There is a vast variety of Mexican non-alcoholic beverages that feature sweet & sour, or sweet, sour & spicy flavours. Many of them are frozen, served on ice, or topped with a scoop of sorbet to make them even more refreshing. During my recent trips to Mexico, I saw several, either listed on restaurant menus or displayed on sample tables, and I even tried a couple of them:
In my previous post, I mentioned two others, which are very representative of Guadalajara, the capital city of the state of Jalisco. A Rusa (Russian), which is a mix of lime juice and grapefruit soda, with a sprinkle of sea salt and spicy sauce, to taste, served with plenty of ice. The second one is called tejuino, which is a corn-dough-based beverage, with additions of piloncillo (see *note below), lime juice, and water, left to ferment for a couple of days to obtain a tangy flavour. This base is then mixed with sea salt, and more lime juice and water. The word tejuino comes from the Nahuatl tecuini – heart beating or pounding, because of its energizing properties. The sugar and starch content in the beverage provide energy, but during the fermentation process, some organic compounds are formed as well, such as lactic, malic and acetic acids, which allegedly clinch the beneficial effects of the beverage with their probiotic properties. Even though categoric claims of probiotic benefits are now generally extinct due to lack of definitive results and trials, there are many anecdotic endorsements of tejuino as a remedy for digestive discomfort and hangovers. Furthermore, the pleasant sugary taste of the piloncillo is also enhanced by the natural partial hydrolyzation of starches during fermentation, although any resulting amounts of alcohol have been measured as almost negligible.
I had the chance to try tejuino from a street stand, with a scoop of lime sorbet, the Guadalajara way, “100% tapatío”:
I was intrigued about preparing this beverage at home, to see whether it would be hard to reproduce the mild fermentation process. Since I have no access to fresh corn dough in Canada, I started with dry corn flour (used for tortillas, also called nixtamalized corn flour, maize flour or masa harina.)
½ cone piloncillo (or ½ cup dark brown sugar, such as muscovado or dark demerara)
½ cup nixtamalized corn flour (aka masa harina, such as Bob’s Red Mill™)
3 ½ cups water
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Limes (for juice)
Lime sorbet; optional (for Guadalajara style)
Mexican chili powder (such as Tajín™, see **Note); optional
My favourite brand of corn flour is Bob’s Red Mill™:
Add 1/2 cup of corn flour to 2 cups of cold water, and mix with a beater or a fork, to break up any clumps and form a smooth slurry; reserve.
* Note: Piloncillo is the name used in Mexico and Spain for an unrefined sweetener, produced by the reduction of whole sugar cane juice, often molded in the shape of truncated cones, or pylons (see photo below, left). In other countries in Latin America, this product may be formed into other shapes or sold granulated, known by different names, such as: panela (for example, in Venezuela and Ecuador), chancaca (in Perú, Bolivia and Chile) or rapadura (Brazil); to some, the names jaggery or “Uluru Dust” are related to similar sugar cane products. If not available, muscovado and Sucanat™ are also unrefined sugars, and I have found that dark demerara (photo below, right) has a similar flavour to piloncillo, although it is partially refined:
One regular cone is about 1 cup, so for this recipe, I chose to use 1/2 cup of dark demerara (breaking a cone of piloncillo in half proved too hard to do for me.) Place 1 1/2 cups of water in a pan and bring to boil over high heat; add piloncillo (or sugar) and stir until it dissolves completely:
Reduce heat to medium and slowly pour reserved corn slurry (photo below, left); continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking to the bottom, until the mix thickens (photo below, right):
Pour into a ceramic container, preferably clay; I did not have a clay pot, so I divided into two clay mugs (photo below, left). Let cool for a few minutes, then add lime juice and mix thoroughly (I added half to each mug, photo below, right):
Cover with a double layer of cheesecloth, securing with string or a rubber band:
Place in a dark and cool spot; leave undisturbed for at least two days, and up to four.
After the fermentation period, the mix has coagulated (photo below, left); it should also have acquired a sweet and slightly alcoholic scent. This tejuino base may be kept in a container with lid, in the fridge, for a couple of days; this batch made about 3 cups. To prepare one large beverage, dilute 1 cup of base in 1/2 cup of cold water (photo below, right):
Place plenty of ice cubes, the juice from 1 lime, and a generous pinch of sea salt in a cocktail mixer or a large bottle with lid (I had a Mason jar):
Add diluted tejuino mix (photo below, left); Close container and shake vigorously for a few seconds (photo below, right, after shaking):
Transfer to a serving cup:
Another way to enjoy tejuino is by coating the rim of the serving cup with Tajín™ Mexican seasoning, and sprinkling more into the cup:
Or as I tried in Guadalajara, with a generous scoop of lime sorbet:
I have rarely tried preparing fermented beverages at home, but this was very easy and resulted in an amazingly refreshing product; I found a whole two-cup serving to be too much for me, so it was nice to share it with my family.
If you like kombucha, this recipe will probably be pleasant as it is, but otherwise, further diluting the base, more lime sorbet, or adding a hint of agave syrup or honey might make the prepared beverage more palatable.
Finding lime sorbet at the supermarket (or any flavour, for that matter) was an impossible task, so I had to make my own; I wonder if it is a seasonal product, or people just do not consume sorbet in Canada anymore. In my next post, I will be sharing this story with recipes.
** Note: As I have mentioned a couple of times before, “chili powder” in the USA is often a blend of powdered dried hot peppers and spices, usually to season ground beef stews so, for sprinkling over Mexican dishes and beverages, I prefer to either use plain powdered dried peppers (such as cayenne) with salt, or a Mexican prepared mix, like Tajín™ Classic: