Pulque, is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of the maguey, and is a traditional native beverage of Mesoamerica.
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. Jars for pulque were frequently given the shape of a monkey to reflect the inebriating effect of the beverage.
In order to control the consumption of pulque by the general populace, native rulers prohibited the use of pulque by anyone except the elderly, nursing mothers, and the ruling class during high religious festivals. Aztecs were very strict about pulque's use, and only priests were allowed to drink a fifth glass of pulque. People who disregarded this law paid a heavy penalty. Drunkenness amongst commoners was followed by the public humiliation, loss of public office and even death, except on the last five days of the calendar year, known as the 'Days of the Dead.' Seniors were generally exempt from these laws.
Other pre-Columbian Mexicans fermented the agave sap into a drink the Aztecs called octili poliqhui - which the Spaniards corrupted into pulque. Teo octli was the finest quality, or the 'octli of the gods.'
The 16th century Franciscan friar, Torbio de Benavente, wrote about the curative powers of pulque and agave sap - as mentioned in the Florentine Codex. Pulque was used at ceremonies during harvests, marriages, births, and burials. Its use became linked with many myths and deities.
Though it is commonly believed to be a beer, the main carbohydrate is a complex form of fructose rather than starch. Pulque has a low alcohol content, about 4-8%, but also contains vegetable proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins, so it also acts as a nutritional supplement in many communities.
When the maguey, 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 especially reserved for pulque fermentation), after which it is immediately fit for drinking.
Often pulque is mixed with fruit juices such as and pineapple. In this case it is called a curado.
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