🎶….wasting away again in Margaritaville. Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt. Salt! Salt! Salt! 🎶. Jimmy Buffet may have made margaritas and tequila famous with this song, but in reality tequila has been around at least since the 1500s.
Tequila is the ancient indigenous or Nahuatl word meaning “the place of harvesting plants.” They roasted the ‘piña’, the pineapple shaped heart of the agave plant for food. It was high in calories, sugary and nutritious like a tough sweet squash. The agave leaves were fibrous and used to make things like mats, clothing and rope. After harvesting the ‘piña’, the hole in the plant would fill up with fluid from the plant and if left there, it fermented and the people would drink it. It was not that high in alcohol and was called pulque and tasted horrible.
Distillation of pulque may have been started by the Conquistadors as early as the 1500s. It was sometimes called brandy, or agave wine, or mescal tequila and then finally tequila. Don Pedro Sanchez de Tagle, Marquis Altamira, known as the father of tequila, established the first tequila factory in the 1600s. Jose Antonio Cuervo was licensed by the King of Spain to cultivate agave and in the late 1700s, his son, Jose Maria Cuervo got the first license from the Crown to produce mescal wine.
There are two main types of tequila – mescal & tequila. Today, only the blue agave plants grown in the state of Jalisco can use the name tequila and it must contain at least 51% blue agave. All others are called mescal – not unlike champagne where it can only be called champagne if the grapes are grown in a.certain region of France, otherwise its sparkling wine of some sort.
It is thought that the idea of using salt and lime came about because it helped improve the not so pleasant taste of tequila. But things have changed and you can now buy a nicely aged tequila that is really quite drinkable on its own or on the rocks.
Because of the demand, tequila makers are struggling to keep up with production resulting in acres of forests being cut down to make room for growing more agave plants. The value of these plants has also skyrocketed to the point where they are being stolen and the producers are putting computer chips in the plants to be able to track them.
One day a worm was found in a bottle of tequila. It wasn’t really a worm but the larvae of an insect found on the plant and had gotten into the bottle by mistake. People started asking for the tequila with the worm. Not to miss a marketing opportunity, they started putting a worm in each bottle of tequila. Then someone had the idea they could put in a scorpion, with the stinger removed, and claimed it was “better than viagra”. However you won’t find these insects in the real tequila only in mescal. By the way, the fried larvae are considered a delicious treat. Well I for one will probably pass on that dish!!