Tequila (Spanish pronunciation: [te?kila] (About this soundlisten)) is a regional distilled beverage and type of alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the Jaliscan Highlands (Los Altos de Jalisco) of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. Aside from differences in region of origin, tequila is a type of mezcal (and the regions of production of the two drinks are overlapping). The distinction is that tequila must use only blue agave plants rather than any type of agave. Tequila is commonly served neat in Mexico and as a shot with salt and lime across the rest of the world.
The red volcanic soil in the region around the city of Tequila is particularly well suited to the growing of the blue agave, and more than 300 million of the plants are harvested there each year. Agave grows differently depending on the region. Blue agaves grown in the highlands Los Altos region are larger in size and sweeter in aroma and taste. Agaves harvested in the lowlands, on the other hand, have a more herbaceous fragrance and flavor.
Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoac?n, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Tequila is recognized as a Mexican designation of origin product in more than 40 countries. It is protected through NAFTA in Canada and the United States, through bilateral agreements with individual countries such as Japan and Israel, and has been a protected designation of origin product in the constituent countries of the European Union since 1997.
Tequila can be produced between 35 and 55% alcohol content (70 and 110 U.S. proof). Per U.S. law, tequila must contain at least 40% alcohol (80 U.S. proof) to be sold in the United States.
Planting, tending, and harvesting the agave plant remains a manual effort, largely unchanged by modern farm machinery and relying on centuries-old know-how. The men who harvest it, the jimadore, have intimate knowledge of how the plants should be cultivated, passed down from generation to generation.
By regularly trimming any quiotes (a several-meter high stalk that grows from the center of the plant), the jimadores prevent the agave from flowering and dying early, allowing it to fully ripen. The jimadores must be able to tell when each plant is ready to be harvested, and using a special knife called a coa (with a circular blade on a long pole), carefully cut away the leaves from the pi?a (the succulent core of the plant). If harvested too late or too early, the pi?as, which can average around 70 kg (150 lb) in the lowlands to 110 kg (240 lb) in the highlands, will not have the right amount of carbohydrates for fermentation.
After harvesting, the piтas are transported to ovens where they are slowly baked to break down their complex fructans into simple fructoses. Then, the baked pi?as are either shredded or mashed under a large stone wheel called a tahona. The pulp fiber, or bagazo [ba??aso], left behind is often reused as compost or animal feed, but can even be burnt as fuel or processed into paper. Some producers like to add a small amount of bagazo back into their fermentation tanks for a stronger agave flavor in the final product.
The extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wooden or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in a wort, or mosto [?mosto], with low alcohol content. This wort is then distilled once to produce what is called "ordinario [o??i?na?jo], and then a second time to produce clear "silver" tequila. Using at least two distillations is required by law. A few producers such as Casa Noble (for their "Crystal" expression) and Corzo (for their a?ejo expression) have experimented with distilling the product a third time, but this has not caught on as a trend, and some have said it removes too much of the agave flavor from the tequila. From there, the tequila is either bottled as silver tequila, or it is pumped into wooden barrels to age, where it develops a mellower flavor and amber color.
The differences in taste between tequila made from lowland and highland agave plants can be noticeable. Plants grown in the highlands often yield sweeter and fruitier-tasting tequila, while lowland agaves give the tequila an earthier flavor.
Unlike other tequila production steps, fermentation is one of the few steps out of the control of human beings. Fermentation is the conversion of sugars and carbohydrates to alcohol through yeast in anerobic conditions, meaning that oxygen is not present during the process. Fermentation is also carried out in a non-aseptic environment which increases the bacterial activity of tequila. The participation of microorganisms from the environment (yeasts and bacteria) makes fermentation a spontaneous process which gives rise to many byproducts that contribute to the flavor and aroma of tequila.
During the fermentation process, inoculum is added to the batch to speed the rate of fermentation. When inoculum is added, fermentation can take approximately 20 hours to 3 days. If inoculum is not added, fermentation could take up to 7 days. The rate of fermentation is a key factor in the quality and flavor of tequila produced. Worts fermented slowly are best because the amount of organoleptic compounds produced are greater. The alcohol content at the end of fermentation lies between 4-9%
Tequila is a distilled beverage that is made from the fermentation of the sugars found from the blue agave plant once it has been cooked, the main sugar being fructose. Through the fermentation process, many factors influence the higher alcohol content of tequila, which are molecules such as isobutyl alcohol and isoamyl alcohol, and ethanol. These parameters include the type of yeast strain, the age of the agave plant itself, temperature, and the carbon/nitrogen ratio. However, the type of yeast strain used and the carbon/nitrogen factors have the biggest influence on the production of higher alcohols, this is not surprisingly as higher alcohol and ethanol production is an intrinsic property of the metabolism of each strain. The type of yeast most commonly found in tequila is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which contains many strains. For example, CF1 agaves, a type of yeast, produces much more ethanol than a strain of CF2, as the yeast's metabolism mechanisms differ from one another. This factor may be influenced from different agricultural practices that occur to cultivate the different yeasts strains. It was found that the higher the carbon/ nitrogen ratio, the higher the production of higher alcohols such as isobutyl alcohol and isoamyl alcohol. A high ratio imparts that there is less nitrogen in the fermentation process, which results in deamination reactions of amino acids, leading to the synthesis of higher alcohols. The Ehrlich pathway is the name for this process, where a-ceto acids are decarboxylated and transformed to aldehydes and to higher alcohols. The temperature of the fermentation process also greatly effects the alcohol content of the resulting product. For example, a study conducted by Pinal et al. found that cultivating two strains at a temperature of 35 degrees as compared to a temperature of 30 degrees produced more isoamyl alcohol. The higher temperature suggests that this is a much more optimal condition for the yeast to ferment the distilled beverage. Lastly the age of the agave plant itself, the older the plant the greater the alcohol production. It was shown in a study that the concentration of amyl alcohol increased as the plant aged by a factor 30%. However, it is also found that there is a higher concentration of methanol found when using younger plants. This may be due to differences in agricultural practices that occur when taking care of plants of different ages.
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