Tepache is a traditional fermented Mexican drink made from pineapple skins and rinds, piloncillo sugar, and cinnamon. It has a slightly sour, tangy flavor with fizzy carbonation. Tepache is popular in many parts of Mexico but is especially associated with the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
Oaxaca is well known for its rich cultural heritage and traditional foods and drinks. Many types of tepache are produced throughout Mexico, but Oaxaca claims to be the original home of this refreshing beverage. The drink has ancient roots in pre-Hispanic Mexico and was likely first made by the Zapotec people who inhabited Oaxaca.
So is tepache really from Oaxaca or did it originate somewhere else in Mexico? Let’s explore the history and origins of tepache to find out.
The History and Origins of Tepache
Tepache has been produced in Mexico for centuries dating back to pre-Columbian times. The indigenous peoples of Mexico fermented drinks from pineapple, fruits, grains, and other plants as an easy way to create hydrating, energizing beverages. Fermentation was a useful food preservation technique in the era before refrigeration.
The name “tepache” comes from the Nahuatl word “tepocatl” meaning “drink made from maize.” Traditional tepache was made from fermented maize along with pineapple and spices. Over time, pineapple became the main ingredient in what we know as tepache today.
The first recorded evidence of tepache dates back to the 16th century in the Florentine Codex – an ethnographic account of the Aztec people created by Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. The codex documents the Aztecs consuming and selling an alcoholic drink called “tepache” made from pineapples and corn.
Other early Spanish colonizers also recorded the production and consumption of tepache throughout Mexico. A Jesuit missionary named Fr. Joseph de Acosta described tepache in his 1590 text “Historia natural y moral de las Indias.” He wrote that Indians of New Spain would “let pineapple rinds sit in water for two or three days until slightly fermented, adding in a bit of maize.”
Tepache in Oaxaca
So while tepache was recorded in central Mexico, there is debate over whether it actually originated in Oaxaca. The Zapotec people of Oaxaca were making fermented drinks from corn and fruit long before the Spanish arrived. Oaxaca’s tropical climate and fruit orchards were ideal for cultivating pineapples and producing tepache.
Many food historians contend that tepache was likely first created in Oaxaca before spreading to other regions. The Zapotec people had an advanced agricultural society centered around maize, fruits, and fermented foods and drinks. They possessed knowledge of the natural fermentation process and applied this to making tepache.
Oaxaca also claims tepache as its own based on the state’s continued tradition and popularity of drinking tepache. Roadside tepache stands can be found throughout Oaxaca, especially in the central valleys. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the refreshing, effervescent drink. For many Oaxacans, tepache is a beloved part of everyday life and culinary tradition.
The well-known Mexican chef and author Ricardo Muñoz Zurita stated, “Tepache is a drink that was born in Oaxaca, and it is a drink that you can only drink in Oaxaca.” This sentiment underscores the cultural pride Oaxacans have for tepache as a local specialty.
Other Theories on Tepache’s Origin
However, some contest the idea that tepache originated solely in Oaxaca. Other regions also lay claim as the drink’s birthplace. Tepache is widespread in the state of Jalisco, where it goes by the name “pache.” Some historians suggest tepache may have originated with the Purépecha people of Michoacán. Others propose the drink first emerged in Veracruz or the Yucatán peninsula.
The indigenous Totonac people of Veracruz traditionally made tepache and were known to cultivate pineapples. Veracruz was a center of pineapple agriculture, so it’s possible tepache first fermented there before spreading to Oaxaca and other areas.
The Yucatán region also had a climate suitable for pineapple agriculture and a tradition of producing fermented beverages. The Maya in Yucatán created an ancient, pineapple-based fermented drink known as “balché.” Some link balché to the origins of tepache.
With tepache’s long history and the movement of indigenous peoples across ancient Mexico, it’s difficult to pin down exactly where it was first created. The drink clearly emerged from Mexico’s native cultures, but a lack of surviving records obscures definitive answers about its precise origins. There are valid cases for Oaxaca, Veracruz, Michoacán, and other regions as potential birthplaces of tepache.
How Traditional Tepache Is Made
To better understand this traditional Mexican drink, let’s look at how authentic tepache is produced using time-honored methods.
- Pineapple rinds/skins
- Piloncillo – unrefined cane sugar
- Cinnamon sticks
- Filtered water
- Cut the rind off a fresh, ripe pineapple. Cut the rind into small pieces.
- Add the chopped pineapple rinds to a large glass jar or plastic bucket. Add piloncillo sugar and cinnamon sticks.
- Fill the container with filtered water, covering the fruit and spices.
- Cover the jar or bucket with a clean cloth and secure with a rubber band or lid. Allow to sit at room temperature to ferment.
- Fermentation will take 2-7 days depending on the ambient temperature. Taste daily and remove from fermentation when it reaches desired tartness.
- Strain tepache through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove solids.
- Transfer the liquid to clean bottles with tight lids, leaving some headspace. Allow to sit for 1-2 more days to carbonate.
- Refrigerate and serve chilled. Enjoy tepache on its own or mixed with water or sparkling water.
This natural fermentation method imbues tepache with probiotics and bold, tangy flavors. The pineapples lend tropical fruitiness, while the piloncillo and cinnamon provide spicy, earthy notes. Tepache can be customized with other fruits, herbs, and spices. Many Oaxacans make it with ingredients like mango, guava, tamarind, and jamaica flowers.
Tepache’s Rising Popularity
Traditionally a homemade beverage, tepache was relatively unknown outside of Mexico until recent years. But its popularity is now growing worldwide as interest in traditional fermented foods and probiotics increases.
Tepache is low in alcohol (generally under 2%), providing a healthy alternative to sugary sodas. It contains beneficial organisms from fermentation and hydrating electrolytes from the pineapple.
The tangy flavor profile appeals to fans of kombucha, cider, and sour beers. More bars, restaurants, and bottled beverage companies are offering tepache to meet demand. Both traditional and modern takes on tepache can be found as its appeal broadens.
Oaxaca remains the spiritual home of tepache, with roadside vendors and markets filled with fresh-made local tepache. But you can now find bottled Oaxacan tepache exports internationally. The traditional drink of Mexico is going global.
Commercial Tepache Industry
Various Mexican and American companies are bottling and distributing tepache to sell commercially:
- Tepache Organic
- Real Tepache
- Tepa Tepa
- Cali Tepache
- Tepache Brooklyn
These brands offer pineapple, mango, ginger, and berry flavored tepache in bottles and cans. They advertise tepache’s natural probiotics, vitamins, antioxidants, and hydration.
|Tepache Organic||Oaxaca, Mexico||Pineapple, Guava|
|Real Tepache||California||Pineapple, Mango, Strawberry|
|Tepa Tepa||Texas||Classic, Mango|
|Cali Tepache||California||Original, Pineapple Chile, Mango Chili|
|Tepache Brooklyn||New York||Classic, Passionfruit, Beet + Turmeric|
The global tepache market is estimated to grow steadily by 5.4% from 2022-2027 (ResearchAndMarkets.com). As awareness and demand for tepache grows, more brands and flavor varieties will emerge. But Oaxacan producers aim to distinguish their authentic, homemade tepaches from mass-market versions.
Tepache in Restaurants and Bars
In addition to bottled versions, tepache is increasingly served on tap and in cocktails at restaurants and bars in the U.S. and worldwide. Some examples:
- La Cocina Oaxaqueña (San Francisco) – Traditional pineapple tepache on tap
- Espita Mezcaleria (Washington D.C.) – Oaxacan Fizz cocktail with tepache
- Ghost Donkey (New York City) – Tepache Paloma cocktail
- Mesa Cocina (Auckland, NZ) – Tepache mixed with sparkling water
Creative bartenders are using tepache’s vibrant acidity in margaritas, micheladas, and mixed drinks. Chefs pair it with spicy Mexican dishes as a refreshing counterbalance.
As tepache breaks into the mainstream, Oaxaca’s critical role in its genesis and living culture can get overshadowed. But most brands and restaurants acknowledge tepache’s heritage and origins in traditional Oaxacan foodways. This helps preserve its cultural context, even as it evolves from a local delicacy into a global sensation.
Tepache has ancient roots in Mexico’s native cultures, especially the Zapotec civilization centered in Oaxaca. While its precise origins are uncertain, Oaxaca has the strongest claims and traditions tied to this traditional pineapple drink. The state’s unique microclimate enables abundant pineapple agriculture, and its native people possessed specialized knowledge of fermentation.
Oaxaca embraces tepache as its own cultural heritage and version of this fizzy, tangy drink. Small producers across Oaxaca proudly carry on the age-old tradition of making tepache. Although commercial production is spreading globally, Oaxaca remains the spiritual birthplace of this fermented favorite.
So while we may never know exactly where the first tepache was brewed, Oaxaca is intrinsically linked to its history and traditions. As tepache gains worldwide popularity, Oaxaca’s special place in its story deserves to be honored and remembered.