Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 493–510

Early coconut distillation and the origins of mezcal and tequila spirits in west-central Mexico

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10722-007-9255-0

Cite this article as:
Zizumbo-Villarreal, D. & Colunga-GarcíaMarín, P. Genet Resour Crop Evol (2008) 55: 493. doi:10.1007/s10722-007-9255-0


No evidence exists of distillation in Mexico before European contact. The Philippine people in Colima established the practice in the 16th Century to produce coconut spirits. Botanical, toponymic, archaeological, and ethnohistoric data are presented indicating that agave distillation began in Colima, in the lower Armería-Ayuquila and Coahuayana-Tuxpan river basins, using Agave angustifolia Haw. and through adaptation of the Philippine coconut spirits distillation technique. Subsequent selection and cultivation of agaves led to their domestication and diversification. This did not take place in the lower river basins, where agave populations tended to disappear. The distillation technique spread to the foothills of Colima volcanoes and from there to all of western Mexico, leading to creation of tequila and other agave spirits. Two factors aided producers in avoiding strict Colonial prohibitions and were therefore key to the diffusion and persistence of agave spirits production: (1) clandestine fermentation in sealed, underground pits carved from bedrock, a native, pre-European contact technique; and (2) small, easy-to-use Philippine-type stills that could be hidden from authorities and allowed use of a broad range of agave species.


Agave angustifolia Cocos nucifera Diversification Domestication Genetic resources Mexico Mezcal Tequila 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Zizumbo-Villarreal
    • 1
  • Patricia Colunga-GarcíaMarín
    • 1
  1. 1.Unidad de Recursos NaturalesCentro de Investigación Científica de YucatánMéridaMéxico

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