Tannins: What They Are and Why They’re Good For You
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
If you’re a wine fan, you’re aware there's a whole world of delightful experiences to discover. You might be partial to sweeter wines like Moscato, or perhaps you prefer a dry Cabernet.
What gives dry wines their bitter, velvety taste?
The secret comes from small molecules called tannins - and surprise, they can actually be good for you! Wine isn’t the only beverage that contains these bitter beauties, either. Teas can have tannins too, and give the same range of health benefits wine tannins do.
But what exactly are tannins, and why are they good for you?
What are Tannins?
Tannins are chemical compounds found everywhere in nature. The wood, bark, and leaves of trees contain tannins, as well as plants like rhubarb, cranberries, grapes, and walnuts.
These compounds belong to a larger group of compounds called polyphenols. Tannin molecules tend to be on the bigger side and can attach to other molecules like minerals and proteins (1).
They’re responsible for the bitter taste in drinks like wine and tea but are thought to have some great health benefits. This is by design, as many plants secrete this to protect themselves from getting eaten before they’re ripe.
When it comes to tannins in wine, texture, quality, and quantity go a long way. Younger tannins are known as “green” and can be the most astringent and bitter-tasting of all. On that same token, the older and more mature wines are said to have “resolved” tannins, making the taste smoother, less astringent, and inevitably more pleasant to drink (1).
There is also the matter of size, age, and ripeness. Fruit, wood, or nuts that are younger may produce more tannins than those that are older. It’s not clear what factors of the leaves and roots make for tannic-teas, but for wine it really depends on the thickness of the grape skin.
Fun fact: Did you know your saliva is full of proteins? So when you’re drinking a dry wine or tea and get that “dry mouth” feeling, it’s because the tannins are binding to the proteins in your mouth.
Now that you have a general idea of what tannins are (from a scientific perspective), let’s check out why they’re good for you.
The most commonly noted health benefit tannins provide seems to be linked to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help your body fight off free radical damage (a daily chore). There are several different groups of tannins, each with its own level of antioxidant power:
Theaflavins: This tannin can be found in black teas and is believed to contribute to its darker hue.
Thearurbigins: Another tannin that gives tea its dark color, with potential cellular protection abilities (5).
Ellagitannin: This fascinating tannin seems to help your body produce the good bacteria your gut needs to perform a variety of functions, including immune support (7).
Epigallocatechin gallate: You may have heard that green tea is good for you. But how, exactly? Studies have found this tea contains antioxidants – tannins called ECGC. This tannin can help reduce inflammation in the body and protect your cells, lowering your chances of developing various diseases (3).
While tannins provide great health benefits, there are some things that might be problematic.
Some have reported episodes of nausea and other stomach upset, especially when drinking high concentrations of tannins in drinks like tea (6).
If you have healthy iron levels, there is little risk. But if you’re anemic, proceed with caution. Tannins have been observed to bind to iron that’s found in plant-based foods, making it potentially difficult or impossible for your body to absorb it (4).
Tannins are molecules that bind to proteins and minerals in the body. They can be found all over the place, from trees to nuts, even certain fruits like grapes and apples. Their bitter and astringent taste is designed to keep predators away as the plant matured.
Research has uncovered the valuable antioxidant properties tannins contain, especially in drinks like tea and wine. These antioxidant properties are thought to help keep inflammation low and cell protection high.
Do you enjoy sipping on tea or wine? Now you can enjoy it even more, knowing you’re doing your body some good. Be sure to share with family and friends today!