Foggy, fermented drinks from Mexico find more fans in US

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Craving the fermented beverages he drank in Mexico, LA Times Food Editor Daniel Hernandez traversed the city in search of them. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times /Mariah Tauger © 2022.

Fermented beverages are prevalent across Latin America, with a recent academic paper identifying 16 different drinks made in domestic settings using rustic, indigenous practices without preservatives. Palm oil, pineapple, maize, and the insides of agave are all being fermented to create beverages. LA Times Food Editor Daniel Hernandez tracked down different versions across the county.

Tejuino is made with maize and piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) to create a mash that starts to ferment. Once it starts to darken, ice is added, and it is dressed with rock salt and lime for a tart, refreshing beverage. A stretch on Rosemead Boulevard through the Whittier Narrows is a popular destination for tejuino vendors, but the drink can also be found across South Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley.

Tepache is becoming more recognizable, often being sold next to kombucha. Light and crisp like a cider, Hernandez says the drink is more approachable than tejuino. Canned versions are being made by De La Calle, and makes for a good mix with rum, tequila, and mezcal. He says that the drink is made during Easter by the Oaxacan community in Los Angeles. 

Pulque can be polarizing, admits Hernandez. “It’s literally a living drink,” he says, and contains millions per milliliter of microorganisms that immediately start interacting with the gut. With an alcohol content up to 7%, there are indications of pulque being made for 2,000 years. Hernandez has yet to find the perfect pulque spot in Los Angeles.