As a tea lover myself, there’s this thought that crosses my mind once in a while; is black tea meant to be only a beverage? Are we letting it fulfill its whole destiny by just drinking the flavorful drink? This time, I couldn’t simply shake the thought off and finally ended up searching among various literature to find a solid answer to whether we can enhance the benefits of black tea by eating the leaves. Let me tell you what I found out.
Yes, you can eat black tea leaves. Both natural and processed tea leaves are edible. Tea leaf itself is the main provider of all its magic. So if you want to eat tea leaves, there are many ways to do so. At the same time, eating them with caution as frequent intake over a long time has risks.
Has anyone eaten black tea leaves before?
The answer is an absolute yes. The first thing I noticed was eating tea was the norm around the time tea was discovered. The story of the discovery of tea is an ancient legend that takes us back to around 5000 years in ancient China.
The Chinese emperor Shennong was in the woods boiling some water when suddenly a few leaves from a nearby bush fell into his pot, giving the water a delightful and distinct taste. Then the amused emperor took this to a whole new level by starting cultivating tea trees all over his state.
Centuries later, tea became one of China’s most significant export materials and other eastern cultures for its medicinal, refreshing, and mild stimulant effects.
Tea was first consumed as a food. First, people have eaten tea leaves as either a vegetable or as an ingredient in their porridge. Then they’ve come up with methods to make bricks/cakes out of dried tea leaves where they can boil a piece and consume.
Finally, after centuries and centuries, the current practices of drinking tea as a beverage have emerged. Nowadays, it is known as the second-highest consumed beverage after water.
Do people eat black tea leaves now?
Some communities in the world consume tea leaves as a traditional meal.
The best example is the unique Burmese salad called “Laphet”.
This is a trendy dish made by adding vinegar, oil, pepper, and several other ingredients to boiled tea leaves. Researchers have found that the preparation of Laphet has three times higher antioxidant properties compared to a normal infusion of tea.
Zhangcha duck (tea-smoked duck) is a quintessential dish prepared in the Sichuan region of China.
They design it by hot smoking a marinated duck with tea leaves. It surely must be one of the top bucket list items of any tea lover.
And what about Japanese tea ceremonies? Yes, they do consume tea in the form of Macha. Macha is the powdered form of green tea widely used in preparing various tea-related meals.
Japanese consume Macha steeped in hot water. Apart from these, many eastern cultures integrate tea leaves into their salads, curries, stews, and all types of meals for the aroma and the fantastic taste.
Pros and cons of eating black tea leaves
Currently, it’s widespread knowledge that this unique plant can do wonders for our health. Prevention of cancer, reducing the risk of heart diseases, reducing blood pressure, reducing blood glucose levels and infection are only a few essential benefits of consuming black tea.
So isn’t it possible to enhance all these effects by eating tea leaves themselves? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple. There are both pros and cons of eating tea leaves as a whole.
Researchers have found that we can completely utilize their health and nutritional benefits by consuming tea leaves. It’s actually great news, isn’t it? Imagine magnifying the refreshed feeling you get after a cup of tea. It’s the same with its antioxidant activities. So it’s not such a bad idea to eat tea leaves after all.
Adding tea leaves to a meal for its aroma and flavor is one of the best ways to utilize tea leaves. This surely brings extra satisfaction from the meal.
Unfortunately, eating tea leaves has its own strings attached to it. Apart from the immediate unpleasant feeling of eating black tea leaves as a whole, there are a few limitations to the long term and excessive consumption of black tea leaves. Main concerns include accumulation of heavy metals in our body, consumption of pesticides, overconsumption leading to toxicity, and infection.
Side effects of eating black tea leaves
There are immediate unpleasant effects of eating black tea leaves as a whole. Bitter taste is an obviously unpleasant experience of chewing black tea leaves. This can even end up in a nauseated feeling.
Eating a considerable amount of black tea leaves can cause stomach upset and impaired digestion in some individuals, especially if taken first thing in the morning. This encourages the need for integrating black tea leaves into meals rather than eating them as a whole.
What are the ways you can enjoy tea as a meal?
Eating raw tea leaves or eating processed black tea straight out from the teabag are the options we would consider if we are looking for a daring experience. But I’m sure none of us would enjoy the after-effects of highly bitter taste, sticky particles in the mouth, or digestive problems.
So instead, people have come up with fascinating ways to integrate black tea leaves into their meals.
- Bakery products
The bakery industry is one such field that utilizes processed black tea as an ingredient to add value to their products. They add black tea in tea powder, tea extract, or tea juice to prepare the main bakery products; bread, cakes, and cookies.
Although these preparations are baked according to strict formulations to preserve their texture, I believe there would be no harm in adding a bit of finely ground black tea powder to our occasional cake or the holiday cookie.
- Homemade snacks
While exploring more, I realized that people add black tea into all sorts of homemade snacks nowadays. These include brownies, ice cream, muffins, mousses, cookies, tarts, pies, and many more. Both processed tea leaves as well as raw tea leaves can be added in any such preparation. Methods to add black tea into these meals are:
- Directly adding processed powdered tea/natural tea leaves into the batter/preparation
- Tea infused milk or cream (steeping processed or raw tea leaves in milk)
- Tea infused butter (adding processed strong loose leaf tea into butter)
- Tea infused sugar/frost
Indeed, trying out one or two familiar recipes with black tea would be a start to a delightful experience for your taste buds.
- Everyday meals
It doesn’t end with snacks. Black tea is a flavor of various culinary pursuits, including fish and meat recipes, pasta dishes, sauces, pickles, and almost all kinds of meals. Both processed and natural black tea leaves can be the source of happiness in any of these meals. It was apparent to me that the opportunities to experiment in this field of passion are endless.
Chewing black tea leaves
Considering all the possible choices of consuming black tea leaves, not many would opt for chewing black tea leaves. But there must be the explorers, the ones who wants it all.
According to the experiences of individuals that habitually chew tea leaves (mostly processed leaves), there has not been a noticeable difference of effects compared to consumption of the regular tea infusion. However, it could be highly subjective. Since it’s not known to be harmful, it’s not such a bad idea to occasionally chew tea leaves.
Adverse health outcomes of eating black tea leaves
Yes, let’s address the elephant in the room. What are the important risks associated with the consumption of black tea leaves? Professional enthusiasts undertake quite many scientific studies to find out the adverse health outcomes of eating tea. I will breakdown some of them below:
- Heavy metals accumulation
The tea plant is known to have a genetic potential to uptake non-essential heavy metals (metals with a high relative atomic mass) Karak, T., Bhagat, R.M., 2010. Heavy elements in tea leaves, made tea and tea infusion: a review. Food Res. Int. 43 (9), 2234e2252. These commonly include aluminum (Al), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), and copper (Cu). Also, black tea plants are grown in acidic soil where these metals are more bioavailable Han, W., Shi, Y., Ma, L., Ruan, J., & Zhao, F. (2007). Effect of liming and seasonal variation on lead concentration of tea plant (Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze). Chemosphere, 66, 84−90.. However, most of the studies suggest that the amount of different heavy metals in tea do not exceed the average daily requirement of that particular element in our body.
A review of heavy metal concentrations in tea leaves, infusions, and made tea had identified higher concentrations of heavy metals in tea leaves than the brewed tea. This is because these elements are less water-soluble and tightly bound to the structure of the leaves.
Also, heavy metal concentrations are higher in older leaves compared to younger leaves. However, in my opinion, adding a pinch of tea leaves occasionally into a unique recipe would cause no harm unless tea leaves are consumed daily or in excessive amounts.
- Pesticides ingestion
Pesticide ingestion is another downside of eating black tea leaves. Many significant molecular pesticides are not extracted into the water during boiling unless boiled for a more extended period Shivani Jaggi, Chitra Sood, Vipin Kumar, S. D. Ravindranath, and Adarsh ShankerJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 200149 (11), 5479-5483DOI: 10.1021/jf010436d. But eating the leaves as a whole can expose us to this risk.
If we keep any food in a moist environment, we expose it to the risk of infection. Black tea leaves are the same. Similarly, damp tea leaves kept at room temperature for prolonged periods can increase the risk of infection.
Just like anything, overconsumption of black tea is also harmful. By ingestion of black tea leaves as a whole, we expose ourselves to high concentrations of active metabolites such as caffeine.
In the worst case, caffeine toxicity can give rise to neurological and cardiac toxicity. But here we are talking about loads and loads of black tea. So it’s better to have limits on regular consumption, to be on the safe side.
Black tea is the savior of millions of people due to the refreshing and innumerable health benefits, having an ancient history. Even though it is widely consumed as a beverage, tea lovers and tea experts have taken it miles ahead by integrating it into the culinary systems.
This has enhanced the effects of this beautiful plant while adding flavor and aroma to everyday meals. However, due to some critical disadvantages such as heavy metal consumption, pesticide ingestion, and toxicity, you should regularize excessive black tea leaves usage.
However, if you consume black tea leaves rationally, it can become your go-to mood fixer and refresher among millions of other beverages.
Can you eat black tea leaves for caffeine?
Yes. Black tea leaves are a good source of caffeine. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant and causes alertness and prevents fatigue. Evidence suggests that eating black tea leaves can provide the complete amount of its chemical compounds including caffeine compared to a tea infusion.
Can you eat black tea leaves in a tea bag?
Yes. Usually, tea bags contain fannings, which are the leftovers after larger leaf pieces are separated. Occasionally, some tea brands produce tea bags with whole-leaf tea. Either of the products is edible.
|↑1||Karak, T., Bhagat, R.M., 2010. Heavy elements in tea leaves, made tea and tea infusion: a review. Food Res. Int. 43 (9), 2234e2252|
|↑2||Han, W., Shi, Y., Ma, L., Ruan, J., & Zhao, F. (2007). Effect of liming and seasonal variation on lead concentration of tea plant (Camellia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze). Chemosphere, 66, 84−90.|
|↑3||Shivani Jaggi, Chitra Sood, Vipin Kumar, S. D. Ravindranath, and Adarsh ShankerJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 200149 (11), 5479-5483DOI: 10.1021/jf010436d|