Pulque Curado : Tolonche

Cover Images : La Antigua Roma, Las Duelistas, La hermosa Hortensia, La Xóchitl y La gloria de Neza. Foto: Facebook/La Joya De La Santa María Facebook/Conecta CDMX. Facebook/Pulqueria La Gloria Neza Facebook/Pulquería La Antigua Roma Twitter/@cuixan

I love pulque and I love medicinal herbs so I was quite intrigued by a Post by Carmen Julia Figueredo Urbina.

Copaloctli, pulque de incienso o Tolonche. ¿Lo han probado?

No. I haven’t tried it. Not only that I hadn’t even heard of it. So what is tolonche?

According to Veerman-Leichsenring (1991), tolonche is…….

…pulque seasoned with pirul.

OK then. What’s pirul?

According to my dictionaries Pirul is……..

Common name for two species of evergreen trees of family Anacardiaceae (anacardiaceae). Scientific names: Schinus molle, Schinus areira. Schinus molle is found in the Argentine Mesopotamia, Uruguay and Brazil. They usually measure between 6 and 8 m, although exceptionally they can reach 25 m in height. Schinus areira is found from the northwest of Argentina and Chile to Peru, passing through Bolivia; it is also feral in Mexico. It has a robust, highly branched trunk and dark brown, rough, cracked bark.” Examples of use in Spanish: “el tolonche es una bebida a base de la bolita del pirul”.

Interesting. The definition actually referenced tolonche.

Now what I know as pirul is what we called a pepper tree (1). As children we were warned about the fruits of the tree, not that they were poisonous but that they could cause an itching rash.

  1. also called : Peruvian Peppertree, California Pepper, Peppercorn, Peruvian Mastic Tree, Aguaribay, Brazilian mastic tree, Californian pepper, Hucchu menasina mara, Mirimiri, Mpilipili, Muelle, Mugaita, Mulli, Peperboom, Pepper tree, Peppercorn, Pimiento Falso, Pink peppercorns, Pirul, Qundo, aguaribai, aguaribay, anacahuita, aroeira-do-amazonas, aroeira-folha-de-salso, aroeiro-mole, baie rose, california pepper tree, california pepper-tree, california peppertree, californian pepper tree, chichita péndula, chichita sauce, corneiva, curanguay, false pepper tree, falso pimentero, faux poivrier, ipepile, molle, molée des jardins, mulli, pepper tree, pepper-tree, peppercorn, peppertree, peruvian mastic tree, peruvian mastic-tree, peruvian pepper tree, peruvian peppertree, peruvian-mastictree, pfefferbaum, pimenteira-do-peru, pimentero, pimientero falso, pirul, schinus molle, umngcunube, árbol de la pimienta.
Schinus molle “pepper berries”
Image by Squeezeweasel at en.wikipedia

The trees themselves are a fairly common street tree in Western Australia and they can grow to a large size (large enough to build a fort in) so as children we climbed on and played in these trees. We also tended to use the berries to make magic potions and stuff (Hey, we were kids) hence the warnings about the berries by our parents.

Later on we discovered that they were edible and could be used in the same manner as black pepper.

So where then does tolonche come from?

Back to the books (and the intergoogle of course)

Wauchope & Vogt (1975) in their work about the Indians of Middle America note tolonche as being a traditional beverage of the Popolocan speaking peoples of southern Puebla.

In the archaeological zone of San Cristóbal de Tepatlaxco, located in the municipality of San Martín Texmelucan (1), a pre-Hispanic gastronomic tasting menu based on the foods local to the area was prepared for a spring equinox ceremony. On the menu for this event were quelites, quintaniles (sic)(2), smoked trout with pipián, chia water and tolonche (drink based on little balls of pirul).

  1. San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida is a city in the west-central part of the state of Puebla in Mexico, adjacent to the southwest corner of the state of Tlaxcala.
  2. quintaniles = quintoniles = a quelite (amaranth leaves)

It has also been noted that in the Mixtec region (from Oaxaca to Guerrero to Puebla) that amongst the most famous dishes of the area you will find pan de canela de chazumba, sopa de flor de calabaza, lastételas, and tolonche.

Santiago Chazumba Oaxaca, is identified by the great variety of bread that is produced there

So what I’m seeing is that this drink (or mentions of it anyway) seem to be centred around Puebla and the Mixtec region.

Kramer (1957) says of pirul; “Molle was (and is still) an important tree to the Peruvians. The fruits are soaked in warm water, the bitter seeds are squeezed out and removed, and the water which has dissolved the sweet meat of the fruits is strained and left standing for some days”.

Bruman (quoting Garcilaso de la Vega) describes a slightly different procedure: “The seed when ripe has on the surface a little sweetness which is very tasty and pleasant, but beyond that rest is very bitter. They make a drink from that seed by rubbing it gently between the hands in hot water, until it has yielded all its sweetness. They must not arrive at the bitter portion, for otherwise all is spoiled. They pass that water thru a sieve . . .”. This produces a pleasant and healthy wine-like drink which subsequently may be cooked into syrup or fermented into vinegar”.

Pirul is not native to Mexico. The tree originates in Peru and there are a couple of theories as to how it got to Mexico (aside from being carried there by birds).

Bruman notes “Its common sixteenth century name in Nahuatl was pelonquauitl (pelon, ‘Peru’; quauitl, ‘tree ‘), which would indicate a Spanish introduction …. According to a hoary tradition the Viceroy Mendoza sent some seeds of the plant to Mexico after his transfer to Peru in 1550. It may be so, though no documentary proof seems to have been found”.

Pickering (1879) states that the tree, together with the potato, was introduced in Mexico after the time of Montezuma (sic).

There were no definitive mentions of pirul being used medicinally in Mexico and neither was it used as a source of beverages (like the Peruvians do) but it was added as an admixture to pulque “resulting in a drink called eopaloetli” (sic)(1) and of quebrantahuesos (” bone breaker”) which was produced from cornstalk juice, toasted corn, and ripe molle seeds.

Quebrantahuesos is also the name for a bird of prey known in English as the “bearded vulture”(Gypaetus barbatus). This bird is quite different from other birds of prey in that about 85% of its diet consists of the bones of dead mammals (1). It can swallow bones up to 25 cm, and if they are too large to swallow the bird will fly up to 20-40 metres off the ground and drop the bones onto rocks so that they will smash into smaller, easier to eat, pieces. It also uses the same technique to break tortoise shells.

  1. is an osteophague. Osteophagy = bone eating

Benjamin Franklin (yes, that one) wrote that “the stalks (of corn), pressed like sugar-cane, yield a sweet juice, which, being fermented and distilled, yields an excellent spirit,” (Stewart 2013). This fresh expressed juice is the base for quebrantahuesos the drink.

  1. Is copaloctli meant here? Copaloctli is an interesting word. Copal – tree resin incense and octli (Nahuatl word for pulque). This makes sense as to one of tolonches names “pulque de incienso” (incense pulque). Norma Almendra Ramos Villasaldo of the Maestría en Cocinas de México – Culinary Art School notes in Activity 1 of “Las Bebidas Alcoholicas de la Nueva España en el Siglo XVIII” notes the name of pulque de incienso to be copalotile. The same text also mentions quebrantahuesos (and that it was a “ritual drink” used in Puebla.)

Vargas in his book “Vocabulario Náhuatl del Maguey y el Pulque” (2014) says of the name copaloctli : “Copalote: (nahuatl). This name receives a certain type of prepared drink that includes copalaxtli fermented with sweet pulp. It derives from the Nahuatl copaloctli, from the roots “copalli” (goma (gum) or resin) and “octli” (the prehispanic name for pulque).  Carlos Obeso indicates the use of splinters (astillas) of piru for its preparation, although it was not possible to find any history of this means of preparation”. The word copalaxtli is formed from the Nahuatl copalli, which is the generic name used to call a rubber, resin, varnish or frankincense. Friar Augustine of Vetancurt indicates that the Nahuatl name of the piru tree was copalcuahuitl “The tree of Peru. Once it was clarified that the name was copalcuahuitl, it was you should know that the word copalli is not equivalent to incense as diverse historians interpret , to this the own Vetancurt says: “The rubber bands that are generically called Copalli”; that is, the resin or gum of any tree received this name. (Any plant that) “receives the special name of copalli, and is used in the Indian language to mean any type of rubber” and “Anyone who knows this tree will have noticed the large number of resin it produces, to which it owes its name “tree of rubber or resin”.The copalaxtli, is the seed of the copalcuahuitl, “tree of rubber”; also called piru tree or pirul.”

So…..the name pulque de incienso might not have anything to do with copal incense at all then.

Making Tolonche.

Carmen posted this recipe on her page.

It is noted as being an “Intoxicating drink with a very particular flavour, it is one of those flavours that you either love or hate. It is like a mixture of sweet, citrus flavour, slightly spicy and reminiscent of the freshness of pine, on the palate the flavour and aroma of the resin are perceived.” and that medicinally “Copactli has been used as a popular remedy against digestive ailments such as colic, bile (1), stomach pain, rheumatism and gonorrhea”.

  1. the word used here is “bilis” which literally translates to “bile”. This can simply be a matter of digestive issues (excessive bile; gas, constipation or indigestion) but from the point of view of curanderismo bilis may refer to illness caused by suppressed anger (Loue 2010). Bilis is believed to result from suppressed anger causing a bile to form and flow through the person’s inner system causing headaches, stomach ills, and loss of appetite (Salazar & Levin 2013). Bilis in this form has no real equivalent as an illness in western allopathic medicine.

I found this recipe on a website for traditional recipes of the Mixtec region (http://www.cumix.org.mx/gastronomia/recetas/receta-tolonche.html)


  • Bolilla de pirul
  • Pulque
  • Piloncillo
  • Agua


Se restriega la bolilla bien seca para quitarle la cascarilla. Se echa agua en una olla de barro grande y se agrega el piloncillo para que se deshaga. Se pone un poco de pulque para acelerar la fermentación del piloncillo y la bolilla. Se deja reposar para que fermente correctamente. La bebida está lista cuando el líquido adquiere un color dorado oscuro y tiene un sabor fresco y algo picante. Este sabor es debido a los aceites de la semilla de pirul y al alcohol producto de la fermentación de las azúcares.


  1. Rub the pirul berries and remove the outer husk.
  2. Into a large clay pot pour in some water and dissolve the piloncillo in it. Add the pirul berries
  3. add a little pulque to the mix (as a fermentation starter)
  4. allow it to rest and ferment. It is is ready when the liquid turns a dark golden colour and tastes fresh and slightly spicy. This flavour is due to the oils of the pirul berries and the alcohol produced by the fermentation of the piloncillo

One of Carmen’s readers also asked……..

Why is it taken in a skull shaped glass ☠️?

It may be due to Dia de Muertos. One reference I found regarding the traditions of this festival in the Sierra Mixteca region of Oaxaca stated that…. “On November 2 a goat is sacrificed and prepared in mole. It is considered that the soul of the animal will help the deceased to take what he did not manage to eat from the offering. And this delicacy is accompanied with tolonche: a drink made with pulque and pirul seed.”

So where can I get tolonche?

Carmens recommendation is the Rancho la Gaspareña in Singuilucan.

Rancho La Gaspareña at 43782 Singuilucan, Hidalgo, Los negritos, Mexico
The geographic coordinates are: longitude 98°30′18.54′′W (-98.50515), latitude 19°58′8.65′′N (19.969071).
Looks like a nice spot.
Singuilucan is a town and one of the 84 municipalities of Hidalgo, in central-eastern Mexico.

The name of Singuilucan has been erroneously given as “lugar de lodo o de mucho lodo” (place of silt or too much mud), which in Nahuatl would be Zoquilocan. But the pre-Columbian glyph for this town clearly shows a hill with quelites (quilitl means green herbs, tzintli in Nahuatl) growing at its base. It also shows a blade of a knife, alluding to the obsidian blade industry of Teotihuacan, which was based in this area.
So the correct translation of Singuilucan is tzinquilocan, “the place at the base of the mountain of quelites” (and I love the place even more now due to its association with quelites. Not just quelites but a WHOLE MOUNTAIN of them)

The Rancho is dedicated to the production of products derived from maguey. This includes (apart from pulque) products such as pulque vinegar and aguamiel “honey”. Now I have written of this honey before (1) and it is not actually a honey but aguamiel that has been concentrated by gently heating it to evaporate excess water and create a thick honey like syrup (in a process quite similar to the harvesting of maple tree sap to make maple syrup). This is an excellent way to make agave syrups. Most are not made like this. Most agave syrups (or “honeys”) are made by cooking the whole agave piña in a manner very similar to that in the production of tequila and then the syrup is created by either using thermal or enzymatic hydrolysis. Products made like this resemble high fructose corn syrup which are generally not conducive to good health (please refer top the Post on Agave Syrup. A Healthy Alternative to Sugar?) (1) so when you are looking for an agave syrup look for products such as the one produced by Rancho la Gaspareña.

  1. See Posts Medicinal use of Miel de Agave (agave honey) and Agave Syrup. A Healthy Alternative to Sugar?

Medicinal Use of Pirul.
Main Actions (in BOLD)
analgesic, antibacterial, anti-cancer, anticandidal, antidepressant, antifungal, antihemorrhagic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-tumour, antiviral, aperient, astringent, cardiotonic, digestive stimulant, diuretic, insecticidal, insect repellant, emmenagogue, hypotensive, stimulant, tonic, vulnerary

Primary Uses:

  1. as a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and antiseptic against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections
  2. for Candida and yeast infections
  3. to tone, balance, and strengthen heart function and as a heart regulator for arrhythmia and mild hypertension
  4. to stop bleeding and heal wounds internally and externally
  5. for Mycoplasmal infections

Cautions: It has as a mild hypotensive effect (lowers blood pressure).

Drug Interactions: None reported. However, this plant has exhibited hypotensive actions in animal studies; in light of such, it is conceivable that the use of this plant may potentiate high blood pressure medications.


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