Nothing should go to waste in a kitchen, ideally. One way to ensure this is through composting, so that the energy stored in food scraps returns to the earth, eventually contributing to our own well-being. But there are some delicious ways to repurpose food waste too.
One interesting method is to use the peels of pineapple to make tepache (teh-pah-chay), a delicious beverage with roots in the cultures of South America. Refreshing, slightly sweet and tangy, tepache is made by fermenting pineapple peels (poky brown bits and all) with sugar, cinnamon and clove.
Just throw them into a jar with some water for a few days and you have a fizzy, healthy alternative to the mass-produced ‘cool drinks’ commonly available, most of which are artificially sweetened and carbonated. Since this is a fermented drink, tepache is also a probiotic, contributing valuable bacteria to one’s gut flora. Plus, we do get a long season of pineapples in Kodaikanal.
For Mayans, tepache was a sacred drink, consumed in ceremonial settings. From Mely Martinez, a former Mexican school teacher who now runs her own food blog, I learned that it often includes aromatics like tamarind, banana peels and tobacco, depending on its intended use. In pre-Colombian Mexico, the Nahua people made a drink called tepatti, originally fermented from corn, to which pineapple was added as a sweetener.
The culture persists even today. Street vendors in Mexico still sell cups or bags of tepache, brewed in a massive wooden barrel called a tepachera. Despite its popularity in Mexican communities, tepache has maintained a largely underground culture. One reason for this is its short shelf life: pineapple peels are rich in a type of natural yeast that causes tepache to go from ‘tasty’ to ‘vinegary’ within a few days, so it needs to be consumed on time. If this happens to you, worry not! Over-fermented tepache can be used as a vinegar in marinades and salad dressings (it is excellent for pickling chillies too!).
The other reason for tepache’s relative unpopularity is its low alcohol content―well under 2%. More recently, tepache has been added to the niche probiotic drink market, which includes kombucha and ginger bug, other examples of naturally fizzy beverages.
Personally, I have been experimenting with fermentation for five years, dabbling with kvass, kimchi, kombucha, tepache, wines, lacto-ferments, yoghurts and sauerkraut. In Ganeshpuram (roughly 1000m above sea level), it takes me about three days to make tepache, but it might take longer in Kodaikanal, as fermentation takes longer at cooler temperatures. I love the drink for its zingy effervescence (fizziness) and its community value, the way it brings people together to enjoy its fleeting impermanence.
For me, making tepache is a way of connecting with the beautiful world of microbes―a means to develop an intimate relationship with the colonies of bacteria and fungi that are all around us. Best of all, I have a tasty drink at the end of it.
Basic Pineapple Tepache
- Glass jar
- Peels of 1 pineapple
- Piloncillo or jaggery – 150 gm
- Cinnamon – 1 stick
- Clove – 3 to 4 pieces
- Dried red chilli – 1 piece
- Water – 3.5 l
- Obtain a glass jar large enough to fit four litres of water. You can scale down the quantities and do this in a receptacle of any size, but preferably in glass vessels. Hard plastic sometimes works, but any metal is a strict no-no as it would leach into the brew.
- Wash the insides of the jar with soapy water, then rinse with boiling water and set aside.
- (Note: If using the same jar for consecutive batches of tepache, do not wash it. This ensures that some residual yeast will remain and contribute to brewing a faster, tastier and more potent batch!)
- Add the pineapple peels, jaggery, chilli, cinnamon and clove to the jar.
- Top up with unfiltered water that has been boiled and cooled.
- Mix thoroughly and cover with a cheesecloth. This creates the aerobic environment needed to activate the yeast in the peels; the cheesecloth ensures no fruit flies or other insects can get inside. Set aside for about two days.
- You might see a thin white layer on the surface after day one. Simply skim this off and return the cheesecloth covering.
- By the end of day two, you should see and hear a slight effervescence. The sweetening agent should have dissolved by now, leaving pulpy pineapple peel debris on the bottom and a clear yellow-brown liquid (depending on your jaggery/sugar). This means your tepache is ready to drink!
Due to its short fermentation time, tepache must be enjoyed immediately, and is best chilled. It will last a day or two at room temperature but can be stretched over a week if stored in the fridge.