Origin and history of pulque, the drink of the Gods

Pulque is one of the most emblematic and popular drinks in Mexico. Its consumption dates back to important ceremonies of pre-Hispanic civilizations, and although it is a drink that remains to this day, it has also been catalogued as a symbol of poverty and synonymous with a little refinement.

In this article, you will learn a little about the history and origin of the drink of the gods. Photo: Flickr /  leahwsprague
In this article, you will learn a little about the history and origin of the drink of the gods. Photo: Flickr / leahwsprague

The origin pf pulque

About the origin of the word pulque, it can be said that it comes from a word of the Atlantic islands that means "rotten" and that was used by the Spaniards as a pejorative for the octli, of Nahuatl origin, which is the original name and refers exclusively to the intoxicating drink and the rituals around it, as reflected in the Great Nahuatl Dictionary of the UNAM.

On the origin of the drink, the doctors in Anthropology, Patricia Fournier García and Lourdes Mondragón Barrios, in an article published in the magazine Arqueología Mexicana, identify the preparation of the drink "from the end of the Preclassic (before 100 B.C.).) in central Mexico, based on the discovery of pitchers and pots in which it is thought that they transported the mead, and that, due to the time of transfer, it fermented and became pulque, or by the presence of stone instruments that could be used to scrape the maguey to emanate the sap.

The drink of the gods

The anthropologist and journalist Sonia Iglesias y Cabrera explains in her article "El pulque, la bebida de los Dioses", how it was that through the adoption of customs of the conquered peoples, the Aztec culture began to worship the drink produced in central Mexico and the effects of drunkenness that accompanied it.

As can be seen in the Codex Laud, the Aztecs took up strongly in their religious tradition the figure of Mayáhuel, the goddess of the Mixtec maguey, and that of Patécat, the god of medicine and peyote, who "created the pulque together", and who acquired a mystical and ritual meaning for the bulk of the Mesoamerican peoples.

The Aztecs also preserved the cult towards some Huastec deities related to drunkenness and pulque, such as the Centzon Totochtin (four hundred lords rabbits), who are the "guardians" of this drink, since according to Huasteca tradition, human beings discovered the pulque thanks to these animals.

The consumption of pulque was considered worthy of the gods and constituted a ritual symbol of political and religious character. Its consumption was restricted to priests, nobility and the elderly; however, in some festivals and ceremonies the consumption of it was allowed even for children, explains Iglesias.

The pulque after the Conquest

After the conquest, pulque lost its divine character and became a widely consumed drink; its production became extremely important for the colonial economy and for the first years of independent Mexico.

The boom in pulque production in Mexico was consolidated for more than 200 years, and the industry did not decline until a few years after the Mexican Revolution.

"The collapse of the pulque industry also occurred in a period when the State, in its desire to modernize, labeled the pulque as an indigenous, archaic and unhygienic beverage, linked to criminality and social degeneration," details Rodolfo Ramírez Rodríguez, PhD in History and Ethnohistory, in his book "La quella por el pulque".

That was its context for many years, making it a symbol of poverty and synonymous with a little refinement. For this reason, the ingestion of pulque suffered persecution during the Cardinalist government, which sought to eradicate alcoholism, but this only caused beer, being easier to produce, to take its place in the social and economic spheres.

The pulquerías, centers of social gathering

In the Mexican cinema and in chronicles of the city that date back to the beginning of the 20th century, you can see how the pulquerías, whose names were always picturesque, were an attractive meeting place, where people used to have fun talking about everyday life, playing guitar, playing Spanish cards or hopscotch.

According to INAH data, despite the popularity of pulque in recent years, it is estimated that in Mexico City there are only about 50 traditional pulquerías. This figure contrasts with the more than a thousand, of which there are records, that existed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century in the capital of the country.

The pulque in the present day

Even today, pulque is still a very common drink and highly valued in rural regions, for its high degree of nutrients, which even lead to be considered a food in some regions of the country.

In the cities, for some years now, the pulque has been recovering part of its lost land and has been claimed through fairs, contemporary pulque shops and samples of traditional beverages.

Like mezcal, pulque was rescued from marginalization and shadows to give it its fair value as a traditional Mexican beverage, the only one that has preserved an extraction method intact for more than two thousand five hundred years.

PULQUE, FROM OAXACA TO THE WORLD

Legend has it that for the Aztecs, the agave was the divine incarnation of Mayahuel and, according to myths, Ehecatl, the god of the wind and avatar of Quetzalcoatl, met Mayahuel in heaven and took him to earth, where the two became intertwined branches.

The grandmother of the maiden, enraged at noticing that he had disappeared, descended to the earth and arranged for his death; the afflicted Quetzalcoatl decided to sow Mayahuel's remains and thus, by divine intervention, the maguey plant was born.

Our tour of Santiago Ixtaltepec, a community that belongs to the municipality of Nochixtlán, is two hours from the city of Oaxaca. After walking through the countryside and stalling maguey, Juan Carlos Hernandez Cruz says that the craftsmanship and talent invested in the development of this drink is invaluable, although depending on where it is produced, is the price per liter.

"The mead extractors sell it at the price they want, because they are not regulated, depending on the client and the place. The liter of mead varies between 60 and 70 pesos, the pulque between 50 and 60; at least here in Oaxaca, because we have to add that we bring it from a place two hours away from the city".

The founder of Uvi ido (two rabbits in Mixtec) mentions that the maximum time for maguey to produce mead, from the time it is cut, is four months, scraping it twice a day. The process is first to obtain the mead and then mix it with pulque, leave it to rest so that it ferments more and so again, each time that mead is obtained.

For Juan Carlos, it is important to highlight that, like the popular mezcal, pulque also has its notes and as a taster, he shares: "The taste of mead is soft and sweet, it has notes of flowers, pollen, honey, and cane. It has a smell of maguey and panela. Meanwhile, pulque has a stronger taste, with woody and reedy notes".

Although he points out that the notes found in each drink depend on each palate, they also depend on the soil in which the maguey that gave it was planted. In this case, the field has been benevolent and juniper trees and anonas coexist with the maguey.

"We must also take into account that the plants release pollen, all that pollen is in the air and when they fly through the field they fall into the mead and this absorbs it. The color of the pulque of the Mixteca is very white; in the case of Hidalgo's it is different, the maguey changes a lot".

The Hernández Cruz family agrees that pulque is a natural laxative, for adults and children, and that it helps to combat stress and insomnia. While mead protects the intestinal flora.

Pulque is not only drunk, but it is also used in some communities of the Mixteca to make bread, the so-called pulque bread. "Here, in Ixtaltepec, it is used by a lady who makes bread, like a leaven, and it is very tasty.

After the tour of the field, it was time to eat; they offered us corn atole, chicken yellow with green beans and freshly made yellow corn tortillas. The talk concludes that pulque, called the drink of the gods, has just regained popularity in Oaxaca. Not only is it kind to the digestive system, which makes it ideal for consumption, it also has medicinal qualities.

If this drink is taken in moderation, it can be a great food supplement; drinking it three times a day gives you 2.2 to 12.4% of calories and 0.6 to 3.2% of protein required in the daily diet.

By Mexicanist Source NVI