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June 15, 2001 Vol. 56 No. 11 Back to Bulletin Main Page

Agave Angst


Tequila, the national drink of Mexico, is famous around the world for its unique taste and bouquet. It is also a mixer used in the popular Margarita cocktail. However, recently there has been some controversy regarding the future of the purity of the product.

Tequila is distilled from the heart of the blue agave plant that grows only in one specific controlled area in Mexico's heartland. Its full name is the "agave azul tequilana weber" and it flourishes in the dry mineral rich volcanic soil of western Mexico. This plant has long bluish green spiny leaves with sharp points and a large heart (called piña or pineapple) from which the juices are extracted.

Mexico's "Appellation of Origin" law has defined the area in which the blue agave is grown. It includes the state of Jalisco and some regions in the states of Guanajuato, Nayarit, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas, all which have similar reddish volcanic soil and climate. The liquor gets its name from the town of Tequila located in the state of Jalisco, where production started more than 200 years ago.

The best-known tequila producing towns are Tequila, El Arenal and Amatitán located a few miles west of Guadalajara, and the region in Los Altos or highlands east of Guadalajara that includes Atotonilco, Tepatitlán and Arandas. Other producing towns are Tesistán, Corralejo in Guanajuato, and Capilla de Guadalupe in Jalisco.

Although exportation of the product to the United States began in 1873, the popularity of the product word-wide has grown tremendously in the last few years.

Thus far, the purity of the product has been strictly regulated through the Mexican government's articles no's 156--168 and the NOM standard, which specifies that the amount of Agave Azul sugar in Tequila should be no less than 51 percent.

However, rumors have recently circulated through various media sources, that due to the tremendous growth explosion, future Tequila mixes may have a less percentage of Agave Azul than originally mandated.

The reports state that the production of Agave Azul from the designated areas has not been enough to produce the amount of Tequila necessary for the increased world-wide consumption. Consequently, the amount of sugar obtained from the Agave Azul plant that would be used to make Tequila could be dramatically reduced from 51 percent to 29 percent.

The possibility of this occurring may not be very remote. The Appellation of Origin Law in Mexico specifically states that a product's uniqueness is dependant on the unique quality derived from the control of the production and the traditional way of making a certain product. However, the increase in exportation of Tequila does not seem likely to die down any time soon and some measures will have to be taken to increase production.

Many believe that the international prestige of Tequila is in jeopardy due to a possible lowering of standards and it is the topic of intense dispute in the media. Moreover, diluting the liquor may not be the only solution. Some believe that one way to increase the production of the Agave Azul is to designate more areas within Mexico for farming the plant.

Another solution would be to produce the plant under laboratory conditions before replanting. This would decrease the percentage of disease-ridden plants. However, thus far, there has been no clear mandate regarding the future of the product.

Sources: "Growing Agave Faster May be the Answer to the Future" South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 20, 2001; "Agave Shortage Clobbers Premium Brands" Morris Thompson Knight Ridder News Service, February 7, 2001;


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