My husband and I love good wine and good beer, but we also love various fermented drinks that I make at home. In summer, tepache is my favorite. It’s a traditional Mexican drink which, as I make it, is light, barely sweet, and contains at most 0.5-1% alcohol, probably less. It’s great for drinking with grilled dinners on the patio. I treat myself to fresh pineapple regularly during the summer, and making tepache uses up the rind and scraps and prevents waste.
I have a great interest in natural fermentations, from sourdough bread to tepache. If you share my enthusiasm, you’ll want to read Sandor Katz’s weird and fascinating book Wild Fermentation. But you don’t need his book or any technical knowledge of fermentation to make this drink. Fermentation has been happening for millions of years, and it will happen in your fermenting jar without much input from you.
I love to use agave nectar as a sweetening agent, and because of its low glycemic index I think it’s healthier than most sweeteners. It’s available at La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque, and it’s showing up in ordinary grocery stores everywhere.
Clich here for the recipe!
To make 3/4 of a gallon, start with one organic pineapple (you will only use the rind and core), a cup and a half of agave nectar, a single whole nutmeg, and a large clean fermentation container. I use a 2 gallon jar simply because I own one, but a gallon jar is fine, or you can make it in a glass mixing bowl. Don’t use a bottle or other narrow-mouthed container.
Wash the pineapple but don’t use any vegetable soap or other unusual cleaning agent. Just get any dust off. Cut the leaves off the top. Cut off the leafless top and bottom rind and reserve. Pare off the rind of the pineapple, making sure to cut deep enough to get the “eyes.” Put eight cups of cold water into your fermentation jar. Stir the agave nectar into one quart of tap-hot water to dissolve it, then stir the solution into the cold water in your jar for a total of twelve cups of water. The whole jarful should now be fairly cool. Make sure it’s no warmer than room temperature, so that you don’t harm the natural yeasts on the pineapple. Crush the nutmeg in a mortar and pestle, and stir in. Now add the rind, top, and bottom of the pineapple and stir well. Add a cup of your last batch of tepache if you have any, but if you don’t, don’t worry. It will be fine. Adding a cup of beer is often recommended by online sources, but isn’t needed for fermentation and, in my opinion, harms the flavor. Cover the mouth of the jar with a clean dish towel held on with a rubber band. You will get fruit flies in your brew if you omit the rubber band. If using a mixing bowl, cover it with a dish towel tied on tightly with string.
Now set it aside for three days, out of direct sunlight. Stir it once a day if you think about it. I often forget, and it ferments lustily anyway. At the end of three days you should see a few islands of bubbles when you look in the top. At this point, strain it into containers that will fit in your refrigerator. It’s going to build up a little carbonation, so use canning jars with tight lids or bottles that previously held a carbonated beverage and have good tight lids. Garden-variety jars may break from the internal pressure. Leave the containers at room temp for another 24 hours, then taste. It won’t taste great, since it isn’t chilled, but see if the sweetness suits you. If so, the containers go in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 5-6 days. If it seems too sweet, open each container to release the pressure, then close tightly and let sit another 24 hours at room temp. If tart enough to suit you, chill it. I like to leave it in the refrigerator for a week to settle but I may start drinking it as soon as it’s chilled if I’ve finished the last batch.
If you want to make a more alcoholic beverage, when you first strain the fluid off the pineapple, bottle it in bottles intended for beer and cap them appropriately, then let sit 3-4 days at room temp before refrigerating. . I have to say that I wouldn’t bother. If you want something that has all the effects of beer, brew beer instead.
In a week, start drinking your tepache. If you like it and continue making it, you may want to try the traditional seasoning, using piloncillo for the sugar and stick cinnamon (specifically the Mexican cinnamon, canela, rather that the more common cassia cinnamon) for the spice. I like nutmeg better with pineapple, so I stick to my nontraditional brew.
As far as possible health benefits of fermented foods, you’ll have to look at the evidence and make your own decision about that. Personally, I don’t need any more reason than the delicious range of flavors to drink fermented drinks.
If you don’t want to make your own, there’s a local man who will do it for you. His name is Gadiel and he can be found at My Tepache. He doesn’t sell in Albuquerque stores, but if you contact him he will make delivery arrangements in the Albuquerque area. His tepache is a good bit sweeter than mine, is sweetened with honey, and is traditionally spiced with cinnamon.