Meet Mesquite

mesquite-tree

This is a often bent, twisted scrubby tree that grows readily alongside cactus in the desert areas of the southern US and through Mexico. The leaves are frond-like and after the rainy season its pods drip from the branches.

I can hear it now– the deep voice with a Texas accent, enticing us…

 

“Come on out and taste our delicious ‘Mesquite-grilled’ burgers…”

‘What the heck’s this mess-keet?’ those of us from anywhere north of Texas wondered, as the image of a sizzling beef patty on a fire-licked grill beckoned to us on the TV screen causing even the most earnest vegetarian to salivate before looking away in shame.  And while the backyard grilling craze hadn’t yet swept North America, it was about to start.

 

Mesquite-wood-chips

If you’re a grill-queen or king you may, by now, have used mesquite charcoal, boards, or chips for grilling and smoking meat. A good grilling supply, gourmet shop, or even  a butcher  may well stock it. Mesquite wood chips are the best way to get a long lasting burn and they infuse a distinctive flavor into meats, particularly delicious with beef. A little can be added to standard coals–its assertive flavor goes a long way.

 

Not only is the wood of culinary interest– vegans and gluten-free folks will be interested in the seed pods

Mesquite pods must first be dehydrated before grinding them into powder

Nutritional Value at a glance

High in protein (11–17%)
Rich in: Lysine, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Iron,  Zinc, Dietary fiber
Effective in balancing blood sugar.

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The mesquite tree produces large bean pods– its seeds, of course. The indigenous people of the Americas, did not overlook seed pods as  a food source –the mesquite was one of many.  Traditionally, the pods were dried in the sun and they were then ground into a powder to be used as a flour,  a sweetener, mixed with water for a sweet beverage, like horchata, or fermented into an alcoholic drink.

Mesquite Chocolate Chip CookiesNaturally sweet…

The ground product has a molasses-like flavor with a hint of caramel. It’s sometimes sold as flour, powder or meal but the product is equivalent. Try it out in baked goods, though use no more than 1/3 as a substitute for flour. It’s highly absorbent of liquid so used alone, it will create an impossibly crumbly product. It is sweet, so try it in tea (very nice prepared with Chai spices), coffee or smoothies, sprinkled onto yogurt, blended into energy bars, and fruit/nut butter spreads.

Click here for a recipe for Mesquite Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Interestingly, mesquite is highly effective in balancing blood sugar. It has a glycemic index of 25 (whole wheat, for example, is 30, and beans/legumes hover  around 30)- and a high percentage (25%) of dietary fiber, so it digests more slowly than many grains – this prevents highs and lows in blood sugar. For thousands of years, Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico relied on mesquite as a food staple and, not surprisingly, given the paleo diet, there was no such thing as diabetes. But as native foods were replaced with a more modern diet,  the health patterns  took a downward change. The benefits of reviving the use of foods like mesquite– a slow and whole foods diet in general– has  far-reaching potential.

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When mesquite pods are harvested in arid rural areas, not only does it offer its nutritional value, the product has deeper social and ecological value. Maintaining  trees as sustainable agriculture rather than cutting them for lumber, charcoal production, or other reasons has many benefits to the health of the land and provides an economic resource for rural communities.

 

 

References and Sources

Mesquite Smoking Chips for grills- Amazon

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