To estimate the effects of consuming hot beverages, including mate (an infusion of the herb Ilex paraguayensis), tea, coffee and coffee with milk, and other food items on esophageal cancer risk, we analyzed data from 830 cases and 1,779 controls participating in a series of 5 hospital-based case-control studies of squamous-cell carcinoma of the esophagus conducted in high-risk areas of South America. After adjusting for the strong effects of tobacco and alcohol consumption, both heavy mate drinking (>1 l/day) and self-reported very hot mate drinking were significantly associated with esophageal cancer risk in men and women. The magnitude and strength of the association for mate amount and, to a lesser extent, mate temperature were higher for women than men. The joint effects of mate amount and mate temperature were more than multiplicative, following a statistically significant synergistic interaction (p = 0.02) which was particularly evident among heavy drinkers (>1.50 l/day) of very hot mate (odds ratio = 4.14, 95% confidence interval: 2.24–7.67) compared to light drinkers (<0.50 l/day) of cold/warm/hot mate. Consumption of other very hot beverages, such as tea and coffee with milk but not coffee alone, was also significantly associated with an increased risk, in the 2- to 4-fold range. Statistically significant protective associations were identified for high consumption of vegetables, fruits, cereals and tea. In contrast, frequent consumption of meat, animal fats and salt was associated with a moderately increased risk. This pooled analysis adds evidence for a carcinogenic effect of chronic thermal injury in the esophagus induced by the consumption of very hot drinks, including mate. Our study further confirms the protective effect of a dietary pattern characterized by daily consumption of fruits and vegetables and low consumption of meat and animal fats. Int. J. Cancer 88:658–664, 2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.