AskDefine | Define pulque

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pulque n : fermented Mexican drink from juice of various agave plants especially the maguey

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Extensive Definition

Pulque, or octli, is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of the maguey, and is a traditional native beverage of Mesoamerica. Though it is commonly believed to be a beer, the main carbohydrate is a complex form of fructose rather than starch.
The maguey plant is not a cactus (as has sometimes been mistakenly suggested) but an Agave, believed to be the species salmiana, subspecies salmiana. The plant was one of the most sacred plants in Mexico and had a prominent place in religious rituals and Mesoamerican industry.

History

Pulque is depicted in Native American stone carvings from as early as 200 AD. The origin of pulque is unknown, but because it has a major position in religion, many folk tales explain its origins. According to one pre-Columbian legendary account, during the reign of Tecpancaltzin, a Toltec noble named Papantzin discovered the secret of extracting aguamiel from the maguey plant. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs consumed it at religious ceremonies.

Production

Pulque is made in the following fashion: When the plant's flower stem shoots up, it is hollowed in the centre. Normally, 8 to 10 years are required for the plant to mature to the point where this can be done. The juice aguamiel, that should have supplied the flowers, is taken from it daily for a period of about two months. The aguamiel is then fermented (usually in large barrels inside in a building known as a tinacal which is specially reserved for pulque fermentation), after which it is immediately fit for drinking. Pulque is usually sold directly in bulk from the tinacal, or by the serving in a version of a cantina known as a pulquería. Traditionally in pulquerías, pulque is served in a glass known as a tornillo (screw, for its shape) or a bowl known as a jicara.
Pulque is still made and drunk in limited quantities in parts of Mexico today. However, because it cannot easily be stored or preserved (its character and flavor change over a short period of storage time, as little as a day), it is not well known outside the country. A process for preserving and canning pulque has been developed, and now canned pulque is being exported to the US in limited quantities (see photo); the alcohol content of the canned product is 6%. Aficionados of pulque usually consider the canned varieties to be inferior.
Often pulque is mixed with fruit juices such as mango and pineapple in which case it is called a curado to render it palatable to those who do not appreciate its unusual flavor.
Mezcal (or mescal) is the name given to a double-distilled spirit which also comes from the maguey plant. Today there are well defined and regulated regions (A.O.C.) for both mezcal and Tequila in Mexico. Tequila is a mezcal, made only from the blue agave plant, from the region of southwestern Mexico around the town of Tequila, Jalisco. Aguamiel (from which pulque is made) is the natural juice of the maguey plant, whereas mezcal is the clear spirit made out of the heart of the plant itself. The flavor is either bitter or sweet, depending on how one prefers it. If one enjoys it strong then it is drunk neat (or in its undiluted form), and if not a bit of honey is added.
In the Aztec pantheon of deities, pulque production was represented by the god of pulque, Tepoztecatl, and the gods of drunkenness, such as Macuil-Tochtli or Five Rabbit and Ometochtli or Two Rabbit, both part of the pantheon of Centzon Totochtin, the four hundred rabbit gods of drunkenness.
A tradition in pulquerías is for drinkers to slop a small amount of the pulque in their glass on the floor as a sacrifice to Two Rabbit.

References

The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya: An Illustrated Dictionary of Mesoamerican Religion
Industrialization of Indigenous Fermented Foods
Rebirth for an ancient elixir

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