Products of the Blue Agave
Tequila is a variety of mescal liquor that was originally produced in the town of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico. It is a Spanish modification of a fermented beverage called pulque that was made by the Aztecs for religious and medical purposes (Mohr 1999; Miller & Taube 1993). Tequila is obtained from the distillation of the fermented juice of the agave plant. Plants require 7 to 12 years to mature before they can be tapped for sap. The productions process consists of cooking to hydrolyze the inulin polysaccharides into fructose, milling to extract the sugars, fermentation with a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to convert sugars into ethanol and organoleptic compounds, and finally distilling it in a two-step process (Cedeño 1995). A key distinguishing feature between pulque and Tequila is that pulque can be made from many different species of agave and is not distilled, while Tequila is distilled and must be made from Agave tequilana var. azul to legally qualify as Tequila (NOM-006-SCFI-2012; Mata Pizón & Zolla 1994b).
Agave tequilana, or Blue Agave, is the only species of agave that can be used to produce Tequila certified by the Mexican government. According to the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico, a distilled alcoholic spirit must be made from at least 51% Blue Agave to be recognized as Tequila under the Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM-006-SCFI-2012). Pure Tequila must be made from 100% Blue Agave (NOM-006-SCFI-2012).
Because Blue Agave yields an internationally popular product, it has also indirectly created tourism that benefits its zone of production. The town of Tequila became a mescal center in the 1780s and later enlarged its market when railroads were built in the region (Walton 1977). The reputation of Tequila’s mescal spread until eventually it came to be called Tequila. In 1978 tequila acquired international Appellation of Origin protection, meaning Tequila production has been restricted to 5 states in Mexico: Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacan, Tamaulipas & Guanajuanto (NOM-006-SCFI-2012; Valensuela Zapata & Nabhan 2003). The increase in world-wide popularity of the drink since the 1980’s has made it a major export of Jalisco, and the Appellation of Origin has also contributed to making the town of Tequila a tourist destination promoted by the Mexican government (Dalton 2005).
It has been suggested that biomass (such as leaves which are usually left in the field) could be co-harvested during the course of Tequila production so that biofuel could be produced without additional land demands. Furthermore, if this were put into practice, abandoned agave farms in Mexico and Africa that had produced raw materials for the natural fiber market could be converted to bioenergy cropland (Valensuela Zapata & Nabhan 2003).
It has also been found that Blue Agave sap has the potential to yield a diabetic friendly sweetener since its fructans are not of the inulin polysaccharide group (Lopez et al. 2003). Additionally, because the sap has an iron content of 2.15mg/100g and 1.41 mg/100g zinc content, it has the potential to be used as a food supplement to correct mineral deficiencies (Lopez et al. 2003).