Drink Like an Aztec

Most of my recent trip to Mexico City was spent researching (i.e., drinking) pulque, an ancient alcoholic beverage made of fermented cactus sap. The resulting article was just published in The Daily.

Pineapple pulque at Las Duelistas in downtown Mexico City. Photo by Beto Adame for The Daily.

Pulque is not a drink for the faint of heart. Once used by the Aztecs as a ceremonial beverage, it is made from the fermented sap of the maguey cactus and has a thick, silky texture reminiscent of an alcoholic lassi and a raw flavor that epitomizes the phrase “acquired taste.” Often blended with sugar and various kinds of fruits or vegetables to make flavored “curados,” pulque combines the probiotic kick of kombucha with an intoxicating effect that can feel mildly hallucinogenic. One friend described his first sip as “unsettling.” Another lost the feeling in his fingertips after downing a mug-full.

Read the full story here.

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Instituto de Biología, UNAM, Mexico City

Posting has been slow because I recently went back to Mexico City for a visit. Most of my time was spent researching (i.e., drinking) the ancient and unsettling alcoholic beverage called pulque for an upcoming article, but I started off my trip with a visit to a few labs at the Biology Institute at the UNAM, the public university of 250,000 students where I spent the last two years studying comparative literature.

Biology is perhaps the science I am least familiar with; years spent running around physics labs can sadly sort of make you forget about the life sciences. High energy physics, particularly, operates simultaneously at two scales that seem pretty removed from life on Earth: the very small (quarks, neutrinos) and the very large (black holes, the origins of the universe). I was delighted and a bit surprised to see a similar conflation of disparate scales in the Biology Institute labs I visited. By studying the genetics of specific animal populations, my tour guides Noemi Matías Ferrer, a graduate student in biological sciences working on her Ph.D., and Patricia Rosas Escobar, a staff biologist originally from Baja California, are able to learn about entire ecosystems, humans’ effect on the environment, and life on our planet more generally.

Some of the chemical buffers Paty and Noemi use to extract DNA from their samples. Paty is in the background.

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