A Trip to Mexico to discover the Agave Plant
Movies like Allá en el rancho grande (1936) created during the Golden Years of Mexican cinema presented landscapes that were full of roads and pathways decorated with plants native to arid ecosystems and colonial buildings. Nowadays, most of these sites have become modern cities; however, there are some that still harbor this peculiar desert environment.
The Agave Plant in Ancient Mesoamerica
Today we want to focus on the agave, which is not just an icon of the Mexican context. Thanks to its roughness and the nectar it produces, since Prehispanic times it has also been a fundamental raw material.
Throughout the centuries, the agave has survived climate changes thanks to its high resistance and adaptability. Among the more than 250 existing species, some are used in the textile industry, others as ingredients in the preparation of foods and some more are essential in the elaboration of alcoholic beverages such as the pulque, tequila and mezcal.
Pulque and The Agave
In fact, if you visit the towns of the central Mexican territory, you’ll find huge, pointed dark green rosettes that are scraped in order to extract up to 500 liters (in six months) of agave juice to produce pulque –a white and thick alcoholic beverage. As part of the process, the liquid is kept in barrels to favor fermentation; you will notice its sour taste.
Many times it is added flavors, when this happens, pulque is known as curado (cured). It’s made with fruits and vegetables such as: mango, prickly pear, pine nut, banana, blackberry, tomato, and celery, among others.
In the state of Hidalgo there are special tours to different pulque farms, because the state is recognized as the region with the best pulques in the country. Hence, you’ll find the magueyales of the Apan Plains and Mezquital Valley. These have the correct height, soil and climate to obtain the sweetest mead.
Making Mezcal from Agave
On the other hand, if you visit the state of Oaxaca, you’ll find parcels dedicated to the cultivation of mezcal agave. DINKtravelers assures you that when you taste it you’ll notice its strong alcohol content with smoked notes. This is due to its elaboration process, which implies heating it at extreme temperatures for its distillation.
The maguey worm
It grows in the cliffs of the agave family species, and its importance in Mexican cuisine is fundamental. It's considered an exotic and traditional element, ideal to accompany a guacamole or other Mexican dishes.
The blue agave, the tequila's heart
The drink that’s known as tequila, is made in the state of Jalisco in the vicinity of the localities of Tequila and Amatitán. It’s is the most representative Mexican drink around the world. Its importance is such, that it's exported to more than 100 countries. Tequila is a distillate based on blue agave, which is originally found in the municipality of Tequila, a place that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2006. This municipality offers the possibility of participating in several activities such as going on a distilleries tour. Learn about the production process of tequila and enjoy the chance to try different tequila versions. For example, there’s white tequila, gold tequila, reposado tequila (aged) and extra-aged tequila, among others. DINKtravelers suggests drinking the tequila slowly in order to enjoy its scent and flavor. Top quality tequila will not produce a burning sensation. On the contrary, it will infuse your palate in a very pleasant way.
The uses of the agave plant are not reduced to being the perfect ingredient for the elaboration of drinks. Its fibers are also necessary for clothes manufacturing, weaving hand purses and making paper. Meanwhile, in Hidalgo, the leaves are the perfect overlay for grilling lamb meat. The tips of the leaves are used as needles, as well as a medicinal use, since the hot juice served to heal a wound, a sore and even a bite of non-venomous snake, that is why the maguey is considered as a "thousand uses" plant.
Those who are dedicated to cultivating agave transmit their knowledge from generation to generation. Therefore, the passion for this multifaceted plant that has existed since Prehispanic times has become part of the modern Mexican cultural tradition.
Agave Fun Facts
In the scientific world the agave is called agavacea, and it mainly grows in the Mexican Republic and Central America.
In colonial times, since the Spaniards couldn’t find European wine in Mexico, they drank pulque whenever they were in the mood for a little bit of “booze”; however, they were not really fond of it.