Tepache is a traditional drink of prehispanic origin and although it was once produced from the juice extracted from the cooked agave piñas it was soon made from the fruit we now call pineapples.
It is believed that pineapples (Ananas comosus) originated in South America in the area around Brazil and Paraguay. The fruit was traded throught the Americas and it was cultivated by both Maya and Aztec civilisations. The first European to encounter the fruit was Columbus and he returned with it to Spain. The Spanish introduced the fruit into the Phillippines, Hawaii, Zimbabwe and Guam. By 1550 it had been introduced into India by the Portuguese. The plant was called pineapple by the Europeans as it resembled the reproductive organs of conifer (pine) trees which were also called pineapples (1).
Tepache (2) is a simple recipe consisting only of pineapple skins, water and sugar. The liquid is partly fermented by the bacteria that exist on the fruit and partly by bacteria and yeasts present in the air.
- Now known as pine “cones”
- From the Nahuatl “tepatli” – corn drink and possibly influenced by “tepachoa” – to bruise something (or someone) or pressed with a stone. There is also some indication that tepachoa may have also been used when referring to “stoning” someone to death
(adapted from Diana Kennedy’s “Essential Cuisines of Mexico”)
- 1 large (very) ripe unpeeled pineapple (about 2 kilograms)
- 2 whole cloves
- 2 whole allspice
- 1 (10cm long) piece canela (Mexican cinnamon) or cinnamon stick
- 500g piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), crushed, or use dark brown sugar
- 1 1⁄2 cups light beer (optional)
Clean the outside of the unpeeled pineapple. Give it a quick scrub to remove any dirt or foreign matter. Cut the top and base off. Cut the pineapple (unpeeled) into 4-5cm cubes. Put the cloves, allspice, and canela into a mortar and crush roughly with a pestle. Transfer the spices to a large 4- to 5-quart earthenware or glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the pineapple cubes and 8 cups of water and stir to combine. Cover the jar with a lid and set in a location that receives plenty of sun (or in a warm spot) and let sit until mixture begins to ferment and become bubbly on top, about 3 days, depending on the temperature.
Put the piloncillo and 1 1⁄2 cups water into a small pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved, 4–5 minutes. Remove from heat, let the sugar syrup cool slightly, and then add to the fermenting pineapple mixture. Add the beer to the mix (if using). Stir well, cover, and leave in a warm place for 2–3 days longer, until it smells strongly fermented and appears bubbly. Strain the mixture through a few layers of cheesecloth lining a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container to remove any solid material. Serve the chilled or poured over ice or as they do on the street, in a bolsa.
Fermented drinks are inherently healthful. One drink in particular, kombucha, a fermented tea drink originating in China, is rich in probiotics and has demonstrated health benefits (1) particularly for the gut. An Australian couple in Melbourne produces a popular range of kombucha drinks and they have recently added tepache to their product range. The drink is made with organic pineapple juice that has been fermented with a kombucha mother culture, lightly flavoured with the addition of cinnamon and mixed with sparkling water.
- Marsh, Alan & O’Sullivan, Orla & Hill, Colin & Ross, R & Cotter, Paul. (2014). Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples. Food microbiology. 38. 171-8. 10.1016/j.fm.2013.09.003.
Tepache could essentially be made from any sweet liquid. It was once made from the juice squeezed from cooked maguey and is often made from fresh sugarcane juice. This drink can be fermented from any fruit including the tuna. Diana Kennedy writes of a locally produced seasonal drink from Cuicatlán called tepache de cardón. A drink called colonche is also produced from the tuna fruits.
The fruit of the cardones are deep red in colour with a rich purple-red coloured flesh. The fruits are as sweet as the cactus is thorny. They are collected with a long hooked pole from the tall organ cactus and great care and patience is required to remove the thorns. The fruits are then cut open and the flesh is removed and pureed. The puree is mixed with water (about 4 litres of water per 3kg of fruit) and cooked for about 20 minutes. The liquid is then cooled and strained to remove the seeds. This sweet liquid has a high sugar content (you will not need to add any), leave it to ferment for a couple of days before drinking.
There is a little confusion to be found in the identification of the cactus used for this drink. The cactus Diana refers to (and supplies a photo of) is an organ cactus but the cactus referred to in the glossary is Opuntia streptacantha. The organ cactus pictured (potentially of the Stenocereus species) is of the same family as the pithaya or Dragonfruit. Any species of cactus fruit could potentially be used to make tepache (as could any fruit with a high sugar content).
The pithaya (sometimes called the “strawberry pear”)(1) believed to be native to southern Mexico, the Pacific side of Guatemala and Costa Rica, and El Salvador (and now commonly found in tropical asian countries), is also known as a “Dragonfruit” although in the Americas the plant often referred to is of the Stenocereus species.(2)
- Hylocereus undatus
- Organ Pipe cactus