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What is Pulque?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pulque, or octli, is a fermented beverage made from the juice of the agave or maguey plant. Outside of Mexico, this drink can be difficult to obtain, because it is not very shelf-stable. Most consumers are more familiar with tequila, another alcoholic beverage made from agave. Tequila is fermented and distilled to make a strong alcohol, however, while pulque is more like a type of beer, with a relatively low alcohol content and a distinct sour flavor which comes from fermentation.

Agaves are succulents that are abundantly distributed across Mexico and the American Southwest. They are sometimes known as century plants due to their infrequent flowering cycle. The stalks of these flowers produce a sweet nectar which is collected to produce pulque. Most nectar used in beverage making comes from the Agave salmiana plant, which has been used as a source of nectar since the time of the Aztecs.

Pulque is fermented, not distilled. It was probably one of the earliest alcoholic beverages produced in Central America, just as beers were produced before liquors in other parts of the world. Pulque also plays a role in the traditional religions of Mexico and central America, with the discovery of pulque being credited to Tepoztecatl, an Aztec god. The beverage was also apparently enjoyed by gods of drunkenness, and some consumers sacrifice a small slop to the gods before drinking a glass of this traditional beverage.

The agave nectar used to make pulque is collected in large drums over a period of weeks and then allowed to ferment. As soon as the fermentation process is complete, it's ready to drink. The flavor of the drink undergoes rapid changes once it has finished fermenting, so it can be hard to obtain outside of regions that produce this traditional thick, slightly milky drink. Some producers have managed to pasteurize and can their pulque for export, although most purists do not find this to be an acceptable form.

The sour flavor can make pulque an acquired taste. The beverage is often mixed with other ingredients to make it more palatable. When mixed with fruit juices like mango and pineapple, it is often found for sale as curado. In Mexico, it can be found for sale at pulqueiras, bars devoted to the sale of pulque; traditionally, these establishments are restricted to men.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon995836 — On Jun 01, 2016

It is not only restricted for men. Are you Mexican? Get your information right. In Mexico, pulquerias have two entrances: "damas" and "caballeros".

By anon150089 — On Feb 06, 2011

Nanacamilpa: The pulque is been canned and began to be exported, Nectar Del Razo

By anon44418 — On Sep 08, 2009

You have an error.

"pasteurize and can their pulque for export"

By anon13618 — On May 31, 2008

From all the alcoholic beverages, those non distilled require by far much more knowledge on brewing than those distilled. Champagne requires more care than brandy, beer than whisky and pilque than mezcal.

By lemmings — On Apr 25, 2008

Pulque is much more of a traditional drink in Mexico than tequila, believe it or not. When I have visited friends' relatives in Mexico, it is always pulque that I am offered; tequila seems to be saved for tourists.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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