Sende : Sendecho

Octli (or pulque) from the maguey and tepache from pineapple are well known; but the knowledge of one drink, Sende (or sendechó/sende choo) is in danger of being lost. Only a few still know the traditional production methods of this drink. It is a labour intensive product and in this day and age of speed and convenience fewer still are prepared to learn the ancient methods of production. When made traditionally this drink takes the better part of a month to produce. This drink along with its relatives tejuino and tesgüino are made from fermented corn and sende was (and is) used primarily for ritual and ceremonial purposes. In some areas it is popularly served at weddings.

Beer is the primary culprit for the wane in consumption of indigenous fermented drinks. Its domination of the drinking market was partly due to the denigration of one drink in particular (1) because of its use by indios (2). This attitude no doubt affected other such drinks (3). When I was last in Mexico the only one I could commonly find was tepache (4) and there were a few places I saw in Xochimilco that sold pulque. In recent years pulque has had a resurgence in production and consumption as younger generations look to the past in search of Mexicanidad and identity.

  1. Pulque
  2. this word is a racist, derogatory slur. I note it here as at the time (and in many cases still now) everything indigenous was considered to be greatly inferior. This phenomena, commonly called malinchismo, relates to the appreciation (and strive towards) of a culture other than your own (usually a European culture such as that of France)
  3. tejuino, tesguino, colonche, nochoctli, tepache, tuba, pozol and others
  4. fermented from the skins of very ripe pineapples. See Post Tepache

Sende is primarily a drink of the Mazahua and Otomi peoples (1) and is made from either red or blue/black corn (2) often with guajillo chile blended into the mix. The drink has a delicate sweet/sour flavour that becomes more intense after a few days of fermentation. Sende is traditionally made by the womenfolk of the tribe/family/group.

  1. The Mazahuas are an indigenous people of Mexico, primarily inhabiting the northwestern portion of the State of Mexico and small parts of Michoacán and Querétaro. The Otomi are an indigenous people of Mexico inhabiting the central Mexican Plateau (Altiplano) region. According to archaeologists, the Otomi were the original settlers of the Mexican highlands, arriving by 8,000 BC.
  2. although I guess it could technically be made with any type of corn (I would avoid sweet corn and popping corn though)

Variations in the colour of sende are due to the different type of coloured corn used. Photograph by Gilberto Hernández

Drinks like sendecho are described in the Chimalpopoca Codex (1). Fermented corn grain beverages are noted in reference to “the xocoatl, a certain corn drink “, which is composed of ” xocotl ” or ” xococ ” sour or sour fruit, and of ” atl ” that is water, which would mean sour atole or sour corn drink”.

  1. Anales de Cuauhtitlán

It is primarily Mexican women who have preserved the preparation and tradition of fermented corn “beers” among their culinary practices. Juana Segundo Casimiro a Mazahua woman from Santa María Citendeje in the State of Mexico, has memories of producing this drink with her mother (who is now 83 years old)

Juana notes that if you were planning a party you needed to start about 18 – 20 days before because you needed time to both sprout and dry the corn kernels before using them.

Her method started with the selection of corn, which this year was black , although in the past she has used pink or yellow (which was the favourite of her mother)

First the corn is shelled, then it is soaked.

“You have to pour water on it morning and afternoon so that it will germinate beautifully and have a long root”.

Once dried (which can take up to 15 days) she takes the dried sprouted grains to a community mill to have it ground into a paste (much like masa)

“Since it is ground (a purple paste remains), it is beaten in a pot as if it were gruel and then emptied into a pot to cook.”

Once it begins to boil, I add (smoothly blended) chilaca chili or mirasol and sugar, and then strain it”

It is then allowed to ferment for four days because Juana does not like it to taste very acidic.
The result is a thick, pink and very refreshing drink which was traditionally served with sour tamales.

Juana remembers that when she was three or four years old, her mother would put a lot of sugar so that it would not be too acidic for her, and that this was a unique taste memory.

Adding the chile to the mix.
Photograph by Gilberto Hernández

Juana mentions the acidity of this drink which is very interesting as it mirrors that of the fermentation of another endemic Mexican drink, pulque. Pulque also quickly ferments and it can be only a matter of days before it becomes too sour to drink. Pulque is also sometimes added to sendecho as a kick-starter to the fermentation process.

There are several steps in the manufacture of sende

  1. Malting. Sende is not made with nixtamalized corn. It is made with whole kernels which are soaked in water for approximately 24 hours. The corn is then placed into a hole in the earth which has been lined with “leaves” from the ocote or pine tree (Pinus teocote) – in some areas the leaves of tepozán (Buddleja cordata) were used – where it remains for as long as 4 or 5 days (or as many as 8-10 days) until the sprouts are 2-3cm long. The kernels must be sprouted in relative darkness to prevent any bitterness in the finished product and they must not be allowed to dry out during the sprouting process. Cover them with a moist cloth or moisten them regularly until sprouted.
  2. Dehydration. After sprouting the germinated corn is left in the sun for a few more days and allowed to dry out. this process can be accelerated by drying the corn in a dehydrator for 4 hours at 60°C (140°F)
  3. Toasting. The malted corn is toasted over a medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. You will recognise the scent of the toasted corn. Be careful not to burn it.
  4. Grinding/Milling. Grind the corn into granules. It does not have to be a fine powder.
  5. Boiling. Add 50g of crushed corn per litre of water and boil for 1 hour. Some recipes will have you simmer the liquid for 8-10 hours. The guajillo chile is added at this stage. The liquid should not be boiled in a metal pot, clay is preferable.
  6. Fermentation. Leave to ferment at room temperature (25°C) for 2 days. Pulque can be added at this stage to inoculate the liquid with the appropriate bacteria. If you don’t have any pulque then loosely cover your container with cheesecloth or muslin to keep out the bugs and allow local bacteria and yeasts in the air to begin the fermentation process. Wild ferments like this can often be unreliable and it may require more time than 2-3 days (maybe up to a week). Traditional methods of production involved adding pieces of the stem of the corn plant or pieces of agave heart to the liquid as inoculants. This may be the only option you have if you can’t get your hands on any fresh pulque. 
  7. After fermentation the liquid is strained and sweeteners such as piloncillo (or honey or agave syrup) may be added as well as spices such as cinnamon or black pepper for flavour.

Sendecho travels into the modern age

José Ramón Verde Calvo along with other researchers from UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) have been studying this prehispanic drink with an eye to transforming it into a corn based craft beer. A microbrewery set up to produce 100 litre batches made from blue and red corn has started producing the beer so that the chemical composition and volatile compounds in the beer can be studied. The use of malted corn is not all that unusual as one of beers primary flavours is one of malt. What makes the difference is the phytochemicals added from the pigments present in the various types of coloured corn. These pigments have both sensory (i.e. flavour) and medicinal qualities. As far as flavours and scent goes beers made with these specific types of pigmented corn (red and blue) are mainly characterised by notes of fermented fruits, cooked vegetable odours, tortillas, bread, dried fruits and dried chile. These chemicals may also extend the shelf life of the beer as they help prevent oxidation and the production of “off” aromas and taste.

Medicinal Usage.

Sende is believed to have medicinal uses but there has been very little study on this drink to back up any claims. The drink itself is highly nutritious. It contains high levels of lactic acid bacteria and probiotics, some of which were unknown before being found in this drink. The drink is high in anthocyanins and antioxidants from the coloured corn and chile used in its manufacture. Consuming it is believed to be good for pregnant women (and may sometimes be the only safe liquid to drink in areas with compromised water quality) and will stimulate milk production in breastfeeding mothers. It is also used to treat diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal woes.

  1. the Otomíes know it as zeydetha and the Mazahuas as zeyrecha

Recent studies (Romero-Medina etal 2020) have found (1) various volatile compounds (2) as well as significant levels of anthocyanins in the beers produced from these corns. These chemicals have known medicinal utility (3) and as they are present in sende (in a less processed form) there is definite scope for this drink to be health giving (4).

  1. in the brewing of corn beer using pigmented corn varieties.
  2. ketone (×-ionone), terpenes (limonene, linalool), phenol volatiles (2-methoxy-penol, 4-ethyl-phenol and 2-methoxy- 4-vinylphenol, 4-ethyl-2-methoxy-phenol, 4-ethyl-2-methoxy-phenol
  3. See Post Essential Oil Properties for a little more info on the medicinal use of the chemicals listed above. If a plant contains certain chemicals it can be surmised that it can have certain medicinal capabilities.
  4. aside from the alcohol that is

There is however a non alcoholic version. It is made in a similar way just not fermented. Sánchez in his book (2017) notes the following recipe. This drink is similar to an atole.


  • 1 ½ kg de maíz amarillo (this recipe uses yellow corn – not sweet corn)
  • 10 l de agua
  • 10 g de canela (or cinnamon)
  • ½ l de aguamiel (this might be harder to find – almost certainly harder – this is the fresh sap of an agave. The sap pools in the cavity created by the removal of the flowering agave flower stalk (or quiote – See Posts on Pulque)


  1. The process begins about 1 week before you need this drink. First germinate your corn. Place your corn on a plastic sheet and drench it with water. allow the excess water to drain off. you want to keep the grain wet – so that it sprouts – but not so wet that it soaks and rots. The locals often lay down leaves of tepozán (Buddleja cordata) onto which they spread the corn when sprouting it.
  2. After (about) eight days (more or less depending on the ambient temperature) the corn grain has sprouted, with stalk and roots (see pic below), and is ready to prepare the sjendechjo.
  3. The germinated corn is washed well with plenty of water to remove any impurities then it is drained well.
  4. Grind the germinated grain with cinnamon in the metate into a smooth paste free of any lumps
  5. Mix this paste with five litres of water until it is smooth (again, no lumps)
  6. Put 5 litres of water in a 15-liter clay pot on the stove, strain the corn/cinnamon mix into the pot and top up with the remaining 5 litres of water
  7. Add the aguamiel (or use a diluted agave syrup/water blend)
  8. Cook over a wood fire (original recipe calls for 24 hours) stirring constantly with a wooden paddle/spoon so the liquid does not stick to the bottom of the pot.

  1. Also known in Nahuatl as topozan or zayolitzcan (from zayol “fly”, Axixkuauitl (from axix “urine” and cuauhitl “tree”), possibly for its diuretic properties. Buddleja dedicated to the English botanist Adam Buddle (1662-1715). Cordata of leaves in the shape of a heart. Its leaves and bark have been used medicinally in postpartum baths, to treat skin lesions, to reduce fever and as a diuretic.


  • Cruz, S. and Ulloa, M. (1973). Fermented corn foods consumed in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Journal of the Mexican Society of Natural History, 34 , 423-457.
  • Haard, Norman F. & Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (1999). Fermented cereals : a global perspective. Rome : Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Katz, S. E. (2012). The art of fermentation: an in-depth exploration of essential concepts and processes from around the world. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub.
  • Morales Sales, Edgar Samuel 2000 “The sour taste of the Mazahua culture”, Instituto Mexiquense de Cultura (IMC), Toluca
  • Moreno de los Arcos, R. (1975). A list of alcoholic beverages from the 18th century . Anthropological Notes , 1 , 170-179.
  • Ramírez Guzmán, Karen & Torres León, Cristian & Martinez Medina, Gloria & De la Rosa, Orlando & H Almanza, Ayerim & Alvarez Pérez, Olga & Araújo, Rafael & González, Laihsa Valeria & Londoño Hernández, Liliana & Ventura, Janeth & Rodriguez, Raul & Martinez, Jose & Aguilar, Cristobal. (2019). Traditional Fermented Beverages in Mexico. 10.1016/B978-0-12-815271-3.00015-4.
  • Rivas, E.R., & González, F. (2017). El patrimonio gastronómico del municipio de Toluca: el caso del pulque y las pulquerías (1841-1920). Ciencia Ergo Sum, 24, 34-43.
  • Romero-Medina, Angélica & Estarrón-Espinosa, Mirna & Calvo, Ramón & Lelièvre-Desmas, Maud & Escalona-Buendía, Héctor. (2020). Renewing Traditions: A Sensory and Chemical Characterisation of Mexican Pigmented Corn Beers. Foods. 9. 886. 10.3390/foods9070886.
  • Sánchez, David. (2017). Cinco sabores tradicionales Mexiquenses Cocina Mazahua, Otomí, Nahua, Matlatzinca y Tlahuica.
  • Segundo Romero, Esteban Bartolomé 1995 El Sjendechjø: Mazahua drink of fermented corn , State Council for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of the State of Mexico

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