- Introduction to mesquite
- How to tell mesquite pods apart
- Don’t confuse mesquite with Texas sweet acacia
- Dietary benefits of mesquite
- Environmental role of mesquite
- How to harvest mesquite pods
- How to mill mesquite pods into flour
- Option 1: In a hammermill
- Option 2: In a high-powered processor or spice grinder at home
Introduction to mesquite
Mesquite is a staple food source in the Sonoran desert.
There are several types of mesquite trees, including velvet, honey, and Chilean mesquite—the last of which comprises a large percentage of landscaping thanks to its thornlessness.
Mesquite trees are dark brown barked and often very twisty. They produce long, light tan pods that can be ground into a nutritious flour. Unfortunately, Chilean mesquite pods are not good for flour (they’re much too chalky and unpleasant to eat).
How to tell mesquite pods apart
Velvet mesquite pods are longer and lighter in color than those of other mesquite varieties, which makes them easier to harvest.
Honey mesquite pods are shorter and darker in color than velvet mesquite pods.
Chilean mesquite pods are thicker and harder than those of other mesquite varieties, which makes them more difficult to process into flour. They’re also very chalky 🤮 and inedible.
Don’t confuse mesquite with Texas sweet acacia
The Texas sweet acacia leaves look very similar to mesquite, but its pods are much fatter, darker brown, and inedible:
Dietary benefits of mesquite
Velvet & honey mesquite flour is sweet and nutty—perfect for anything from baked goods to sauces and marinades.
Mesquite flour is gluten-free and has a low glycemic index. This means that it has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels, making it a good option for people with diabetes or those looking to manage their blood sugar. Mesquite flour is also quite high in protein (more so than other flours) as well as fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Because it’s digestible raw (compared to many others like wheat flour, which must be cooked to be well digested by our bodies) it can also be used in protein shakes & smoothies, making it a great local & wholly natural alternative to protein powder.
Overall, mesquite is a versatile and nutritious food source that has been an important part of Sonoran cuisine for centuries.
Environmental role of mesquite
On top of being a great source of nutrition, mesquite plays an important role in benefitting its environment as well.
Like all trees, it helps prevent erosion and provide shade for other plants and animals in the desert ecosystem.
Like all native plants in the Sonoran southwest, mesquite is drought-tolerant. It thrives in the riparian zone, which makes it an excellent candidate for urban landscaping that factors in rain catchment. (both residential and commercial/public). We see lots of native trees in the Phoenix area, but many are the chalky Chilean variety 🤮 and not many neighborhoods have been designed to encourage riparian microclimates.
As legumes, mesquite trees have the ability to “fix” nitrogen in the soil, making it accessible to other plants. Their root nodules form a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia (a type of bacteria) to convert atmospheric nitrogen the tree has “breathed in” into a form usable by plants & other members of the soil food web.
This benefits both the mesquite tree itself and other plants in the surrounding area by improving the soil's fertility. This nitrogen-fixing ability gives mesquite trees an important role in sustainable agriculture and land restoration efforts in the desert southwest.
How to harvest mesquite pods
It’s said that we should only harvest dried pods from the tree itself, never from the ground. This is because they quickly develop aflatoxins from moisture on the ground.
- To start, lay out a large plastic tarp under your mesquite tree.
- Now, use a long-handled rake/broom or extendable pole to gently knock dried pods out of the tree onto the large tarp. Be gentle—what’s ready to fall will fall.
- Next, it’s time to separate the pods on the tarp from a majority of the leaves, twigs, and other debris. (It’s okay if there are some leaves, but make sure there are NO rocks or large sticks.)
- Now fold your tarp so that the pods are gathered in the center. Then, simply scoop them with your hands into a container of your choice and they’re ready to be milled into flour!
How to mill mesquite pods into flour
Once you have collected the pods, you can process them in a couple ways.
Option 1: In a hammermill
A hammermill is a large, expensive, commercial piece of equipment that makes light work of mesquite pods. Organizations like The Urban Farm and Sonoran Scavengers offer this as a paid service ($4-7.50/pound) to pay for the mill’s upkeep and the people doing the work.
Here’s a walkthrough of how one of these works:
Option 2: In a high-powered processor or spice grinder at home
It is possible to make your own flour at home, if you’re willing to put in the work and invest in the right equipment that’s strong enough to process the incredibly hard mesquite beans. Here are a couple examples:
And finally, if you want a FULL profile on our lovely native velvet mesquite, here is an excellent video by Keep Arizona Wild: