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Pulque in Mexico: Synthesis of Medicinal and Mythical Properties
From the pre-Hispanic period in Mexico, and continuing to the present, there are many species of agave that are used to extract aguamiel (honey water). Once this sweet, milky coconut-like liquid is removed from the heart of the succulent and thus exposed to bacteria and yeast in the environment, it becomes frothy and viscous. Boiled aguamiel is known as pulque. Over hundreds of years, and millennia, medicinal properties have been attributed to pulque, through legends that have been passed down through generations of natives, and more recently as a result of scientific research (not without contradictions regarding the latter) . As can be expected the literature is not always consistent in both its factual and theoretical assumptions. However lay synthesis in summary form is effective in lighting.
Pulque, for several hundred years has been associated with the elixir of many people, an alcoholic drink with healing powers. Supported by natural / organic and to a lesser extent slow food movement, it has been elevated to trendiness. Mostly middle- and upper-middle-class millennials living in Mexico’s major urban centers such as Monterrey, Puebla, Guadalajara and of course Mexico City, flock to pulquerías. However most of what is served is a twisted form of pulque known as curados. The base of the pulque, sometimes even canned, is combined with a selection of processed fruits, grains and / or vegetables, sugar or other sweetener, and sometimes milk / cream and / or a thickener such as corn starch. These curados couldn’t be further from the real deal, and it’s likely that by the time they reach the table any beneficial properties, medicinal or otherwise, have long been lost due to their commercial handling. However the pulque found in bars and restaurants in cities near the rural areas where aguamiel is grown (ie, Oaxaca, in the fields outside the city of Santiago Matatlán) is anything but 100% unadulterated. The closer the cantina or comedor to the field where the aguamiel is harvested, the greater the chance that the pulque has not been separated and retains its good qualities.
The wide diversity of micro climates where the agave species are grown show that the characteristics of the resulting pulque must be different, sometimes significantly. And, each type of plant has a unique set of compounds, minerals, vitamins, etc., that are transformed in a different way. This depends on the sub-region of Mexico, and the bacteria present there and the small amount of yeast in the environment. The types of agave used to extract aguamiel that have been noted in the literature include salmiana, americanana, deserti, mapisaga, atrovirens, ferrox and hookeri. Different roots, including and especially acacia (referred to in parts of the country of Oaxaca as timbre), have been used to make pulque stronger, hotter, more intoxicating or spicier. It also speeds up the fermentation process more during the colder weather months. Such additions further change the properties of pulque.
The word pulque is likely derived from the Nahuatl word poliuhqui, which means spoiled. In pre-Hispanic times in many parts of the country it was a drink reserved for high priests, warriors and sages. It was traditionally used as part of harvest celebrations, to induce rain, as a way or honor to certain gods, and during rituals such as marriage, birth and death. Various laws abound regarding the proper form of entertainment, and there are many myths about its origins. But the thread that binds the entire country is its medicinal value. It should come as no surprise that people who drank pulque were immune to the cholera epidemic of the 19th century.
Pulque is regarded throughout the country as a healthy drink, a nutritional supplement. In areas of Mexico where there is a lack of safe drinking water due to human or animal waste, it is used as a thirst quencher. But its nutrients including but not limited to iron, carotene, thiamine, folate, riboflavin, niacin, ascorbic acid, protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, fiber, bioactive compounds, phosphorus and ash, perhaps leading to its therapeutic role. in traditional medicine and as a preventive diet.
Ask any tlachiquero (a person who presses the agave to extract the aguamiel) in Santiago Matatlán, and he (or she, since at least in the Oaxaca state that produces pulque is a term not reserved only for men) will tell you that the pulque 100% natural in part since only fertilizer, if any, is used to promote the growth of agave, abono from cows, sheep or goats and the mulch used is bagazo (waste fiber from distilling mezcal) ; and the properties of pulque include producing the production of white blood cells, being good for triglycerides, and controlling diabetes especially if used first thing in the morning before breakfast.
The cross-cultural literature, based on studies from across Mexico, provides a more comprehensive narrative. Pulque is used for:
• in the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases including ulcers, and kidney infections
• as an aid in reducing general and physical weakness
• fight loss of interest and anorexia
• as a diuretic
• improve relaxation before sleep
• as an aid to the child’s development
• stimulate milk production in nursing mothers
• as a way to start breastfeeding when you are touched on the lips of a newborn baby
• for children based on its ability to promote muscle and bone formation.
Although it is claimed that the use of pulque to promote fertility and improve sexual performance does not seem to have any basis in reality (except perhaps to the extent that drinking alcohol can have a positive effect on libido in some), many of the above have been confirmed by scientific research. .
While environmental yeasts play a role in the production of pulque, especially clearly contributing to its foaminess, the literature often refers to bacteria from the genus Zymomonas mobilis as the main catalyst that turns aguamiel into pulque (and to a lesser extent bacteria from the blood type. Lueconostoc). Widely found in sugary plant extracts, Z. mobilis is highly effective in producing ethanol.
Many studies have shown in vitro growth to promote results due to different species of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and probiotic species. This helps in the absorption of essential minerals. Phytase is there, and of course it is very important. It is a digestive enzyme. Some believe that it can bind corn and increase the bioactivity of iron and zinc through metabolism. Phytase is a bacterium found in the intestines of cows and sheep, but is rarely found in humans although there is evidence of its presence in vegans and vegetarians. Phytase breaks it down into phytic acid. This has been implicated in DNA repair, clathrin-coated vesticular recycling, regulation of neurotransmission and cell proliferation. Although research on animal nutrition has suggested the value of supplementing food with phytase as an aid in the production of calcium, phosphorus, other minerals, carbohydrates and proteins, the effects on humans are not yet well known and further research is needed.
By examining in the context of scientific research why and why indigenous people have been using pulque for hundreds of years, we gain a better understanding of the real truth and honesty about myths and superstitions about the healing properties of the ferment.
Scientific research confirms that using 850 ml of aguamiel satisfies the daily needs of people for iron and zinc. Because it is another source of prebiotics FOS (fructooligosaccaride) syrups, it improves the absorption of calcium in postmenopausal women and the absorption of iron in general. Use is recommended for the prevention of colon cancer. It is known that pulque contains steroidal saponins that have been studied for their medicinal uses including antispasmodic activity and toxicity to cancer cells. They have been identified as the most important bioactive compounds in yams and many biological activities such as anti-cancer have been documented.
The content of melatonin in pulque helps in relaxation in preparation for sleep. The probiotic power of lactobacilli isolated from both aguamiel and pulque provides a low non-dairy cholesterol alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. Perhaps it is a food product with a high dose and a variety of probiotic bacteria that may be present. A study conducted in Valle de Solís, in the state of Mexico, found that the use ofpulque results in a small risk of insufficiency ofhemoglobin in pregnant women.
But just as the potential health benefits of using pulque have been difficult to test and prove for some of the reasons noted in this article, so have some of the contraindications. We know that the use of alcohol can have negative effects on pregnant women and their offspring, and pulque at 6%. But this should be weighed against the use in areas where there are generally poor dietary habits or the unavailability of various vitamins and minerals through food. Literature shows that drinking pulque cheaply helps the baby’s growth and increases milk production during breastfeeding (it helps the mother absorb calcium).
Pulque actually has a short shelf life due to ambient temperature and constant contact with yeast in the environment. When stored for a long time, it quickly turns sour. However when it is not drinkable, in parts of Mexico such as Oaxaca it is used as a base to produce a refreshing drink known as tepache. Typically tepache is made with vinegar-like pulque, pineapple, and a sugar cane derivative known as piloncillo or panela. Whether this drink retains some of the good qualities of pulque is uncertain.
Another issue is the lack of hygiene associated with aguamiel and pulque. This can be seen if one has the opportunity to participate in extracting aguamiel from agave and/or eat pulque in the village market. In my opinion, I’ve been drinking both drinks for the past quarter of a century, so it’s not an issue. Commercially preparing pulque for sale in cans is a possible solution. Chemicals are added to stop fermentation. However, it is suggested that the benefits of using pulque will have long been lost by the time canned pulque is installed everywhere in the country, or in the American states where it is available for purchase such as California, Arizona and New Mexico.
Further studies are warranted and needed to better understand the true benefits of pulque. But in the meantime, depending on the written risks associated with its use, it is suggested that the good qualities reported should be enough to persuade the reader to use a little pulque from time to time, and thus the aguamiel if it is in the region of Mexico there. It is harvested fresh from the vine.
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