"Pulque" already existed in Teotihuacan

The earliest voucher for the production of wine from agave juice in Central America

Statue from Teotihuacan - to this day only a few are known about this pre-Columbian culture. © Perla Fierro / CC-by-sa 3.0
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Agave brew as "liquid bread": even the inhabitants of the enigmatic city of Teotihuacan in Mexico drank pulque - a kind of wine from agave juice. This is proven by analyzes of vascular remains from this pre-Columbian metropolis. Not only is this the oldest evidence of pulque production in Central America, this brewing practice could also explain how the Teotihuacanos spilled over maize crop failures - "liquid bread".

Today, northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is a dilapidated ruin. But the remains of towering temple pyramids, a huge palace and numerous residential complexes surrounded by a high wall testify to its former importance. Shortly after Christ's birth, Teotihuacan was one of the largest cities in the world: its regular grid of blocks of flats and streets stretched over some 36 square kilometers, and had between 25, 000 and 125, 000 inhabitants, depending on which source one follows.

Teotihuacan was built by a culture that is still puzzling in many ways. How the inhabitants of the city lived, what beliefs they had and what culture is still only partially known. It is also unclear where these people came from and why these temporarily over large parts of Central America ruling power began to disappear from about 650 AD.

Telltale microbial residues

Marisol Correa-Ascencio from the University of Bristol and her colleagues are now providing a little piece of the puzzle about the way of life of this enigmatic people. Because they have analyzed residues of broken amphorae found in Teotihuacan and its surroundings. With the help of gas chromatography, they came across chemical relics of cells that belonged to bacteria of the species Zymomonas mobilis.

Agave juice is still used to make pulque, an alcoholic beverage. © Correa-Ascencio et al./PNAS

These microbes still play a special role in the cultures of Central America today. Because beer brewery makes it possible for us to produce beer, these bacteria ensure that the juice of agave pulque is produced - an alcoholic beverage that the Aztecs already enjoyed Today is considered the national drink of Mexico. display

"Our findings provide convincing evidence that Pulque was manufactured in Teotihuacan around 200 AD and stored in amphorae, " the researchers note. This is the oldest evidence to date for the production of this alcoholic beverage in Central America.

Agave drink as "liquid bread"

For the inhabitants of Teotihuacan, however, the Pulque could have been more than just an intoxicating drink. The agave juice was probably an important addition to their sometimes quite scarce food. Because the pre-Columbian city covered its food needs mainly from corn, but this contains too many nutrients, vitamins and amino acids to get a well-balanced diet hrleisten.

View over the ruins of Teotihuacan with the sun pyramid in the background. Jeanne18 / CC-by-sa 3.0

On the other hand, the agave drink may have provided the missing nutrients and also provided additional calories in times of bad harvests. "The evidence of pulque production provides us with new insights into how teotihuacanos could meet their nutritional requirements despite frequent thunderstorms and frost, " say Correa-Ascencio and her colleagues. Because in contrast to the more sensitive corn, the Agave is frost and dry resistant. Similar to the fact that beer had an important nutritional value in the Middle Ages, in Central America pulque could have been a kind of "liquid bread". (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; doi: 0.1073 / pnas.1408339111)

(PNAS, 16.09.2014 - NPO)