Thursday, September 4, 2008

Guarana Nation

Posted By on Thu, Sep 4, 2008 at 3:08 PM

“An iced Americano, please.” The barista smiled, punched in my order and suggested, “Would you like to try one of our new energy drinks? They have ginseng, B-vitamins, and guarana.”

Ginseng, B-vitamins, and guarana. I thought of “guano” (Incan for bat shit). “Um, no. Thanks.” I turned away, slurping my Americano, perplexed.

I knew she wouldn’t put bat shit in my coffee, but I certainly didn’t want to chance a potential Central American bat disease.

Trying to be unbiased and forget my fecal association with the word, I went home and did a little research. From what I gathered, if you’re a smoker, pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart problems, or simply a healthy human, you should approach the ingestion of guarana as if it were a high-speed rollercoaster or crack-cocaine.

The intense boost from guarana is from the substance ‘guaranine,’ a chemical identical to caffeine, with more of a kick. Allow the experts at to put it in perspective:

The average cup of coffee contains 65-130 milligrams of caffeine; some guarana based syrups can contain up to 350 milligrams. As with all stimulants, dependency may occur.

It is possible to overdose on guarana (10 grams is apparently fatal). Too much guarana can cause seizures and epilepsy. Also, don’t leave any loose guarana floating around Sparky’s water dish; there have been over 50 cases of ephedrine toxicosis in dogs after they ate the stuff.

The red and brown berries grow in Venezuela and northern Brazil, where, according to local myth, guarana sprouted from the eyes of a ‘Divine Child’ after being killed by a snake. Natives in the Amazon rainforest crushed guarana seeds to help arthritis and diarrhea; others claim it is an instant hangover remedy and an aphrodisiac.

Guarana is huge in South America; Brazilians love it. They add it to power bars, soft drinks, gum, press it into pills, pastes, and powders, creating a mass market for guarana and a thoroughly jittery populous.

Coca-Cola caught on to Brazil’s guarana-craze in 2002, and started selling ‘Kuat,’ a guarana-based soda. Pepsi wasn’t as successful, their soft drink ‘Josta’ was promptly kicked off the market.

Now, American coffeehouses are adding guarana powder to the menu like it’s a shot of hazelnut flavoring, and energy-drinks are going guarana-nuts. The berries are proven to heighten perceptions, improve endurance, and delay sleep.

I am relieved guarana doesn’t drop from bats and I can go back to trusting baristas. And as a side note, I recently tried an energy drink chock full of the stuff — I didn't sleep a wink.

(Photo by Joerite,

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