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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 01:04 GMT
Mexico's ancient drink under threat
The BBC's Claire Marshall
By Claire Marshall
BBC News, Mexico

In Mexico, producers are warning that the so-called "nectar of the gods" is in danger of extinction.

Mario Grajedo drinks pulque in Ixmiquilpan, Mexico
Pulque can be drunk neat or sweetened with honey
The popularity of the pre-Hispanic alcoholic drink, pulque, is fading in favour of more conventional beverages such as beer and rum.

Mario Grajedo wobbles slightly as he perches on a stool by the side of the road in Ixmiquilpan in Mexico's Hidalgo state.

This is pulque heartland. On the simple table in front of him is a large maize tortilla covered in hot sauce.

Beside it is a jug of the milky liquid.

Eating with one hand, he swigs deeply using the other.

'Very healthy'

His voice slightly slurred, he says: "Pulque is a very strong tradition in Hidalgo. The flavour is either bitter or sweet - depending on how you like it.

"If you like it strong then you drink it neat, and if not you put in a bit of honey. It's like tequila - it's very healthy."

Map showing the location of Ixmiquilpan in Hidalgo state, pulque heartland
Legend has it that pulque was being drunk in Mexico 10 centuries ago. It was certainly the preferred tipple of the Aztec elite.

Considered of divine origin, it was used by priests in rituals.

Common men only stole a sip on pain of death.

Pulque is the sap of the maguey cactus, which grows in dry desert plains.

It is extracted by workers who put a fat wooden tube in to the heart of the plant, and suck the liquid out. One litre costs less than half a dollar.

But the so-called "nectar of the gods" is in danger of dying out. Beer, rum and brandy are more popular with young people.

Clemente Gonzales is a pulque seller in Ixmiquilpan.

"The custom is being lost. The youth of today are leaving pulque. It's sad, because beforehand it was the base of everything around here," he says.

Change

Felipa Peres Angeles, an indigenous Ha H Indian, has tended her field of maguey cactus all her life.

Felipa Peres Angeles sucks the liquid from a maguey cactus for fermenting into pulque
Liquid is sucked from the heart of the cactus and fermented
She says that she is now starting to use the maguey sap to make a type of honey, as it is more profitable than pulque.

"The maguey cactus is our only source of work. But pulque is sold too cheaply - it doesn't earn you enough to pay for schooling for the children. So now I have decided to produce honey instead.

"But it's not fair that pulque is dying out - it's very good to drink, even just a little glass."

In Mexico City just 20 years ago, there used to be well over 1,000 pulque bars. Now there are fewer than 100.

Unless new markets are found, this legendary pre-Hispanic beverage could be consigned to Mexico's museums.




SEE ALSO:
Tequila's new sunrise
10 Feb 01 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Mexico
09 Dec 04 |  Country profiles


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