We see you, $5 Kombucha bottle, and we raise you a huge, oversized Styrofoam cup filled to the brim with ice and thick, tart, and salty tejuino. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about traditional beverages in Mexican food culture, but fermented drinks do exist and they are extremely refreshing. Not to mention, it makes all of those tacos de whatever go down way easier thanks to its probiotic qualities.
Exhibit A is the aforementioned mighty tejuino. It is essentially a fermented masa shake made from the same delicious corn putty that one uses to make tortillas, except it is boiled with water, sweetened with piloncillo (Mexican-style unrefined brown sugar), left out to ferment for up to two weeks, then drank over ice with an unforgiving amount of fresh lime juice and a fat pinch full of chunky rock salt. As unique as this mixture may sound, when everything is properly swirled and combined, it just hits the spot, especially on a really hot day. The texture is like an extra viscous horchata. It can be found on street corners around Los Angeles—particularly Boyle Heights—by way of street vendors who hawk it during daytime hours.
Exhibit B is tepache, a dark-brown, fizzy beverage made from fermenting pineapple rinds, spices, with—you guessed it!—piloncillo again. This one is clearer in color and just served over ice. Recently, it has been enjoying a ride in cocktails thanks to some Mexican-American bartenders who are experimenting with the formula and using different mezcal, tequila, and even things like chartreuse.
To answer the question behind everyone’s mind while reading this, yes, there may be just a little bit of residual alcohol after fermenting it. But it shouldn’t be higher than just a few degrees, so you can’t really get drunk off it. Unless you add a little bit of beer to either of them like they do to Tejuino in the town of Tequila, Jalisco. Which, by the way, makes it a lot more refreshing and a perfect drink for a sunny day.