There seems to be a myth circulating on the internet that black teas contain no antioxidants because they have been oxidized, but the truth is a bit more complex than that.
Let’s spill the tea on...
- Antioxidants in Green and Black Teas, what is the difference?
- Black vs Green: their Capacity to Neutralize Free Radicals
- Antioxidant Benefits of Green vs Black Tea
Because we are always striving for excellence, we have revisited this subject, doubling the size of the post since it first appeared almost two years ago. We have discovered some huge studies in this area so just have to pass these onto our readers!
So with many more facts, answers and sciencey-stuff-made-readable, here goes!
Antioxidants in Green vs Black Teas
For ages green tea has been hailed as the king of antioxidants*. If you’re familiar with green tea, you’ve probably heard about the infamous EGCG, but is it the end-all-be-all? We are of the mind that both green and black tea should be appreciated for their unique differences.
This EGCG catechin for example is unique to C. sinensis, and is abundantly found in green tea, and also is widely studied (more on this later) but it’s not alone. There are many antioxidants such as catechins in green tea. The types of antioxidants in green tea are far too many to detail here (a quick list though of the heavy-hitters would include catechins, including EGCG, flavonoids such as thearubigins, and epicatechins, poyphenols, and L-theanine).
It's true that overall the antioxidant in black teas tends to be lower (although this depends on the type of processing so we're talking generally).
A big HOWEVER however: Just like carrots are super healthy because they are rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, doesn’t mean that they are the only veggie you should be eating. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant pigment responsible for their blue and purple coloring and with a range of benefits (in fact it's what is found in our Purple Tea too, hence the name). Blueberries can’t do what carrots do, but our bodies benefit from a good balance of both. Eat the rainbow, as they say (no, not Skittles).
What are we trying to say? Black and green tea have different antioxidants.
*Note on Green Tea: our blog's research has found there are many other herbal teas with more! Often a lot more.
So what about antioxidants in black tea?
So where does black tea factor in? Black tea is fully oxidised, much more than green tea. This is not “fermentation”, unless we’re talking about pu’erh or red tea, by the way. The oxidation of black tea does have an affect on antioxidants, decreasing the overall levels of antioxidants, but that doesn't mean they aren’t non-existent!
In fact, the oxidation process causes certain antioxidants to change form (Advances in Microbial Physiology, 2018), these transformations create some of the compounds unique to black tea: theaflavins. Other antioxidants in black tea include catechins and thearubigins, as if anyone can pronounce that!).
To say that again, just as EGCG is unique to green tea, theaflavins, the result of oxidation, are unique to black tea.
Green tea's ORAC (antioxidant) level is ~1283, black tea's ORAC is ~1128, and matcha's ~1384
You can see a chart of ORAC (antioxidant) levels in the teas sold at MatchaAlternatives.com here
Black vs Green: Comparison of their Capacity to Neutralize Free Radicals
Okay you want a straight answer to “Does green tea or black tea have more antioxidants?” Short answer: green tea. With an ORAC level of 1283, black tea follows close behind at 1128. There is a real caveat though as ORAC is not a super accurate way to measure antioxidant capacity being in-vitro not in-vivo (i.e. measured in a test tube not in the body), it's just the best we have. Therefore as these numbers are not massively different, they must be taken with a pinch of salt.
But does this mean green tea is healthier than black? That’s a tough question since both have their own unique benefits as were just describing. In fact, one study found that the antioxidants in green and black tea were equally effective at scavenging free radicals (Leung, 2021).
And because plant composition of nutrients are impacted by multiple variables, environment and quality can play a role in antioxidant levels. It can vary between teas of course too. In comparing antioxidants in diffeent black teas from India, one of the largest producers of black tea, they found that polyphenols (another category of antioxidant) were more abundent n Assam black tea from Northern India for example than others such as Darjeeling (Khanum, 2017).
Finally, while both teas are rich in polyphenols, a group of antioxidants, there is the synergistic action that can really contribute to the total antioxidant capacity, not individual antioxidants only. (We plan to write a whole blog on bioavailability soon, how depending on what you are consuming, antioxidant activity can be increased or slowed down. We will link here when it's published!)
Antioxidant Health Benefits of Green vs Black Tea
So what can we do now? Let's look into what and how the different antioxidants found in black and green tea have effects in the body. We have researched and can distill the scientific literature into a much more easily understandable form for your enjoyment.
Because both teas contain different types of antioxidants, their health benefits differ. As a summary green tea is overall considered protective and preventative against things such as various cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also liver-protective, and antimicrobial. Finally, EGCG is responsible for the calming and energizing effects of green tea.
Also summarising, black tea, with its theaflavin content has an affinity for cardiac protection. Theaflavins may exert a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels, contribute to fat breakdown, and may even help the body with its natural antioxidant production.
Antioxidant Effects of Black Tea
Let's get into the detail! What does the literature say black tea can do? Well, it...
- Can help to prevent stroke risk and reduces possible onset: In a review of 9 studies, with a total of 194,965 participants, it was found that drinking three cups of black tea each day reduced the risk of stroke. Another ten year study with over 70,000 stroke patients concluded that 4 or more daily cups of black tea prevented risks associated with stroke (Rasheed, 2019).
- Can help to prevent cancer onset: Theaflavins in black tea have chemoprotective activity against hormone-dependent breast cancer(Rasheed, 2019).. They were able to stop the proliferation of hormone-resistant cancer cells. The study concluded that black tea polyphenol theaflavins may be a remedy in hormone dependent cancer and may even remedy hormone resistance in tumors that are hormone dependent (Way, 2004).
- Can help to inhibits the growth of cancer cells: Black tea polyphenol theaflavins had specific actions which prevented cell proliferation in tumor growth, compared to EGCG (which has other antiproliferative actions) (Rasheed, 2019) (Liang, 1999).
- Can help to decrease blood glucose levels and improves insulin activity: Researchers found that black tea actually helped the body metabolize sugar, which helps get it from the bloodstream into your cells by increasing insulin sensitivity (Rasheed, 2019) (Liang, 1999) (Anderson, 2002).
- Can help to reduce bacteria (Rasheed, 2019)
- Can help to reduce the onset of chronic disorders via its free-radical scavanging capabilities: It also inhibits the generation of free radicals and helps activate certain factors in the body responsible for inflammation and cancer-cell death (Rasheed, 2019) (Łuczaj, 2005).
Ultimately, it seems theaflavins in black tea also demonstrate effective action against free radicals, like antioxidants in green tea. And while EGCG can have benefits similar to black tea and even sometimes has similar outcomes, when we get down to the nitty gritty science-y details we see that the antioxidants act according to different mechanisms in the body, or act on different receptors and factors which mediate functions within the body.
So do you remember what we told you at the beginning? Different antioxidants do different things!
Antioxidant Effects of Green Tea
So now we have covered the differences between black tea and green tea, and the specifics of black tea which is the first time our tea science blog has investigated black teas.
For answers specific to green tea's antioxidant activity on the other hand, in fact we have already answered in our informative blog Most Common Antioxidants in Green Tea (Antiox Part 8). So rather than paraphrasing our fantastic other blog article it's best we send you there.
In this blog we learn about important free-radical fighters:
- What are the Polyphenols in Tea?
- What are EGCG's health benefits in green tea?
- Epigallocatechin (EGC) in Green Tea: What does it do?
- L-Theanine & Green Tea: How does it help?
Don't worry we explain it all so don't be scared off by sciency acronyms!
A Note From The Herbalist...
Keeping all the above in mind, we wouldn’t suggest limiting yourself to just one kind of tea. Instead, consume a variety of green teas, black teas, other camellia s. and herbals so that you can reap the benefits of the wide range of antioxidants in all of them. Drink a balanced tea diet!
The debate as to which tea is better has been ongoing, and it all depends on what you’re looking for. Green tea is great for its medium-caffeine levels, well-studied (and powerful!) antioxidants and variety of flavors, without needing milk or sugar to make it taste good.
Black tea is popular for its caffeine, rich taste, and versatility. It also happens to taste delicious with milk and sugar, and blends well with a wide range of ingredients. My personal favorite is a black tea called Earl Grey, but I do appreciate the flavor subtleties in green teas. However, I have to admit that herbal teas are my first choice!
The best news though, is that by drinking a balance of all teas (herbal, black, green, white, and so on), you’ll be ingesting many types of antioxidants that you wouldn't get from just drinking one type of tea, and reaping the wide array of benefits!
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or on our IG @MatchaAlternatives
Properly Malty Assam Keyhung BOP CTC Black Tea
Bright, coppery, and oh-so-malty, this tea is designed to be boiled in the masala chai method, so it can take milk, spices and sugar without losing its powerful, full-bodied taste
Tea Primer introducing the various types of teas and tisanes
Delicate Fuji Sencha Organic Green Tea
A delicate seaweed nose, with a round, slightly floral, slightly salty, and lightly grassy liquor.
Best Substitutes for Matcha Tea...for Concentration, Caffeine & Antioxidants
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All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Antioxidants in Black & Green Tea References and Further Reading
Leung, L. K., Su, Y., Chen, R., Zhang, Z., Huang, Y., & Chen, Z. Y. (2001). Theaflavins in black tea and catechins in green tea are equally effective antioxidants. The Journal of nutrition, 131(9), 2248–2251. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.9.2248
Advances in Microbial Physiology, "Theaflavin", 2018, accessed 24th October 2021 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/theaflavin
Khanum, H., Faiza, S., Sulochanamma, G., & Borse, B. B. (2017). Quality, antioxidant activity and composition of Indian black teas. Journal of food science and technology, 54(5), 1266–1272. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-017-2506-y
Rasheed Z. (2019). Molecular evidences of health benefits of drinking black tea. International journal of health sciences, 13(3), 1–3.
Way, T. D., Lee, H. H., Kao, M. C., & Lin, J. K. (2004). Black tea polyphenol theaflavins inhibit aromatase activity and attenuate tamoxifen resistance in HER2/neu-transfected human breast cancer cells through tyrosine kinase suppression. European journal of cancer (Oxford, England : 1990), 40(14), 2165–2174. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejca.2004.06.018
Liang, Y. C., Chen, Y. C., Lin, Y. L., Lin-Shiau, S. Y., Ho, C. T., & Lin, J. K. (1999). Suppression of extracellular signals and cell proliferation by the black tea polyphenol, theaflavin-3,3'-digallate. Carcinogenesis, 20(4), 733–736. https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/20.4.733
Anderson, R. A., & Polansky, M. M. (2002). Tea enhances insulin activity. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 50(24), 7182–7186. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf020514c
Łuczaj, W., & Skrzydlewska, E. (2005). Antioxidative properties of black tea. Preventive medicine, 40(6), 910–918. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2004.10.014
Peluso, I., & Serafini, M. (2017). Antioxidants from black and green tea: from dietary modulation of oxidative stress to pharmacological mechanisms. British journal of pharmacology, 174(11), 1195–1208. https://doi.org/10.1111/bph.13649
Khan, N., & Mukhtar, H. (2007). Tea polyphenols for health promotion. Life sciences, 81(7), 519–533. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2007.06.011
Morgan, S. What Are Antioxidants and How Do They Work? Part 1. The MA Blog.
Morgan, S. All About Antioxidants: A Chat with the Herbalist. Part 2. The MA Blog.
Morgan, S. Busting the Matcha Myth: Does matcha really have 137 times more antioxidants (EGCG) than green tea? Part 3. The MA Blog.
Kosinska, A & Andlauer, W. (2014). Antioxidant Capacity of Tea: Effect of Processing and Storage. Elsevier Inc. Processing and Impact on Antioxidants in Beverages. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/132/4/785/4687401
Antioxidant Capacity of Tea: Effect of Processing and Storage Agnieszka Kosińska, Wilfried Andlauer, Division of Food Sciences, Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Olsztyn, Poland, Institute of Life Technologies, University of Applied Sciences Valais, Sion, Switzerland. https://www.hevs.ch/media/document/0/antioxidantcapacityoftea.pdf
Food Chemistry, 2014 https://www.compoundchem.com/2014/02/01/polyphenols-antioxidants-the-chemistry-of-tea/ Accessed 24th October 2021
Anton Rietveld, Sheila Wiseman, Antioxidant Effects of Tea: Evidence from Human Clinical Trials, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 10, October 2003, Pages 3285S–3292S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/133.10.3285S. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/133/10/3285S/4687618
Sharon O'Brien on November 6, 2019, Green Tea vs Black Tea: Which One Is Healthier? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/green-tea-vs-black-tea
Pandey, K. B., & Rizvi, S. I. (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2(5), 270–278. doi:10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498 https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Data/Flav/Flav02-1.pdf
Does Decaffeinated Green Tea Still Have Antioxidants? Beth Greenwood, https://www.livestrong.com/article/468122-does-decaffeinated-green-tea-still-have-antioxidants/
So happy to finally get a clear answer about the difference between black and green tea anti-oxidants! I always tend to avoid black tea because I thought it was ´bad´ for you.. But now I can finally enjoy a nice black tea without feeling guilty :p