This Is What Tequila Is Actually Made From

In the same way that Scotland is known for its whiskey and Jamaica is synonymous with rum, Mexico has a reputation for tequila, a distilled spirit enjoyed around the world often in a margarita or with salt and a lime slice. The United States is the world's largest consumer of the beverage, and more than 171 million liters were imported in 2017 (via Bloomberg). 

Americans beat out other countries by a wide margin, with Spain being the world's second-biggest consumer at a relatively meager 5 million liters. Similar to champagne or bourbon (names which can legally only be used on the label if the beverage was produced in a certain part of France or Kentucky, respectively), tequila is also a legally protected term. It can only be used if the liquor was produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco, or in certain parts of the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas (via Consejo Regulator de Tequila). Tequila is typically 80 proof (which means it contains 40 percent alcohol) and can only be produced using one very specific ingredient.

The necessary ingredient in tequila

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, a member of the succulent family, native to Mexico (via World of Succulents). The plant grows particularly well in dry soil at an altitude of 5,000 feet or higher and is pollinated by bats (via Plants for a Future). 

People who harvest agave are known as jimadors and they are considered specialists in their field who pass down agave knowledge through the generations (via In Search of the Blue Agave). The tequila-making process begins with the core or piña of the plant, which is revealed when the agave's spiky leaves are stripped away by the jimadors

The core of the plant is referred to as the piña (pineapple in Spanish) because it resembles a huge pineapple. Each piña can weigh between 80 and 300 pounds (via Izkali Tequila). The piñas are juiced by first heating and then crushing them, and the liquid that is extracted is fermented and distilled to become tequila (via Huffington Post). To produce one liter of tequila, around 15 pounds of piña is used.