Goes to Mexico for a week, comes home a mezcal expert …
So, alcohol is definitely a tricky topic. On one hand, we have studies telling us wine is great for the heart, beer can prevent prostate cancer, and women that drink wine daily have lower BMI’s than those who abstain. On the other, researchers have found that even 1 drink weekly can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime and one study even associates moderate drinking with an increased risk of all cause mortality (also know as the death rate from all causes of death for a population in a given time period – scary and non-specific for all of you non-scientists tuning in).
While it’s clear that drinking alcohol in excess leads to negative health consequences (and some embarrassing stories), the verdict is still out when it comes to how much alcohol is really safe to drink. Despite the lack of clarity on the risk / benefits of alcohol, most of my patients (I include myself in this category) still choose to enjoy the occasional alcoholic treat. Instead of ‘taking away’ your weekend wine ritual, or demonizing drinking, I’ve instead chosen to encourage you to drink responsibly, and to empower you all with the health benefits of my favourite boozy beverage … mezcal.
The name mezcal comes from the words metl + ixcalli, which translate to “cooked agave.” Mezcal, like tequila, is distilled from agave but while tequila must be specifically distilled from blue agave plant mezcal is made from any of the 150 agave species native to Mexico. While the possibilities for mezcal-making are essential endless, the overwhelming majority of mezcal is made from the espadín plant, which produces over 90% of all mezcals. To make mezcal the leaves of mature agave plants are stripped away, leaving only the heart of the plant which is then roasted over a wood fire for a few days. This roasting process is unique to mezcal and gives the drink it’s signature smoky flavour. Not only am I more partial to the smoky taste of mezcal, it also happens to be a ‘cleaner’ choice. Tequila is often adulterated with corn-based fillers while mezcal must be distilled from 100% agave making it an excellent choice for those of you with wheat, barley, rye or corn sensitivities.
Health Benefits of Mezcal
Due to some recent soul-searching + personal health issues I’ve made a conscious effort to seriously cut back on the amount of alcohol I drink. This past month I’ve limited myself to one drink weekly so you better believe that I’m breaking out the good stuff when I have the chance to indulge in my now infrequent alcoholic treat. In addition to lowering my alcohol frequency I’ve also been more conscious about the types of alcohol I drink, which is where mezcal enters the picture.
I fell madly deeply in love with mezcal on my latest trip to Mexico. It’s delicious in a margarita, you don’t need to drink much of it in order to get a happy little buzz (she’s potent), and drinking mezcal almost always leads to a memorable night. There are also some actual health benefits from switching to mezcal over other types of alcohol. Mezcal contains compounds called agavins which research shows can actually help to lower blood sugar levels and curb appetite. This makes it an excellent drink choice through the holidays when you’ll undoubtedly be eating a few extra sugary Christmas treats. In my quest to prove that mezcal was actually good for me I even came across an interesting little mouse study in which consumption of agains led to accelerated weight loss in mice due to favourable changes in their gut microbiota. While we’re not technically mice (mouse may or may not have been a nickname of mine in high school) the mouse has many similarities to humans in terms of anatomy, physiology and genetics so it’s not a huge stretch to assume that similar benefits would be seen in people.
I also ‘prescribe’ mezcal to patients with multiple food sensitivities who are attempting to stick with their customized elimination diets through the holidays. While rye, corn, potato, wheat and barley are gut irritants and common food sensitivities I’ve yet to see a patient react negatively to agave making mezcal a safer choice for patients with celiac disease or food sensitivities. Just make sure to check the label to make sure your mezcal is made from 100% pure agave. Mezcal’s labels as ‘mixtos’ are typically made up of 80% agave + 20% added cane sugar.
This Doctor’s Favourite Mezcals
The best mezcal comes from a label-less 2L plastic bottle and is served by the ocean in Mexico accompanied by fried crickets and incredible women. When these drinking conditions are not possible you can still find a few great mezcal options at your local liquor store. Here are this doctor’s current favourites available at most LCBO locations:
- Leyenda Tlacuache Organic Mezcal – One of the smokier options we’ve tried, this one comes closest to the homemade mezcals I drank in Mexico.
- Yuu Baal Joven Madrecuixe Mezcal – By far the most expensive mezcal that we currently keep in our home bar, this treat is reserved for special occasions and has a subtle herbal flavour.
- Mezcal Amores Verde Momento – Our go-to for homemade mezcal margaritas, or for sipping out of copitas while reading cook books.