I have to preface this post with – I am neither scientest nor doctor. I use my kitchen as a science lab and have yet to die or blow anything up, so I think things are going well, but if you’re not comfortable fermenting at home please feel free to reach out to a professional for all the scientific know-how.
I recently caught an episode (after episode, after episode) of It’s Alive! from Bon Appetit’s Brad Leone (and Vin, of course) where he was demo’ing how to make Tepache, a fermented and lightly carbonated drink made from the juice and rind of pineapple. It sounded refreshing and light, and a great alternative to an alcoholic beverage (though it does contain trace amounts of alcohol the same way Kombucha does). Plus, it meant I could get into a new fermentation experiment and dangit if I don’t love having a scientific project to babysit (because a 2.5 year old, apparently, is not enough).
Tepache dates back to pre-Coloumbian Mexico where it became a popular drink among the Nahua people of Central Mexico. It translates roughly, in the náhuatl language, to “drink made from corn” as maize originally made up the base for the fermented beverage, making it more of a beer than a wine, which is made from fruit. Also not to be confused with Tejuino which is a thick, stodgy brew made from fermented corn, generally sold by street vendors in Mexico. More modern tepache recipes use pineapple, giving it a tart and fruity flavour that makes an incredible base for beer shandys or, as I made here, margaritas! Yes, I realize that adding tequila completely negates my idea of using it as an alternative to alcoholic drinks… whatever, man.
The two most important ingredients in Tepache are (you guessed it!) pineapple and piloncillo, a cone-shaped unrefined cane sugar made from the boiling and evaporating of sugarcane juice and typical of Mexico, Central and Latin America. It’s flavour is more smoky, caramelly and earthy than brown sugar, so while I mention it’s possible to substitute in the recipe below, it won’t be the same as if you take a bit of time to seek out the piloncillo at your Mexican or Latin market. And if you do head there, be sure to give yourself some time to really explore the aisles (dried chilies! hominy! chicharron! spices!).
The recipe I’m sharing today is a bit of a venture from the authetic tepache you’ll find street vendors selling in Mexico. I’ve always loved the way pineapple and vanilla play together, so I decided to add half a bean to one batch and none to the other. Let’s get this straight – they were both delicious. I liked the more authentic one for sipping on it’s own, but for the boozy margaritas made with aged tequila I really loved the addition of vanilla bean. It made it taste almost creamy and luscious against the tart, earthiness of the tepache. If you’re thinking “ew, gross. I hate vanilla”, then by all means feel free to make the recipe without it (but also, wtf – who doesn’t like vanilla?). Also optional is the habanero pepper, but I loved how zippy and warming this made the drink along with the ginger which tends to hit you in the back of the throat and linger a little like a spicy hug. Because this is a fermented drink, it’s contains probiotics and is great for maintaining a healthy gut flora… just in case you need another reason to make up a batch.
- FOR THE TEPACHE
- 1 large very ripe pineapple, unwashed
- 10 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks, smashed
- ½ vanilla bean, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2" chunk of ginger, rough chopped
- 1 habanero pepper (optional), sliced in half
- 2 piloncillo or 2 cups brown sugar, divided
- Special Equipment: 2 litre glass vessel, muddler, cheesecloth
- FOR THE MARGARITA
- 4 oz aged tequila
- 1 oz orange liquer
- Juice from 3 limes, extra for garnish
- ½ oz agave nectar
- 1 cup Vanilla Bean Tepache
- crushed ice
- flaky sea salt, optional
- FOR THE TEPACHE
- Carefully cut the rind off your pineapple and set aside, DO NOT discard.
- Cut the pineapple into manageable chunks and place in the food processor or blender and process until it's all broken down into pineapple puree.
- Dump into your 2 litre glass jug along with the pineapple rind, cut into chunks, cloves, vanilla, ginger and habanero (if using).
- Use the muddler or a large wooden spoon to smash and smoosh everything together.
- Grate in one of the piloncillo or add 1 cup of brown sugar. Keep in mind the fementation will eat a lot of the sugar, so it may seem heavy at this point but it won't be sickly sweet in the end.
- Top off with 6 cups cool water or enough to fill the 2 litre jar up to an inch under the top.
- Cover with a clean towel secured with an elastic band to keep debris from falling in.
- Set on the counter at room temperature for 3-4 days.
- After 3-4 days, you should notice tiny bubbles and an earthy, sour smell.
- Strain liquid into a cheesecloth-lined seive.
- Squeeze the solids to release any extra liquid.
- If there are still some solids, strain again.
- Re-cover with a clean towel and place in the fridge for another 3 days.
- Once the second ferment is done, it's ready to serve.
- Pour over ice and enjoy as is or keep reading for the Tepache Margarita
- It will keep in the fridge in a pitcher for up to 5 days.
- FOR THE MARGARITA
- Pour a few tablespoons of flaky sea salt on a small plate. Run a sliced lime around the rim of 2 short glasses and press the rims of the glasses into the flaky sea salt. Fill each glass with some crushed ice.
- In a large jar or pitcher, shake the tequila, orange liquer, lime juice and agave nectar.
- Pour into the prepared glasses and top with the tepache. Enjoy!