The botany behind the maguey
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Why is it an amazing plant?
The only way to understand why Mezcal is an amazing drink is through its raw material: The Maguey. Some people think of the Maguey plant as a type of cactus, but is quite the opposite. In fact, it is a member of the asparagal family, being much closer to asparagus and yucca than a cactus.
Agave, or Maguey, is one of the most complex and wonderful plants. As much as society focuses on appreciating it for the distilled beverages it gives us, the reality is that the plant has many elements and characteristics that make it unique.
Maguey appeared about 11 million years ago. Through its complex evolutionary process, the agave has developed an amazing ability to grow in arid climates. We are talking about a plant that contains amazing mechanisms to survive in extreme conditions.
As an example, its tissues are capable of accumulating large amounts of water and its spines can feed herbivorous animals. Maguey also produces complex chemicals that can fight parasites such as fungi, bacteria and insects. These complex chemicals have the ability to inhibit pests and protect the plant.
Likewise, the plant has the ability to "breathe" at night, trapping the CO2 it requires to live and produce sugar. During the day it can close its pores to avoid heat and prevent dehydration.
Since the emergence of Native Americans, Maguey has been used as medicine, food, raw material for utensil and textile construction, and recently as fuel.
During the pre-Hispanic era Maguey was used as food with Aguamiel (honey rich in fructose) and Pulque (fermented product similar to beer). Today, it is used as an important element of a high-fiber diet, and obviously, the key element to produce Mezcal.