What Is Tequila Made From?
The rules governing the production of tequila in Mexico are as strict as those that designate the wine appellations in France. That’s why the good stuff is good. Read on.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Modern tequila production began in Mexico in the 1600s, but individual communities were making it as far back as the year 250. You’re probably familiar with the cocktails it has inspired, but let’s take a look at how it’s made, the different varieties and how it's different from Mezcal.
What Is Tequila Made From?
Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the Weber blue agave plant that grows in Mexico. The blue agave plant has huge spikes that come up from a central core that is called the pina. After the leaves are removed, the pina is the part of the plant that is used to make tequila. High in sugar, it’s cooked and mashed, and its sugars are fermented by natural yeast that turn the sugar into alcohol. Then it’s distilled, after which it can be bottled immediately for blanco tequila, which some consider the best for margaritas. If moved to an oak barrel where it ages for at least 60 days, it is bottled with a label stating that it is reposado. Some distilleries use old bourbon barrels for the aging, which contribute other flavor nuances. When aged in small old oak barrels for more than a year, the tequila takes on an amber hue and becomes even smoother. These tequilas are called Anejo and are considered by afficionados to be only for sipping and savoring.
Where Is Tequila From?
The first tequila distillery was in the town of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco. Much like the way in which France controls the wine regions and naming of wines, Mexico controls the regions where tequila can be produced. The state of Jalisco is the largest area that produces tequila with the seal of approval, and there are other smaller areas near some cities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. If you're interested in purchasing some high-quality tequila, head over to our spotlight on 11 Mexican- and Mexican American-Owned Tequila & Mezcal Brands You Need to Know.
What Does Tequila Taste Like?
There may be some sweetness to a blanco, with citrus notes and sometimes pepper. The reposado tequilas are more mellow due to the aging process, and the Anejo are even smoother, with hints of smoky oak.
Is Tequila Gluten-Free?
Tequila is completely distilled and is gluten-free. Like all agaves, Weber blue agave has no botanical connection to wheat or gluten, so it’s fine for a gluten-free diet. If you're curious about tequila's nutritional benefits and caloric info, head over to the story Is Tequila Healthy? from Food Network's registered dietician.
Tequila Versus Mezcal
Tequila can only be produced in specific regions in Mexico, and Weber blue agave is the only plant that can be used to make a 100% pure tequila. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be produced from a list of over 30 different agave plants. Tequila is steam-baked to extract the sugar from the pina, while mezcal is heated in large pits lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal, so it ends up with a pronounced smokiness. The distillation process is the same, and there are three aging categories similar to tequila.
Why Is There a Worm In Tequila?
No bottle of tequila will ever have a worm. The worms might show up in a bottle of mezcal, but not always. True tequila, produced under the regulations set by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, A.C. (Tequila Regulatory Council) in Mexico control the standards. No worms. Mezcal on the other hand, may have a worm put in the bottle purely as a marketing gimmick - and it seems to be working. You looked.
What's the Best Tequila for Margaritas?
Blanco and reposado tequilas are the best types to use for margaritas. The reposado will have a more pronounced aged flavor, somewhat smoother than the blanco, but don’t discount a good blanco. Not being aged, it is less expensive and great for a big party. Our experience is that using a higher-end orange liqueur is more important than using a very expensive tequila, so that’s where we like to spend a higher percentage of our margarita budget. (But we’re not using the gallon bottle from the drive-through liquor store either). Also, get a good juicer for the limes: the fresh juice is key.
How to Drink a Shot of Tequila with Salt and Lime
You asked, we answered. Just five simple steps!
- Wet the skin on the back of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. Pour a little mound of salt there; the moisture will secure it.
- Grab a lime wedge with the salted hand.
- Lick the salt.
- Take the shot.
- Bite the lime and suck the juice.
The Perfect Margaritas can be even more perfect when you switch up the salts.
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