The history of pulque, a pre-Hispanic fermented alcoholic beverage, is closely related with the history of Mexico.
It’s about as alcoholic as beer and made from the same plant that’s used to make tequila and mezcal.
But pulque is not technically related to tequila or mezcal. Nor is it a byproduct of making tequila or mezcal. Pulque’s only relation to the agave spirits is that it also comes from agave plants.
While mezcal and tequila are derived from the piña—or heart—of the agave plant, pulque is made from the sap of the plant, which is known as aguamiel -honey wáter-. And as the process of making mezcal and tequila requires to be cooked, pulque is made by naturally fermenting the raw product in a cask. The fermentation happens quickly, so quickly that the fermented liquid reaches its fizzy, low-alcohol final form in a matter of hours.
The flavour, once you acquire a taste of it, is intriguingly zingy. Natural, or plain, pulque is an opaque milky colour thick, sweet, and syrupy but effervescent on the tongue. And for those who enjoy it, pulque lives up to its reputation as the drink of the Gods: refreshing and eye-opening, satisfying and comforting.
And it was. During the Aztec era, pulque was a sacred drink, a gift from the gods, and a beverage reserved for emperors and priests. When the Aztec empire fell, however, it became a drink of the people and now you can find pulque in places like floating vendors in the canals of Xochimilco and at street markets.
Most places offer both plain or natural pulque and curado – natural pulque mixed blended with fruit or nuts-, or flavoured versions, which temper the drink’s tang but not its texture.
Several of its nutrients include protein, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. Interestingly, it is believed that pulque has curative properties such as helping to decrease sugar levels in diabetics, combating anaemia, and helping to improve gastrointestinal problems.
“Pulque,” says Mexico City-based food and travel writer Arturo Torres Landa, “like many things in Mexico, is a story of resistance.” When beer came to Mexico, an aggressive marketing campaign, assisted by government efforts to increase local demand for beer, was after to show pulke as dirty and low-class. “It was seen as primitive and rustic,” Torres explains, which made it easier for rumours to be spread.
Today, like the dream of the 1890s, pulque’s resurgence serves as an example of how everything old can be new again. It has become a beverage enjoyed by old-timers and young hipsters alike.
Drinking pulque is a way to reclaim a part of Mexican identity that always seems to be on the edge of being lost or forgotten.
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