Tejuino is a very refreshing drink and the most typical of western Mexico. It is often prepared at home but also offered everywhere by street vendors in this region.
What is tejuino?
It is a fermented drink that is very simple to make, and whose flavor is similar to tamarind water, sweet and tart.
It consists of a corn dough (masa harina) mixed with water and piloncillo, a sugar that is very popular in Mexico, all brought to a boil. Lime is added before the beverage is fermented for 3 days. To serve, add a pinch of fleur de sel, lime and crushed ice.
Sugar, salt, acidity. You get a very thirst-quenching sweet-and-sour drink, which although not very sweet is very nourishing thanks to the corn.
Depending on the region, tejuino will also be topped with lime sorbet or a pinch of cinnamon, or even chili pepper.
What is the origin of tejuino?
The origin of tejuino is not very clear. Its consumption is widespread in the Mexican states of Colima, Jalisco, Nayarit and Michoacan, located to the west, and it extends even more today.
Tejuino is a very ancient drink that was made well before the arrival of the Spaniards, especially by the Nahuas, indigenous people who inhabited the north-west and the center of the country.
The word tejuino comes from the náhuatl word tecuín meaning “to beat” or “to throb” because this drink could, when it was too fermented, cause a euphoria accelerating the heart rate. Traditionally, these indigenous peoples used to drink it at parties, celebrations or ceremonies.
For example, atol is a hot and sweet Mexican drink, a type of corn grits or also pozol made from fermented corn and cocoa.
During the acid-lactic fermentation, microorganisms with probiotic properties (which have a positive effect on our intestinal flora) are created. Thus, these drinks were also consumed to regulate diarrhea or reduce the effects of excess alcohol.
For tejuino, as it is a short fermentation, it is light, which means that there is very little alcohol. This is what sets it apart from tesgüino, a maize beer made in indigenous communities in northwestern Mexico. Tesgüino is an alcoholic beverage because it is allowed to ferment for a very long time.
How to make tejuino?
To make tejuino, you need to us the same corn flour that is used to prepare tortillas. It is made by mixing water with masa harina or nixtamalized maize flour.
This flour is made with dried corn kernels, soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution such as lime water.
Nixtamalization is at the origin of the Mexican culinary culture. This is a very old process, invented by the Mesoamerican peoples who realized that cooking corn in a mixture of water and lime (or ashes) kept the masa longer.
Indeed, it allows to detach the outer part of the grain, called pericarp, which has the effect of slowing down the action of the enzymes responsible for rotting the dough. It also happens that this process makes their food more digestible and nutritious.
Masa harina thus has an improved nutritional value compared to standard corn meal, in particular by the addition of calcium, but also thanks to the reaction between lime and corn which creates amino acids and also allows the body to better absorb vitamin B13 during the digestion. This was very important for populations that only ate maize as it avoided the deficiencies responsible for pellagra.
Finally, it changes the taste by providing a slightly sour flavor characteristic of real Mexican corn tortillas.
Another essential ingredient to tejuino that gives it its color and a particular taste: the piloncillo.
Like me, you will probably recognize it better by calling it by one of these other names like rapadura or panela. In French, it is called vesou.
It can be found as a cone or unrefined brown sugar brick made of 100% sugar cane juice, cooked at high temperature to give a kind of molasses leaving a taste of honey and caramel in the mouth.
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Boil 16 cups of water and add the piloncillo.
Once boiling point is reached, mix well for 2 minutes. Set aside.
Mix the maize flour with 2 cups of water and add 12 cups of the boiling water. Continue adding more boiling water (up to 4 additional cups) until the mixture is slightly liquid.
Cook again on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the mixture gets a little thicker.
Let cool and add the juice of 3 limes.
Let stand for 3 days in a cool, dry place until it is fermented.
It is recommended to use a clay pot and cover it well with a cloth.
At the end of the 3 days, cut remaining lime in slices and mix with the tejuino.
Serve with crushed ice, a slice of lime. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.
Add a scoop of lime sorbet or shaved ice on top.
Once ready, tejuino will keep for a few days in the fridge.