Frutos de Cactus : Colonche

Updated 08 June 2022

Colonche (1) is another Mesoamerican fermented drink similar in design to tepache and pulque. It is produced from the tuna fruits of several species of the nopal cactus (most notably O.strepthacantha) and is fermented using wild yeasts. Its shelf life, like that of tepache is somewhat longer than that of pulque and it can be expected to last for as long as 14-15 days. It is a sweet(ish) drink due to the presence of unfermented sugars and has a low alcohol content (2). The drink also sours in a similar manner to pulque (or the octli after which it is named) (Diaz 2001). This drink is as old as pulque (2000 years at least) but is currently in danger of being lost. The knowledge of indigenous plants and their processing has suffered from years of neglect as historically these plants have been denigrated and supplanted by imported herbs, fruits and vegetables. This leaves pockets of important indigenous knowledge (usually in the hands of elders) which slowly dwindles and disappears as these elders die. There is cause for hope though. The resurgence of pulque in México over the last decade has been prodigious and there are those in the younger generations which are looking to the old ways so as to define their futures. Efforts are also being made to introduce colonche to a wider audience by festivals dedicated to the knowledge, production and consumption of the drink.

  1. or calonche, nochol, nochoctli. Nochoctli from the Nahuatl nōchtli (“prickly pear”) + octli (“fermented drink”). Octli is the precursor to the liquid today called pulque.
  2. colonche has an alcohol content of around 4-5% (about the same as a full strength beer)(Ramírez-Guzmán & Nathiely 2019).
This is the poster for the Feria del Colonche 2022 being held in San Felipe, Guanajuato

Colonche is found mainly in the regions of Jalisco, Zacatecas, San Luis de Potosí, Guanajuato and Aguascalientes although it has been said the drink originated in the area between Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi. This drink is one example of some of the seasonal regional delicacies unique to México. The specific cacti have a limited range and the drink can only be produced between the moths of July and October when the cardona fruit is available.

Analú María López  who identifies as Guachichil/Xi’úi from the Chichimeca Nations of México notes that fresh or fermented cactus fruits are widely consumed by Indigenous peoples and she expands somewhat on the varieties of cactus used to produce colonche. She notes that in villages of the Tehuacán Valley colonche is prepared with fruits of Opuntia (most notably streptacantha) but that several columnar cacti species (1) are also used. Analú also notes that “In the Sonoran Desert and northwestern California, ferments from saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, and cardón, Pachycereus pringlei, were consumed by the Papago Indigenous people”. Fruits from these cacti are crushed and squeezed for juice, then, the fruit juice is boiled and ultimately fermented resulting in the product named “sahuaro”. These drinks did not receive the name colonche, since these regional cultures were not influenced by the Mexica. She also notes that “scarce information is available on these beverages and the production of this traditional fermented beverage is decaying”.

Tuna cardona (1)
  1. Photo by XHUANX – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The process of making colonche is fairly simple and this method has remain unchanged since its origin.

First the fruit are collected and the skin and spines are removed. The tunas are then squeezed to obtain their juice and this juice would have been strained through a sieve made from ixtle fibre to remove the seeds. The juice is then boiled and left to rest so that it can ferment naturally using the available (and local) wild yeasts present in the air. Some times (in a manner similar to pulque) (1) some of the previous ferment is added to the new mix to boost the fermentation process.

  1. see Post Pulque Production
woven ixtle fibre
Image via

Ixtle fibre is sourced from the maguey (agave). The strong fibres found in the pencas (“leaves”) of the maguey have been used in México since at least the time of the Aztec civilization. These fibres are hand spun into rope and twine which can be used as is or to make textiles, baskets, mats, hats, nets, and a plethora of other items, in this case a sieve to strain the seeds out of the unfermented nochoctli juice. Like colonche itself ixtle is in danger as globalization and the introduction of synthetic materials such as plastics have put this traditional art form at risk of extinction. Steps are being taken to remedy this potential loss of cultural knowledge.

In Oaxaca Duub Ixtle has partnered with Hermano Maguey (1) to present a multi-day course developed to teach youth in Indigenous communities about regenerative design practices, with a goal of reviving the use of ixtle. In this multi-day course, children are gifted a maguey (agave) plant to care for. They observe and draw their maguey, using Zapotec, Spanish, and English to create a written description of the plant and its properties. They are then given raw ixtle fibre which they wash and then use to prepare an original woven textile.

  1. a local non-profit to sustainably source agave fibres from the waste of the mezcal making process. 
Ixtle fibre products.

Nochoctli (Colonche)


  • Red tuna fruits (spines removed)


  • Crush the fruits and place them in a pot (it has been said that a clay pot should be used)
  • Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool
  • Sweeten to taste (although if the fruit is sweet enough it won’t require added sugar)
  • Place liquid into a container and cover with cheesecloth to allow natural yeasts and bacteria in the air to come in contact with the liquid.
  • Allow to ferment for 3 – 4 days. Sometimes a fig leaf or cinnamon stick is added to the liquid for the fermentation stage. Many recipes also call for 125ml of alcohol (usually vodka) to be added per 2 litres of the tuna juice.
  • Sometimes old colonche or tibicos (1) may be added as a starter. Tibicos are gelatinous masses of yeasts and bacteria, grown in water with brown sugar. They are also used in the preparation of tepache. This drink will also exhibit some of the viscous consistency attributed to pulque. It is also rich in probiotics and has some of the medicinal qualities of pulque.
  1. Also known as tibi, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals and California bees. Tibi grains consist of a unique and very stable symbiotic association of Lactobacillus brevis, Streptococcus lactis and Saccharomyces cerevisiae embedded in a dextran matrix. Tibicos are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts held in a polysaccharide biofilm matrix created by the bacteria. As with kefir grains, the microbes present in tibicos act in symbiosis to maintain a stable culture. Tibicos can do this in many different sugary liquids, feeding off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide gas, which carbonates the drink. Tibicos forms on the pads of the Opuntia cactus as hard granules that can be reconstituted in a sugar-water solution as propagating tibicos (Moinas etal)
Image by Simon A. Eugster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tibicos cultures are found around the world, with no two being exactly the same; but typical tibicos have a mix of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria, with yeasts from Saccharomyces, Candida, Kloeckera and possibly others. (Maria Gabriela etal 2011) (Marsh etal 2013)

According to Laureys De Vuyst (2014) “The origin of tibicos grains is unknown”. Tibicos are readily available in Mexico as the tibicos grains form as hard granules on the pads of the Opuntia cactus.

The basic preparation method is for tibicos is for them to be added to a sugary liquid and fermented 24 to 48 hours. The liquid is kept at a room temperature range of 20–30 °C (70–85 °F). Towards the upper end of this temperature range, the fermentation period is shortened.

The microbes present in tibicos act in symbiosis to maintain a stable culture. Tibicos can do this in many different sugary liquids, feeding off the sugar to produce lactic acid, alcohol (ethanol), and carbon dioxide gas, which lightly carbonates the drink.

Additional precautions may need to be taken to keep the fermenting culture healthy. The use of reactive metals such as aluminium, copper, or zinc are minimized, since the acidity of the solution will draw these metals out, damaging the ferment and possibly adding toxic elements to the liwquid (i.e. aluminium). Plastic, lead-free ceramic, or glass containers are commonly preferred. It is recommended to culture the grains in a glass jar and use clean plastic or wooden utensils when handling the grains. The use of filtered water is recommended as chlorinated tap water can interfere with fermentation.

For optimal microbial survival rate of 70-80%, tibicos should be consumed within 28 days. Research at the University of Melbourne (Chan etal 2021) demonstrated that when certain spices (ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric) were added to tibicos it affected the survival rates of bacteria (1) in the digestive tract. “Cayenne was the clear winner, as adding it to tibicos “significantly improved the survival rate of LAB during simulated gastric and small intestinal digestion compared to ginger and turmeric.” Ginger in tibicos had a higher rate of LAB survival than turmeric, though neither had a significantly higher LAB survival rate than plain tibicos. But adding ginger significantly increased and sustained microbial viability of LAB”. These bacteria (and the spices used in the mix) are important for human health and both can be used in the dietary management of pro-inflammatory noncommunicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Alongside  competing with pathogenic bacteria for real estate in the gut LAB also promote health by assisting with breaking down food as it digests and assimilating these nutrients. As a supplement Lactobacillus is most commonly used for diarrhoea, including infectious diarrhoea and diarrhoea related to antibiotic drug use.  LAB are also used for general digestion problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colic in infants

  1. particularly the Lactobacillus species (LAB)


  • Chan, M., Liu, D., Wu, Y., Yang, F., & Howell, K. (2021). Microorganisms in Whole Botanical Fermented Foods Survive Processing and Simulated Digestion to Affect Gut Microbiota Composition. Frontiers in microbiology, 12, 759708.
  • Diaz, C.I.M. (2001) Elaboracion de colonche, 6ta jornada de investigacion. UniversidadAutonoma de Zacatecas, pp 1-9
  • Laureys, D.; De Vuyst, L. (2014). Microbial Species Diversity, Community Dynamics, and Metabolite Kinetics of Water Kefir Fermentation. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 80(8), 2564–2572. doi:10.1128/AEM.03978-13
  • Maria Gabriela da C. P. Miguel; Patrícia G. Cardoso; Karina T. Magalhães; Rosane F. Schwan (2011). Profile of microbial communities present in tibico (sugary kefir) grains from different Brazilian States. , 27(8), 1875–1884. doi:10.1007/s11274-010-0646-6
  • Alan J. Marsh, Orla O’Sullivan, Colin Hill, R. Paul Ross, Paul D. Cotter, Sequence-based analysis of the microbial composition of water kefir from multiple sources, FEMS Microbiology Letters, Volume 348, Issue 1, November 2013, Pages 79–85,
  • Mu, Qinghui; Tavella, Vincent J.; Luo, Xin M. (2018). Role of Lactobacillus reuteri in Human Health and Diseases. Frontiers in Microbiology, 9(), 757–. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.00757
  • Ramírez-Guzmán, K. Nathiely (2019). Fermented Beverages || Traditional Fermented Beverages in Mexico. , (), 605–635. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-815271-3.00015-4



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