus on the most popular yerba mate brand, Guayakí, that markets yerba mate as a superfood
and as a socially and environmentally sustainable product to young consumers.
Despite different yerba mate narratives across the Americas, as a national symbol and as a
transnational superfood, very similar historical processes continue to undermine indigenous rights
and identity in both its place of origin and in its new U.S. market.
Fochesatto, Ana, "Yerba Mate: National Project to Emerging Superfood" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 1136.