Mexican Viagra (aka, Pulque)

This week we've found ourselves in Hidalgo in search of a good pulque. Pulque is the grandmother of mezcal, and Hidalgo and Tlaxcala produce most of it. Loooooong before the Spanish arrived, indigenous Mexicans were extracting agua miel from the agaves in this region and producing pulque from it.

To catch you up on some terminology:

Agua Miel is the liquid that collects in the heart of the agave. A yellowish, sweet, non-alcoholic drink often given to children. It only counts as agua miel for the first day.

 Pancho and his agua miel. He collects about 10 liters, 2 times/day.

Pancho and his agua miel. He collects about 10 liters, 2 times/day.

Pulque - is the alcoholic beverage that's made from agua miel by adding the semilla de pulque (like the "mother" of a sourdough bread) to freshly collected agua miel, and allowing it to ferment. As the days go on, it continues to ferment and its abv increases, and over the course of 2 weeks is enthusiastically consumed. 

 A glass of Pancho's sister's pulque.

A glass of Pancho's sister's pulque.

Let to ferment long enough, it turns into... 

Tlapehua—a vinegar–like drink that's about 8% abv. 

You could say that pulque is a preHispanic beer. Except that is is oh–so–much more. Chock–full of probiotics and proteins, this white, somewhat slimy beverage is excellent for digestive health. They even say it helps nursing mothers produce more milk. I'll buy that. 

We had the good fortune to visit the Tlachiquero (someone who extracts agua miel from the agave) on his rancho in Mineral del Monte. Pancho showed us how the agave's hearts were cut to prevent the growth of the quiote (flowering stalk), and the agua miel is collected. Over the course of 6+ months, twice a day, the tlachiquero will go and scrape the inside of the agave. which prevents it from healing, forcing it to pump out more liquid. The agua miel is then collected by sucking it up into a gourd (or in this case, a coke bottle with a tube attached).

 
 

Traditionally, the entire agave plant was used: the quiote for building (fences and roofs), the leaves for feeding livestock, as a vessel to drink from, or cooking barbacoa, the thin, plastic–like coating on the leaves from wrapping meat when making mixotes, the worms that grow inside for eating. Pancho's family still use the agaves for all of the above!

 Pancho's horse loves the mechal - the scrapings of the agave heart. 

Pancho's horse loves the mechal - the scrapings of the agave heart. 

 
 

Pulque is sometimes referred to as "Mexican Viagra" as it's believed to increase men's fertility and sex drive due to the amount of proteins it contains. As for its usefulness in digestive health, I can attest to that personally. A few days after visiting Pancho, we went to the market in Actopan, where I was hit with some pretty severe stomach cramps. Whether it was the insects I ate, or simply an excess of carbs and grease, I don't know. Somebody suggested as glass of pulque as a cure, and sure, enough, 30 minutes later I had a nice agave buzz and a happy stomach! 

Despite its long history and superfood qualities, pulque isn't selling like it used to in this region, and, at least in Pancho's family, the tradition is in danger of dying. With industrial liquors and beers widely available, he says the younger generations in the region take a pass on the pulque. This may also be related to the negative campaigning international beer companies ran for years, saying that pulque was a poor man's drink, presenting beer as a sophisticated beverage. 

Mexico City, however, is booming with pulquerias. It's becoming a new fad. And certainly, foreigners are excited to sample it. As it has to be drank fresh, attempts to can and preserve it for export have not been very successful: the taste is simply not equivalent. 

It would be a terrible shame to lose this incredible tradition—not to mention all the health benefits that come with it! I wonder if the key to saving this tradition is to develop tourism around pulque tours...?  

Noel and I are looking into the viability of having fresh pulque shipped to Baja to sell at El Refugio. Would you be interested in trying it?

 

Rachel Glueck