What Is Tepache, and Is It Really As Healthy As Kombucha?
Hey, kombucha lovers! If you're looking for another probiotic drink to satisfy your cravings for bubbles, you might want to try tepache. The traditional Mexican drink is sweet, tart, and lightly fizzy, making it a delicious alternative to 'booch and a refreshing brew that's rich in flavor. Moreover, it can be made with fruit scraps, aka an eco-conscious foodie's dream. (Related: 9 Easy — and Delicious — Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste, According to a Chef)
Currently, there isn't a ton of scientific research on tepache specifically and, unfortunately, "many of the potential benefits of indigenous foods have yet to be studied," says Alice Figueroa, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Alice in Foodieland. "My philosophy is to be open to learning about diverse food traditions while being respectful to the indigenous communities that produce these delicious foods and beverages."
Ahead, learn about the potential health benefits of tepache, plus how to make an A+ tepache recipe at home.
What Is Tepache?
Tepache is a fermented, sparkling drink with roots in Central and Latin America, "particularly amongst indigenous communities and/or people with indigenous roots," explains Figueroa.
Considered a traditional Mexican beverage, tepache can be made with fermented corn and/or fruits, such as apples, pears, oranges, or guavas, although it's most commonly "flavored or made with pineapple, including the flesh and rind," according to Figueroa, who has Guatemalan ancestry and has studied Mexican cuisine as a natural food chef. You might be able to score tepache at your local supermarket such as Wegmans, but you're more likely to find it at a speciality grocery store or restaurant, notes Figueroa.
And while the fizziness and low ABV (~1 percent ABV) might remind you of kombucha, tepache — which can also be referred to as "chicha" — is un-caffeinated and fermented by microorganisms (i.e. yeast and bacteria) naturally found in the environment and on the fruits, explains Figueroa. Kombucha, on the other hand, requires a magical ingredient known as SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to transform the black or green tea into the probiotic-rich (caffeinated!) beverage stocking supermarket shelves. (Related: How to Make Kombucha at Home)
The nutrient profile of tepache can vary greatly depending on the ingredients, especially if it's homemade, and, unfortunately, there are few, if any, scientific reports on the beverage's nutritional value. But one thing's for sure: Tepache contains probiotics, which can promote digestive balance and overall health, says Figueroa. These microorganisms are naturally produced during fermentation — and, according to an article published in the Annals of Microbiology, tepache contains several types. This includes Lactobacillus, a group of bacteria commonly found in other fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut. (See also: Why You Should Add Fermented Foods to Your Diet)
The fruit used in tepache also offers a plethora of unique vitamins and minerals. For example, pineapple contains vitamins C, potassium, and calcium. Pineapple flesh and peel also contain bromelain, an enzyme with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, according to a review published in Biomedical Reports. Plus, bromelain is a protease, an enzyme that breaks down proteins into smaller compounds called peptides and amino acids, which allows your small intestine to absorb the nutrients efficiently, according to research published in the journal Foods.
Check out the nutritional profile of Tepachito Craft Pineapple Cider (Buy It, $2, instacart.com) for a general idea on nutrient break down. This bottled version is made with fermented pineapple juice extract, according to the brand's website. An 8-ounce serving contains:
- 110 calories
- 0 grams fat
- 28 grams carbohydrates
- 0 grams protein
As for DIY tepache? Every batch is different, but according to Figueroa, you can assume an 8-ounce serving of homemade tepache contains approximately:
- 69 calories
- 0 grams fat
- 17 grams carbohydrates
- 2 grams protein
Health Benefits of Tepache
While the specific benefits of tepache haven't been widely studied, we do know more about the health benefits of fermented foods in general, which could be applied to tepache as well, adds Figueroa. (Related: Well For Culture Is Giving Indigenous Wellness Practices the Recognition They Deserve)
Supports Healthy Digestion
A diet rich in probiotic foods and beverages, such as tepache, may help you have more regular bowel movements, says Figueroa. Your gut microbiome is a thriving community of hundreds of good and bad microorganisms, which, when in balance, can help properly regulate digestion along with nutrient absorption, immunity, and mental function — just to name a few). But if there are too many bad guys, these processes can be thrown for a loop and potentially slow down your system (think: constipation). Probiotics such as Lactobacillus — which is found in tepache — can restore that balance and help get, err, things back on track.
While the probiotics in tepache can help when you're feeling a little backed up, they might also lend a hand when dealing with the opposite: diarrhea. In general, probiotics have been found to help with diarrhea caused by infection and antibiotics, says registered dietitian Krista Linares, R.D.N., who has Mexican and Cuban ancestry. And while experts haven't specifically studied the anti-diarrheal effects of tepache, there's some evidence that L. plantarum — one of the Lactobacillus bacteria found in tepache — can ease diarrhea caused by an E. coli infection, according to a 2020 study, and diarrhea caused by antibiotics, according to a 2010 study. Simply put: probiotic foods and drinks may potentially ease infection-based and antibiotics-associated diarrhea by repopulating your guts with beneficial bacteria, says Linares. (Related: What Is a Gut-Healing Diet, Really?)
Improves Nutrient Absorption
Gut microbial dysbiosis (aka imbalance) can make it difficult for the gut to absorb nutrients, one of its main functions. However, Lactobacillus can reinstate the balance, thus increasing nutrient absorption, according to a review published in Current Gastroenterology Reports. What's more, Lactobacillus can also help break down complex carbs, to efficiently provide your cells with energy (glucose from carbs is the body's main source of fuel), according to another review published in Nutrients. This is especially important during exercise when your body needs an extra boost to power through. In fact, a 2020 study found that probiotic supplements enhance carbohydrate metabolism in cyclists, suggesting how probiotics can potentially maximize your carb intake. And while that doesn't necessarily mean tepache should be your new pre-workout drink, it highlights how probiotics may contribute to whole-body health.
May Reduce High Cholesterol
L. plantarum, a Lactobacillus strain found in tepache, may help control high cholesterol, a major risk factor for heart disease. A 2016 study found that L. plantarum reduces LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) in adults with high cholesterol and a 2017 study observed similar results, plus an increase in HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol).
Factors to Consider Before Trying Tepache
Like other fermented foods, tepache isn't for everyone. For starters, it's unpasteurized, which means it isn't heat-treated to destroy potentially harmful microorganisms. This presents a higher risk for foodborne illness, specifically for people who are immunocompromised, including those who have chronic and autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and cancer, says Linares. These individuals may have a harder time fighting off those potentially harmful pathogens. "Pregnant women also [have a] higher risk for foodborne illnesses and should avoid unpasteurized foods and drinks," she explains.
Tepache is also a sweetened drink (from both added and naturally-occurring sugars) so Figueroa recommends consuming the drink in moderation, especially if you're managing prediabetes or diabetes. The same goes for if you suffer from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), as "fizzy drinks such as tepache may cause a flare-up or excessive burping," she adds.
Some tepache brands use sugar substitutes, such as sugar alcohols (i.e. erythritol), which can trigger irritable bowel syndrome symptoms (think: gas, bloating, cramping) in some people, according to Figueroa. Ideally, you'll want tepache sweetened with piloncillo or panela, a type of unrefined cane sugar also known as Mexican brown sugar. This sweetener — which is typically used in tepache and chicha — is spiced with Mexican cinnamon and has a smokey caramel-like taste, explains Figueroa.
Be sure to consider the alcohol content of your tepache, too. "Traditional tepache, which is low in alcohol (~1 percent ABV), should be safe for the general population," notes Figueroa. But if you're taking prescription medication or currently pregnant, talk to your doctor first. There is also tepache liquor, such as Bittermens Tepache Pineapple Liqueur (Buy It, $40, drizly.com), which obviously has a higher ABV and should be treated like any other alcohol: avoiding drinking tepache liquor if you're pregnant and before driving, playing sports, or exercising. (Basically, drink it responsibly and safely.)
Figueroa recommends buying tepache from a Latinx chef or brewer who uses traditional brewing methods. You can do this by checking with your local Hispanic market or grocery for vendors in your area, says Linares.
How to Make and Drink Tepache
Can't find tepache or not fond of the options available? Take the DIY route and make homemade tepache. Tepache is traditionally made in large batches and fermented in clay pots, notes Figueroa, but you can also make smaller batches with other fermentation-safe containers such as a glass pitcher. To make authentic tepache, you'll need piloncillo — Try: Goya Panela Brown Sugar Cane (Buy It, $10 for 1 pound, amazon.com) — but you can also use brown or white sugar in a pinch.
Although making tepache requires time and patience, the process is easy — even if you're new to DIY fermentation. To brew tepache at home, try this variation of Figueroa's tasty family recipe:
Pineapple Tepache Recipe
Makes: 16 servings (8 ounces each)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 2 days, 30 minutes
- 1 gallon water
- 8 ounces piloncillo (or brown/white sugar)
- 1 to 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 2 to 3 whole cloves
- 2 to 3 whole allspice corns (optional)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 pounds organic pineapple/fruit scraps (or 1 whole pineapple)
- In a large 5-quart pot, combine water, piloncillo, ginger, and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently to make sure the piloncillo dissolves. Let cool until it reaches room temperature.
- If you're using scraps from a previously cut pineapple, skip to Step 3. Otherwise, slice the crown and bottom off of the pineapple while the spice-water is cooling. Stand the pineapple up on your cutting board, bottom side down. Trim the rind top to bottom, setting aside the scraps of the rind. Chop the pineapple flesh into large chunks and save the core.
- Transfer the spice-water to a clay pot or glass pitcher. Add pineapple flesh, rinds, and/or core.
- Cover the pot or pitcher with a dish towel or cheesecloth. (For wide-mouth Mason jars, Figueroa recommends Masontops Kombucha Lids — Buy It, $10 for 2 lids, amazon.com.) Store in a dark, room-temperature place (i.e. extra space in a cabinet or pantry) for 24 to 48 hours.
- You'll know the mixture has successfully fermented if it develops a white, frothy foam on top. Strain before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
- You can half or double the ingredients for a smaller or even larger batch of tepache.
- If you're using a pitcher or jar (instead of a clay pot), you can secure the cloth around the opening with a rubber band.
- Avoid completing sealing your pot or pitcher with its original lid. "If you seal it, the gases produced by the bacteria may cause the container to explode," explains Figueroa. Also, "airflow is needed for proper fermentation." The cloth allows for this while keeping out fruit flies.
Recipe courtesy of Alice Figueroa