Why we decided to address the industry’s lack of transparency on the use of additives
If this title made you think, that’s normal. After all, 100% agave tequila traditionally consists of three components: cooked agave, water, and yeast (before aging). But increasingly, some producers are resorting to additives, or “abocantes” as they are called in the industry, not only to even out differences in flavor and color from one batch to another, but also to build their complete profile. One of the main reasons for this is the super efficient production methods which tend to produce high proof neutral alcohol (up to 87% abv). This vodka-like tequila must then be diluted (to 40% abv), leaving it without the signature characteristics we would look for in tequila, like the smell and taste of cooked agave.
(We talked about additives in detail before, and how they are allowed by law if they do not exceed 1% by volume, so you may want to consult this article if you need to.)
The increased use of additives worries us on several fronts. First of all, agaves are amazing plants that offer an incredible variety of aromas and flavors when their fermentable sugars are transformed into alcohol. So it seems like a shame to use these agaves to make a neutral spirit. (Why not just make vodka or grain alcohol?)
Additionally, agaves need at least five or six years to mature and produce the level of sugar required by traditional producers. Growers who use diffusers, thermal acid hydrolysis, yeast accelerators, and column stills (the super-efficient industrial method we referenced above) are able to extract more sugar from agaves than traditional methods, so the age of the agaves is not as important. for them. They will harvest them after three or four years, which disrupts the agave growth cycle for traditional producers. Indeed, immature agaves do not yet contain enough sugar for traditional production equipment to extract them.*
And because diffuser growers use an accelerated process with immature agaves, they often need additives to create a flavor profile. These additives generally do not smell/taste like cooked agave, although they may be labeled as “Agave Note #307560” or “Agave Note #208344”, for example. Our app users often describe these artificial flavors as “fake fruit,” “fake pine,” vanilla, cake batter, flowers, and gin-like botanicals. Additives for aged products typically consist of extra vanilla, caramel, and in more extreme cases, cake batter. Sometimes they also add sweeteners, like cane sugar, agave syrup, or high-intensity compounds similar to aspartame. Glycerin is used in all types of tequila to give the product a thicker mouthfeel and sometimes mask minor flaws.
Consumers who are not tequila fans often like these products because they do not have a “strong” taste and do not have a “burn.” And let’s face it: additive manufacturers know what we humans like and they design these fruity, vanilla, and sweet profiles to appeal to our tastes. Consumers who love these products are not to blame. After all, they usually don’t know that the tequila they’re drinking doesn’t taste like real, traditional tequila.
Take, for example, the recent popularity of “crystallinos” in Mexico, which is now gaining a foothold in the United States. Few drinkers of these products realize that to remove all of the color from an aged tequila**, almost all of the aromas and flavors are also removed. When filtering is this heavy, the only way to add flavor and aroma is to use additives.
And therein lies a larger problem:
What if the popularity and widespread marketing of industrialized products that rely on additives led consumers to believe that tequila should smell and taste like any other tequila? What happens to producers who still make traditional and natural products? Are we going to lose them?
We would also like to encourage greater recognition that tequila is a natural product, with terroir and seasonal changes in elements like agave, water, yeast, temperature and a myriad of other environmental factors which are part of the process. Tequila consumers should not expect every batch to be the same. The more we can get this message across, the more we will understand the role additives play.
The additives were initially permitted so that producers could meet an unrealistic expectation of “consistency,” an expectation that is not required for other natural products, such as wine. Today, they are used for a different reason: to build the complete profile of a product. This is why we believe that the use of additives should at least be disclosed on the label for what they are: added color, flavor, aroma and texture, even if they do not exceed the legal limit of 1 .0% by volume. Modern additives are incredibly concentrated, meaning a very small amount can do a lot of good. Simply put, that old 1% limit leaves enough room to make more than slight consistency adjustments.
Certainly, there is a place in the market for both industrial and traditional tequilas, but we believe consumers should know the difference and be able to choose for themselves.
We believe a move toward more detailed labeling and transparency is needed in the tequila industry. – and would help him. After all, there has been a larger movement among food companies to be more open and honest about what people eat and drink, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Tequila producers could do the same by changing NORMA, or official industry rules.
We are not against additives, nor against industrialized production techniques. (Both serve a legitimate purpose.) We’re not saying brands that use additives are doing anything wrong. We just think the industry simply needs to do a better job of labeling.
We’ve even heard from brands who wanted to be more transparent, but were prevented from doing so.
A tequila brand attempted to include the text “no additives” on its label, but this was rejected by US regulators. (Presumably because other brands without a label would be called into question.) Another tried to label his tequila as containing additives, but was refused by his distillery. So we know that some in the industry understand the importance of being honest with their consumers. So, while we wait for the rules to change, we want to help you.
This is why we decided to launch our additive-free confirmation program. You can read all about the processand the products already passed. But we wanted to take a moment to explain our own motivations, as tequila lovers and champions of legacy brands.
The use of additives is an important consideration among members of the Tequila Matchmaker community. This is why we felt it was important to confirm the “no additives” claim ourselves before applying this label to a product in our database. This is our processwe don’t claim it’s perfect, but it’s a good start that requires transparency from participating brands and distilleries.
We realize that our opinions on these matters are not as certain as the data and facts we usually strive to provide. We also realize that we’re going to take a little (or a lot) of heat for this program, but we’re ready. Our intentions are for the best, for the tequila we love and for the industry we are honored to be a part of.
-Scarlet and Grover
PS Do you want to join our movement? Share this story and encourage your friends to support transparency in tequila labeling.
*In traditional production processes, agave is steamed with fiber present. During cooking, the sugars then bind to the fibers. Extraction via tahona, roller mill or screw mill cannot extract 100% of these fermentable sugars because some remain stuck to the fibers. Diffusers, on the other hand, remove fibers before cooking and can therefore gain almost 100% efficiency during the extraction process. For this reason, they can use younger agaves that contain less sugar.
**There are exceptions where everything is unfiltered, but this is rare.