Maguey and Alcoholic Consumption in Aztec Society

The maguey plant refers to several closely related species of the genus Agave, which grows at 5,940 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level or higher in central Mexico. The maguey plant supplied the Aztec with both fiber for clothing and rope and the juice for popular drinks such as the fermented octli, today called pulque, and unfermented aguamiel. Though archaeologists to date have not found pulque workshops on archaeological sites, obsidian blades covered with sap resin have been found. These blades are extensively dispersed throughout Aztec sites and give insight into how Aztecs produced pulque, a drink still consumed by Mexican peasants today. Witnessed by the royal physician Francisco Hernández, pulque production was a jugo de maguey laborious process that is performed today in the same fashion as that of Aztec predecessors.

Once the maguey had grown to maturity, a cavity was carved in the center of the plant and scraped with obsidian blades. Scraping the cavity stimulated the flow of sap, and for several weeks to six months, this action was performed two or three times daily. The sap gathered in the center cavity was harvested by the maguey farmer by sucking it into a go transferred to ceramic jars, and then left to ferment.

Such hard work was not without significant benefit:

One maguey plant could produce two to four liters (about two to four quarts) of sap daily.

Octli was the only alcoholic drink of the Aztec. The alcoholic content of the spirit was, and is still today, similar to that of beer and wine-3.2 to 5 percent. However, it was illegal for the Aztec citizen to consume the drink to drunkenness. This indulgence was granted only to the elderly as a reward for long life.

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