What is guaraná?

The botanical name of Guaraná, Paullinia cupana H.B.K. variety sorbilis (Mart.) Ducke, is derived from C. F. Paullini, a German medical botanist who lived in the 18th century.

Guaraná plant is a woody vine that climb the trees, reaching 10 metres in height. Thus, when cultivated in the open, it adopts a shrubby habit, growing to a maximum 2 to 3 metres in height.

It's cultivation dates to pre-columbian times. The indians, the first inhabitants of the Amazon, domesticated the guaraná plant. Botanists actually believe that the current plants, even those found in dense forests, are the remains of indigenous cultivation in the past. Guaraná was, amongst others, grown by the Maués and Andira tribes from the 'lower Amazon'.

The guaraná plant has divided compound leaves and flowers yellow panicles during the driest months of the year, the fruit ripening about two to three months later. The fruit is pear shaped, three sided, has three-celled capsules with thin partitions and in each a seed like a small horse-chestnut half enclosed in an aril. The seeds form a bunch. When ripe, the fruit is red, with some orange and yellow tones. The fruit then partially opens, showing part of the seeds. The fruit now looks like an eye and this appearance lead to legends told by the indians. At this stage the seeds are harvested, to prevent them from falling on the ground.

Harvesting is done by hand, after that the seeds should be stored in a heap in a shelter for two or three days to allow a slight fermentation. Following this, the shells are removed either by hand or machine and then left to dry in open air or dried artificially. Commercial guaraná is produced only from the seeds: all other parts of the fruit are discarded.

Further processing consists of roasting, after the seeds are sieved to be able to roast the seeds more uniformly. Roasting is done preferably in clay ovens for about four to five hours, until the seed reaches about 9% humidity. We have now roasted guaraná grain, also known as guaraná em rama.

Available forms

Guaraná is usually available in four forms:
  • Guaraná em rama, roasted guaraná
    Simply the roasted seed, as sold by the amazon farmers to cooperative unions, middlemen and industry.
  • Guaraná on a stick
    After roasting, the seed is ground into a powder, mixed with water into a dough, which is subsequently moulded onto a stick. These sticks are then dried over a moderate fire until they become hard.
  • Guaraná powder
    After grinding, the powder is sold. This is usually the form it is available in retail outlets, like health shops.
  • A fourth form, syrup, used for making soft drinks, is also gaining ground. This form is usually limited to larger industries.


Guaraná consists of a crystallizable principle, called guaranine, identical with caffeine, which exists in the seeds, united with tannic acid, catechutannic acid starch, and a greenish fixed oil.

From the tannin it contains it is useful for mild forms of leucorrhoea, diarrhoea, etc., but its chief use in Europe and America is for headache, especially if of a rheumatic nature. It is a gentle excitant and serviceable where the brain is irritated or depressed by mental exertion, or where there is fatigue or exhaustion from hot weather. It has the same chemical composition as caffeine, theine and cocaine, and the same physiological action. Its benefit is for nervous headache or the distress that accompanies menstruation, or exhaustion following dissipation. It is not recommended for chronic headache or in cases where it is not desirable to increase the temperature, or excite the heart or increase arterial tension. Dysuria often follows its administration. It is used by the Indians for bowel complaints, but is not indicated in cases of constipation or high blood pressure.


Sticks were initially used by Indians, who grated the stick using the sharp, rasp like, tongue of the Pirarucu fish. The grated powder was then mixed into a drink with water and sugar.

The sticks are also used by the Satarê-Mawé tribe and its descendants who use it to make moulded figures, which are a popular item with tourists.

The powder is widely available and can be mixed with water or fruit juice and some sugar in the same way.

In Europe, guaraná was first marketed as an alternative, medicinal plant from the Amazon, beneficial to the overall health and the powder for was (and still is) sold in health shops.

Some retailers promote it as an afrodisiac, however, there is not much evidence for this at the moment.

More recently, guaraná has been discovered as an alternative 'smart drug' in the house/rave scene and some (expensive) drinks have come on the market. These drinks bear, as far as I have experienced, no resemblance with the Brazilian style softdrink. Some see guaraná as 'mind expanding', but the only effect it has is similar to that of caffeine. A strong cup of coffee would probably provide more caffeine at a lower price.

Guaraná chewing gum is available, sometimes referred to as "Buzz Gum", adverstised as giving you extra energy.

Even guaraná cigarettes were seen, with a logo that resembles a hemp plant on the packet. This is a very strange use of guaraná and it is doubtful that it will have either the suggested 'mind altering' effect or be much beneficial to ones health. If someone does know more about this, please let me know.

The syrup is used for the manufacture of carbonated soft drinks, which are very popular in Brazil. It is usually one of the things Brazilians miss when they are abroad.
This variety is what inspired these pages, so they might be slightly biased to the soft drinks.