Pre-Hispanic Roots of Tequila Mezcal Wine
Saturday, May 29, 2021
The actual process of tequila production emphasizes various elements of the pre-Hispanic cultural character whose origin gets lost in time. The fieldwork for cultivating agave or mezcal that survive in the tequila region dates back several millenniums.
Dr. Ignacio Gomez Arriola
Researcher at the National Institute of Anthropology and History
By: Tecno Agave / www.tecnoagave.com.mx
The Agave plant Tequilana Weber blue variety is native to the canyon of the Rio Grande de Santiago and has been domesticated for more than 3,500 years; the ancient cultural practice of cooking the agave was of widespread use in Mesoamerica as a source of sugars for food, the same as the ritual use of fermented mezcal.
This rich background of cultural pre-Hispanic practices joined the sixteenth century, European traditional knowledge to merge into the production of mezcal wine.
Pre Columbian Agave
Agave is a succulent plant of American origin belonging to the extended Agavacea family that allowed the development of the ancient culture of agave derived from its ancestral use of more than 350 varieties.
The many varieties and species of agave scattered throughout the vast American territory has been used by its former inhabitants since ancient time for various purposes and uses. Along with the development and domestication of corn, beans, and squash, which date back about 8,000 years, coexistence and exploitation by man of the many types of this prodigious plant date back to over 10,000 years.
It became necessary and essential to the survival of the original settlers from the north to the center of America, the process of cultivation and domestication of some varieties of agaváceas for human consumption, among which account Tequilana Agave Blue Weber variety, begins some 3,500 years ago.
The agave culture is based on the cultivation, exploitation, and utilization of metl, maguey, or agave. The wise and decanted use of different varieties of this plant was gradually forming in a clear and complex cultural expression.
The many varieties and species of this plant spread throughout the vast territory have been used on the continent since ancient times for various purposes and uses, even were the subject of worship.
Some varieties were used to make clothes and fabrics: the long fibers known as sisal or pita were separated from their stalks or long leaves and were used to make string, ropes, blankets, washcloths, sandals, and clothing. Other varieties were prepared for a type of paper from its fibrous pulp, which was used for the manufacture of manuscripts and offerings.
In regards to architecture, the stem of its prominent and high flower called quiote was used as timber in the form of columns or beams. Also, its dry leaves were applied as roofing tiles and used as fuel. To define fences between properties row of thorns that crown its leaves were used, the thorns were used as needles, pins, nails, tips for arrows, and instruments of sacrifice.
The plant also offered a varied food and nutritional use: the sap collected from a wound in the center of the plant provided the nutritional mead (honey water); cooking and processing it supplied a variety of products, among which was a type of sugar, vinegar, and oil; in full bloom it provided, through its cooking, a delicate jam and the cooked kernel produced a prized type of candy. The leaves, skin, fluids, and charred or raw hearts were used as medicinal balm applied to heal wounds and illnesses.
When the Spanish conquistadors reach American soil they were deeply impressed by the many traditional uses of the plant by the ancient inhabitants. The pre-Columbian agave culture was widely described in the sixteenth-century chronicles that narrate in detail this cultural phenomenon closely linked to subsistence in a rugged environment, almost hostile.
These firsthand accounts allow an approach to this rich cultural event, now almost obsolete, and show, after several centuries of development, the actual tequila.
The Spanish chronicler Joseph de Acosta writes about 1590 his Natural and Moral History of the Indies. In this fundamental document to understand the early years of New Spain is a description of the various uses of agave, naming it as the tree of wonders:
The tree of wonders is the maguey, that new or escutcheons (as in India are called), usually written miracles, giving water and wine, and oil and vinegar, and honey, and syrup and thread and needle and a hundred other things. He is a tree in New Spain that is highly esteemed by the Indians, and usually have in their room some of these goods to help their life, and in the fields, it's produced and cultivated. Having broad, coarse leaves, and out of them is a sharp point and strong, used to as pins, or sewing, and this is their needle; from the leaf, they remove some strands of thread. The trunk, which is thick, they cut off when soft, leaving a large concavity where the substance goes from the root and is a liquor that is drunk like water and is fresh and sweet, this same stew becomes like wine, and leaving to turn sour becomes vinegar, and putting it to the fire is like honey; half-baked it serves as syrup and is tasty and healthy, and in my opinion, is better than grape syrup.
In western Mexico, just as in the rest of Mesoamerica, the use of agave was widely reported from many centuries ago. The Zapotitlán relationship drafted in 1579 by the mayor of the province Amula, Francisco de Agüero, provides an account of the various uses of the different varieties of the agave plant in Nueva Galicia region:
There is a tree in this province called MEXCATL, which the Spanish called maguey, from it they make wine, vinegar, honey, ropes, clothing, wood for houses, needles, pins, thread, balm for wounds is highly approved. This tree has good effects. Is the height of a state, it has leaves as house shingles, [and] produces along beam over three states.