Friday, March 26, 2010

The Filipino roots of mezcal

The Filipino roots of mezcal
Published by Luigi on June 11, 2008

“Clash of civilizations” is a common rhetorical trope these days. But it is as well to remember that good things can — and often do — happen when cultures come together. A paper just out in GRACE gives an example involving agrobiodiversity. In it, Daniel Zizumbo Villareal — the doyen of Mexican coconut studies, among other things — and his co-author set out the evidence for the origin of mezcal, the generic name for agave spirits in Mexico.

It turns out that this most Mexican of drinks is unknown from pre-Columbian times, although of course the cooked stems and floral peduncles of various species of Agave were used as a carbohydrate source by the ancient populations of what is now western Mexico, and drinks were made from both these and their sap. But, apparently, distillation had to wait until a Filipino community became established in the Colima hills in the 16th century. They were brought over to establish coconut plantations, and started producing coconut spirits, as they had done back home. The practice was eventually outlawed in the early 17th century, and this prohibition, plus increased demand for hard liquor by miners, led to its application to agaves instead, and its rapid spread. The first record of mezcal is from 1619. Mexicans (not to mention other tequila afincionados the world over) have a lot to thank Filipinos for.

link to - The Filipino roots of mezcal - article

Abstract: No evidence exists of distillation in Mexico before European contact. The Philippine people in Colima established the practice in the 16th Century to produce coconut spirits. Botanical, toponymic, archaeological, and ethnohistoric data are presented indicating that agave distillation began in Colima, in the lower Armería-Ayuquila and Coahuayana-Tuxpan river basins, using Agave angustifolia Haw. and through adaptation of the Philippine coconut spirits distillation technique. Subsequent selection and cultivation of agaves led to their domestication and diversification. This did not take place in the lower river basins, where agave populations tended to disappear.

Early coconut distillation and the origins of mezcal and tequila spirits in west-central Mexico

The distillation technique spread to the foothills of Colima volcanoes and from there to all of western Mexico, leading to creation of tequila and other agave spirits. Two factors aided producers in avoiding strict Colonial prohibitions and were therefore key to the diffusion and persistence of agave spirits production: (1) clandestine fermentation in sealed, underground pits carved from bedrock, a native, pre-European contact technique; and (2) small, easy-to-use Philippine-type stills that could be hidden from authorities and allowed use of a broad range of agave species.

And if you have any doubts about the above article I suggest going to Ian Chadwick's authoritative site on Mezcal and Tequila - great site