When it comes to the world of mezcal, two terms often come up: maguey and agave.
These terms are used interchangeably in many contexts, but they have distinct meanings that are important to understand. But what exactly is the difference?
In this article, we will answer this question, explain the differences between maguey and agave and their relationship to each other, especially in the context of mezcal production.
👨🌾 What is Maguey?
Maguey is the common name used in Mexico for the succulent plant that is used to make mezcal.
The term “maguey” can be used to distinguish between different local variations of scientifically related plants.
For example, there are several sub-varietals of Agave karwinskii that grow in the community of Santa Catarina Minas, Oaxaca: Maguey marteño, san martinero, barril, largo, tobaziche, madrecuixe, and more.
Some of these names may be referring to the same agave plant, but different producers have their own slightly different name for them. Some of these other names are used by producers to describe slight differences in height, width, piña size and color, where the maguey was grown, etc.
🪴 What is Agave?
Agave, on the other hand, is the scientific name for the plant used to make mezcal.
The term “agave” is more commonly used outside of Mexico. There are many different agave species, and each one can produce a mezcal with a distinct flavor profile.
For example, Maguey espadin is an Agave angustifolia. While tequila can only be made from one type of agave (Agave tequilana weber, colloquially referred to as “Blue Agave”), mezcal can be made from any type of agave.
It’s commonly said that over 40 species are featured in different varieties of Mezcal. This more diverse use of agave, equals more diverse variation in flavor and aroma.
While some agave species are widely used for mezcal production, like Angustifolia, Karwinskii or Americana, others are more rarely used, for example Agave Salmiana or Montana.
🤝 The Relationship Between Maguey and Agave
In essence, all magueys are agaves, but not all agaves are magueys. The term “maguey” is used more broadly to refer to any plant in the Agave genus, while “agave” is used more specifically to refer to certain species within that genus.
Understanding the difference between maguey and agave is essential for anyone interested in the world of mezcal.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, they each have their own unique connotations and uses.
Whether you’re calling the mezcal you’re sipping espadín or Angustifolia, you’re participating in a tradition that stretches back centuries and celebrates the rich biodiversity of Mexico.