Most Americans over the age of 21 have been in the presence of both tequila and vodka. Whether or not they decided to try the spirits is another question. These are two of the most popular spirits in the country and we thought it might be useful to discuss their many interesting qualities.
So what’s the difference between vodka and tequila? Both vodka and tequila are clear spirits that average 40% ABV but that is where the similarities end. Traditionally, vodka was made from potatoes, but it can also be made with cereal grains. Plain vodka tastes flavorless, so it’s common to find flavored vodka at the store. Tequila is only produced in Mexico and is made from the blue agave plant. It has a pungent earthy flavor and tastes somewhat sweet.
In this article, we’ll analyze all these differences and more, all the while encouraging you to remember to always drink responsibly if you choose to enjoy any of the delicious cocktails mentioned.
Types of Spirits: Vodka and Tequila
In order for alcohol to be classified as a spirit, it must be distilled and have at least 20% Alcohol By Volume (ABV), though the average for a spirit is usually around 40%.
There are 6 main types of spirits that you’ll see over and over again in cocktail ingredients and shelves of liquor stores: Vodka, Whisky, Rum, Tequila, Brandy, and Gin.
Two of those ever-popular spirits are Vodka and Tequila, which we’ll be discussing in-depth in this article.
What is Vodka?
Vodka is a clear water spirit that has been America’s best-selling spirit for many years, despite originating from Russia and Poland.
What is vodka made from? Funny as it may sound, vodka was originally made from potatoes, though these days it’s more commonly made from cereal grains like rye or wheat. You can also find popular brands that use corn, rice, fruits, or even just straight sugar.
So how is vodka made? The grain or starch is first fermented with yeast, producing a liquid that is about 16% alcohol content.
That’s not high enough for a spirit, so it goes through a distillation process next which boils the liquid in a still, separating the alcohol from the water until it’s at a more appropriate 80 proof.
The first vodka distillery to open in the US was Smirnoff, still one of the reigning favorite brands.
Our favorite fun fact about vodka is that the original Slavic translation means “water of life.“
What is Tequila?
Tequila is a rather exclusive spirit, meaning that it is only produced in Mexico and, even inside Mexico, it can only be produced in 5 very exclusive regions of the country.
The vast majority of all tequila available throughout the world is made in Jalisco, Mexico. Mexico holds the right to name a product tequila, so if it’s made anywhere else, it’s not tequila.
What is tequila made out of that supports such exclusivity? Because tequila must contain at least 51% Blue Agave, also known as the Tequila Agave, which is native to Jalisco, Mexico. These spiky plants are often called cacti, but they’re actually giant-sized succulents.
They’re notoriously difficult to grow because they need perfect desert conditions and approximately 8 years to mature.
From this point, only the heart is used for the making of tequila. Similar to the heart of palm, this will kill the plant, so it can only be used once.
Once the heart is harvested, it is steamed and crushed, sometimes using donkey-power, and then distilled.
If a spirit is made from more than 51% Blue Agave anywhere else in the world, it is called a Mezcal.
Vodka Vs Tequila – The Differences
You now the major difference between vodka and tequila is what each spirit is made from, but after it goes through a distilling process, there are many major differences to account for, which we’ll take a look at now.
Tequila Vs Vodka: Health
Before you start indulging at your next social event or even snuggled up in isolation with your significant other and/or furred companion, you might want to know whether your drink of choice is going to hurt your health or substantially add to your waistline.
Pure tequila, made from 100% blue agave, is surprisingly low in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories. When it comes to alcohol, that makes for a good start.
Many sites on the internet would have you believe that tequila is diabetic-friendly, good for your bones, and a strategic part of any weight loss plan. Don’t believe those sites.
There is precious little research connecting any of these health benefits to the agave plant itself, beyond the positive benefits of removing processed white sugar from your diet.
Beyond the lack of scientific evidence, the potential benefits would evaporate along with the water in the distilling process.
Even worse, because all alcohol is processed exclusively by your liver, drinking any spirit can cause your blood sugar to drop and turn off your body’s fat-burning potential.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that most tequila, especially the reasonably priced bottles, is not 100% pure agave.
And if you’re drinking your tequila as a cocktail, you’ll also have to consider the health impacts of your mix.
Tequila itself is a decent, low-sugar option when it comes to alcoholic beverages, but it’s not a health drink.
Vodka Health Facts
Similar to tequila and other distilled spirits, vodka essentially has no nutritional value whatsoever.
This means it won’t add much by the way of calories, carbs, or sugar to your diet, but it won’t add any vitamins, minerals or antioxidants either.
All the same concerns from tequila apply to vodka.
It’s a low-sugar, low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beverage, but you need to beware of what it’s mixed with and the potentially harmful health consequences of drinking alcohol in any form. There are no real benefits to drinking vodka.
Vodka Vs Tequila: Calories
A general rule to keep in mind with spirits is the higher the ABV %, the higher the calories will be.
We’re used to thinking of calories in terms of carbohydrates and protein, which each have 4 calories per gram, and fat, which has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol is it’s own category, weighing in at an average of 7 calories per gram.
Tequila fans will tell you that tequila has fewer calories than vodka does, which may be true, but it will depend on the alcohol percentage.
1 ounce of Jose Cuervo Gold tequila, 40%, has 69 calories. 1 ounce of Tito’s Homemade Vodka, 40%, has 65 calories. Those are the two biggest sellers in the USA for each type of spirit.
Sugar in Tequila Vs Vodka
Tequila and vodka both start out as sugary foodstuff, but the fermentation and distillation process burns through all the sugar in both drinks.
Neither spirit has sugar in its pure form.
Vodka Vs Tequila: Which One is Stronger?
Stronger is a relative term that may reference flavor, but we’re going to interpret it as alcohol content.
The contenders are fairly well balanced in the tequila vs vodka alcohol content arena. The average for both is 40%, though some vodka alcohol percentage can go as high as 95%. Tequila percentage maxes out at about 60%.
Tequila Vs Vodka: Taste
The taste of tequila will vary depending on the percentage of Blue Agave used, how “aged” it is, and what it is aged in, as well as the region it was produced in.
If you’re familiar with the taste of agave, you have a foundation to guess what a spirit made from this plant will taste like. A pure tequila made from 100% blue agave will be very distinctly agave flavored, earthy, and just a tiny bit sweet.
The younger the tequila, the less expensive it will be and the stronger the alcoholic bite will be.
As tequila is aged, it smooths out, taking on some of the characteristics of the barrel it rests in. A well-aged tequila may have undertones of vanilla, oak, caramel, or spices.
Vodka is technically “flavorless,” but those with fine palettes will notice slight variations in the taste depending on what the vodka is made from.
Fruit vodkas have floral notes whereas a rye vodka will have a fuller flavor, some might even describe as spicy. Traditional potato vodka is ever-so-slightly creamier, though still completely colorless.
Of course, a flavored vodka will taste like whatever flavor has been added to the spirit after the distillation process.
Tequila vs Vodka: Price
As with most alcohol, the price tends to rise with the quality of the spirit. However, you can find a decent to above average bottle in either vodka or tequila within the $20-$30 price range.
That said, vodka is less exclusive, more popular, and less expensive on the whole.
The most popular vodkas are within that $25 average zone, whereas the most popular tequilas are closer to the $40 range.
Vodka and Tequila Drinks
|Top 10 Vodka Cocktails||Top 10 Tequila Cocktails|
|#1. Moscow Mule||#1. Paloma|
|#2. Classic Martini||#2. Tequila Sunrise|
|#3. Bloody Mary||#3. Classic Margarita|
|#4. Cosmopolitan||#4. Long Island Iced Tea|
|#5. Appletini||#5. Tequila Sour|
|#6. Screwdriver||#6. Mexican Mule|
|#7. White Russian||#7. Bloody Maria|
|#8. Black Russian||#8. Tequini|
|#9. Sex on the Beach||#9. Diablo Rojo|
|#10. Vodka Soda / Vodka Tonic / Vodka Water||#10. Negroni|
Frequently Asked Questions About Vodka and Tequila
What is the best tequila for margaritas?
The best tequila for margaritas is always going to be one that is 100% made from blue agave. This will usually also be called Blanco, which is a clear, white, unaged tequila with the best agave flavor.
Is vodka gluten-free?
Yes, vodka is naturally gluten-free even though it’s commonly made from wheat and other gluten-containing grains. This is because the fermenting and distilling process removes the proteins from the wheat that contain gluten.
However, if your vodka of choice happens to have any flavorings or ingredients added after the distilling process, there is no guarantee that those additives will be gluten-free.
Furthermore, if the vodka is made from grains, it is obviously produced in a facility that puts the finished product at risk for cross-contamination.
If you really want to be safe, find a good, old-fashioned, and yet still popular potato or corn vodka make in a gluten-free facility.
Smirnoff is one of America’s best selling vodka brands and it’s made from corn. Glacier Vodka is also easy to find and it’s made in Idaho from Idaho potatoes.
How to drink sipping tequila?
In Mexico, tequila is traditionally sipped neat (straight tequila at room temperature), savored for its complex flavor, and served with a side of spicy sangrita.
Sangrita is essentially a citrus juice blended with hot sauce and it’s not meant to be used as a chaser, but rather as a palette cleanser. It’s designed to enhance the flavor of the tequila, rather than eliminate it.
If you’re going to try sipping tequila, the first step is to buy a good quality, 100% blue agave bottle, preferably that has been aged with purpose.
Save the “mixto,” tequila with only 51% blue agave, for the cocktails that you’ll be drinking by the dozen for a big night out.
What is a vodka gimlet?
A traditional gimlet is a cocktail made using gin and lime juice. A vodka gimlet exchanges the gin for vodka.
Use 2 parts vodka for every 1 part lime juice and, if that’s a bit too fresh for your palette, you might try adding a dash of simple syrup.
Why is there a worm in tequila?
In fact, worms are never in tequila – they’re in Mezcal. Mezcal is a similar spirit in that’s it’s also made from the agave plant, but it doesn’t have to be primarily Blue Agave, like tequila.
As to why there’s a worm at all, there are many different legends. Some histories suggest that a distiller in the 40s discovered a positive flavor enhancement thanks to a misplaced worm and made it part of his process from then on.
Others have a more superstitious opinion, believing the worm will bring good luck, special powers, or added strength and fortune to the lucky person who found the worm in their cup.
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