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Tequila, the quintessential Mexican drink

Tequila is a distilled beverage made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jalisco highlands of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Like mezcal, tequila is also made from the agave plant and originates from the same regions of Mexico. The distinction is that tequila is made only from blue agave and is prepared in different ways. Tequila served serves pure in Mexico and with a touch of salt and lemon worldwide.

Tequilana agave, commonly called blue agave or tequila agave, is an agave plant that represents an important economic product of Jalisco, Mexico, due to its role as a base ingredient in tequila, a popular distilled beverage. The high production of sugars called agavines, mainly fructose, in the core of the plant, is the main characteristic that makes it suitable for the preparation of alcoholic beverages.

By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0
Tequilana agave is native to the states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes in Mexico. The plant is favored if it is grown at altitudes of over 1,500 meters and grows in rich, sandy soil. Blue agave plants grow large and succulent, with pointy, fleshy leaves, which can reach more than 2 meters in height. Blue agaves sprout a stem when they are around five years old and can grow an additional 5 meters; they are covered with yellow flowers.

The flowers are pollinated by the largest long-nosed bat (also by insects and hummingbirds) and produce several thousand seeds per plant, many of them sterile. The plant then dies. They reproduce by planting previously removed shoots; this has led to a considerable loss of genetic diversity in cultivated blue agave.

It is rarely kept as a houseplant, but a 50-year-old blue agave in Boston reached a stem of 9 meters. Flowering begins from 6 to 15 years of cultivation, the emission of the flower axis begins in the months of February to March.

The purity of a tequila is to be made entirely from agave. When a tequila does not state on its label that it is one hundred percent agave, it is a mixed tequila. This means that a proportion of the sugar obtained from the agave was mixed with other sugars during its elaboration. For many years there was a norm in Mexico that allowed tequilas to have a minimum of fifty-one agave and a maximum of forty-nine other sugars. For some time, however, the norm requires that to be called tequila it must be at least sixty agave. In mixed tequilas, agave is combined with corn syrup or sugar cane.

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