Tree in blue agave field in the tequila producing region near Atotonilco, Jalisco, Mexico
© Brian Overcast/Alam
This blue succulent is as good as gold here. Cinco de Mayo
Many celebrations of Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, owe a debt to these rolling fields of blue agave, or agave azul, the source material required to make genuine tequila. The distilled spirit is to Mexico what Scotch whisky is to Scotland and sake to Japan. Tequila is also the base ingredient in the beloved margarita cocktail certain to be served in abundance today.
Blue agave is native to Jalisco, a coastal state of Mexico, where it grows head-high in the rich sandy soils of Jalisco’s highlands. Its flowers are pollinated, not by bees or birds, but by the Mexican long-nosed bat, adding to this succulent’s mystique. The bat’s favourite food is the pollen and nectar of agave. Tequila is made by roasting the heart of the plant and then crushing or squeezing it to release a sugary, clear liquid called aguamiel, which translates to honey water. That liquid is distilled to produce tequila. Authentic tequila, by law, can be made only in Jalisco and a few municipalities outside it, and its authenticity is protected by trade agreements.
Tequila’s association with Cinco de Mayo in the US probably owes to the fact that Americans observe the day with an upbeat celebration of Mexican culture in general. Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually on September 16. In Mexico, the holiday commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French Empire in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Whatever side of the border you’re on today, if you toast the table with a glass of tequila, take a moment to remember the azure fields where it all started.