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A Few Things Learned in the Agave Fields in Mexico

On my recent trip with the Tahona Society, we visited took ATVs into the agave fields and "helped" harvest some agave. 


There, Olmeca Altos tequila Master Distiller Jesus Hernandez filled me in on some details about agave I didn't know, so I thought I'd share them:

  • The quiote, the giant asparagus-shaped sprout that shoots up from a mature agave plant in order to spread its seed, only comes from the female plant. This is nearly always cut soon after sprouting so that it doesn't drain energy from the agave heart.
  • After the quiote sprouts, you have a year and a few months to harvest the plant - it can go through one rainy season after sprouting but not two.
  • Only the male plants that do not sprout quiotes have a cogollo, a dense circle of leaves where the quiote would have been. Most quality producers make sure to cut out the cogollo when harvesting or before baking the agave, as this negatively impacts the flavor of tequila.
  • Agave can be harvested year-round but they tend to harvest less/none in the rainy season. This isn't because the agave are waterlogged and therefore have a lower sugar-to-weight ratio, as Hernandez says that mature plants aren't effected so much by this, but because logistically it's hard to get the trucks in  and out of the muddy fields to collect the heavy agave after harvest. 
  • Sometimes you'll see an agave field with the tips of all the spiky leaves cut off. Hernandez says that some producers think that this helps the heart of the agave grow stronger, but he doesn't believe this is true. However, he says it is common to cut off the tips of the leaves when they come through annually to apply pesticides and herbicides, just so that they can get through the dense rows of agave without getting cut on the leaves.
  • The leaves of the agave plants grow and die annually and new ones grow above them, much like how a palm tree grows with rows of dead leaves left lower down. I always thought they were the same leaves just growing bigger each year!
  • They apply pesticides and herbicides annually up until the year before harvest, as they don't want any of that residue around for harvest. 
  • At the base of agave plants sprout rhyzomes, little baby agaves called hijuelos. These are cut and replanted after the mother agave plant is 3-4 years old.

I also learned something from Guillermo Sauza, distiller/owner of Fortaleza Tequila. 

  • You can get huge agave hearts in the Lowlands, you just have to fertilize the fields. Sauza says that people don't usually do that in the area anymore since the current prices are so low for agave. 



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Sanjit Keskar

Good information and useful to me

From your article above both male and female agave sprout quiotes and males that do not exhibit a cogollo

How does one differentiate a male agave from a female agave

Why does the phenomenon of a male plant not sporting a quiote happen?

Camper English

Hello - I think I see where the confusion arises, and I think it's because I was unclear in my writing. I believe what I meant to write was "Only the male plants, WHICH do not sprout quiotes, have a cogollo."

In other words I think I was saying (this was 5 years ago) was that females have quiotes and males have cogollos. However due to the time passed I am not sure of this, and recommend that you find another source to verify it.

If you find one please comment again! Apologies for the confusion.


From when the blue agave is 3 years old it clones rhizomatic offshoots (baby agaves) known as hijuelos (or pups) or matecuates which are typically harvested after around a year of growing around the parent. These are dried , cleaned of and dead leaves and taken by the avagero to be transplanted in neat (spaced out) rows in the fields where they will prosper and grow into mature agaves attempting to sexually reproduce by growing a quiote (flowering stalk) when they approach maturity (or botanical puberty). Hijuelos produced after an agave is around 6 years are not transplanted as they are considered to weak (parent is not as virile for asexual reproduction) for replanting. Anyways hijuelos whether replanted or not are cleared away as they use nourishment from the parent which needs to be avoided for healthier development of the adult (parent)

This is what i gather from my email queries answered and a few forum conversations

Regarding male and female, i would think the words should be used with inverted commas as 'males' and 'female' agaves since technically they cannot be male and female (in the biological sense) as agaves are monecious in nature (male and female parts exist on the flowers) so i believe, the reference to males is a local and colloquial way of expressing mature agaves that have not sprouted the quite and female for those that have sprouted the quiote and had it castrated (to conserve the sap). Eventually, all agaves will sprout the quiote if not harvested. The jimadore will decide on harvesting the heart based on the sugar level reading taken by field refractometers and the visual appearance of the agave (reddish brown when mature).

This is just the way i understand these issues after extensive and i hope productive reading

Camper English

@Sajnit - Interesting, thank you!

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