“It had a beautiful aroma, there was something roasted, like coffee or chocolate, then a stronger smell, suggesting some fruit, perhaps dried cherries or was that coconut? Together with a note of spice, cinnamon, maybe nutmeg? The mystery substance was mesquite flour” Charles Perry, Los Angeles Times, 12 March, 2008.
Unlike the flavor imparted to meats, seafood and sometimes vegetables from barbecuing over the wood of the mesquite tree (or charcoal made from the wood), mesquite flour is milled from the pulpy part of the pods of the mesquite tree. An example of the portion of the pod used to make the flour is shown in Figure 1. In addition to the lovely flavor, the flour milled from the pods is typically 45–50% sugar, 8–10% protein, 25–30% dietary fiber; has 20% of the antioxidants as cocoa flour; has no gluten, soy or peanut allergens; and has no flatulence-producing sugars.
|Figure 1: Mesquite seed pod used to make flour.|
When it comes to sustainable use of the land resource base and benefitting resource-poor local people in very difficult ecosystems, mesquite has few equals. Forest ecosystems with a permanent soil cover have much tighter nutrients cycling (i.e., less loss of nutrients to wind and water erosion, leaching to groundwater and runoff) than cropping systems where the soil is annually cultivated. Mesquite is typically a spreading 25–40-ft tree, with a 10–25 deep root system, that grows well in hot (>110 degrees F), low rainfall conditions and on difficult soils that are too saline and high in alkalinity for traditional agricultural crops. Figure 2 shows a large mesquite tree in a saline low rainfall area of Argentina. Mesquite, being a legume, has nodules on its roots that convert nitrogen in the air into nitrogen that the plant can use, thus avoiding the need for nitrogen-containing fertilizers. The hot, low rainfall semi-deserts of the world where mesquite is common include some of the world's poorest people (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, northern Mexico, Haiti, Peru and northwestern Argentina).
In Argentina, the flour is produced in cooperation with one of the poorest Dioceses of the Catholic Church in a self-help project for the local people. Many of the people cannot read or write and have limited job possibilities due to the lack of resources from the ecosystem. These people collect the pods from wild trees and shade trees near their homes and sell them to the processing plant. This is a much appreciated source of income used to purchase school supplies and basic necessities.
|Figure 2: Mesquite tree.|
In the high rainfall limit where mesquite grows in Argentina, over 700,000 acres of native forests were bulldozed from 1998 to 2003 to plant transgenic soybeans. The province where this occurred has banned additional deforestation and is strongly encouraging developing markets for products of standing trees such as mesquite flour. In the spring of 2013, no soybeans were sown in the province due to a devastating drought, nevertheless mesquite trees yielded very abundant pods in the summer.
Mesquite flour would seem to have great potential in the United States to enhance the flavor/aroma profile of sorghum/rice/manioc flour-based gluten-free mixes; it has not been widely used for these purposes. Instead, the most successful commercial applications are those that have taken advantage of the synergistic flavor/aroma characteristics of chocolate and mesquite flour to make mesquite chocolate bars, dry powders for energy drinks and brownie mixes (the latter is a gluten-free mix). An example of a flourless chocolate cake containing 50% mesquite flour and 50% chocolate created by Jennifer Jones, pastry chef of the renowned Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago, is shown in Figure 3. Mesquite flour is typically used at 10–15% concentration of the dry powder ingredients.
|Figure 3: Flourless chocolate cake made with mesquite flour.|
Peter Felker is a partner at Casa de Mesquite and a research scientist at D'Arrigo Bros. Felker has been a mesquite researcher since 1972.
Casa de Mesquite one of the major U.S. providers of mesquite flour provides USDA Organic, Kosher mesquite flour in various size retail packages and in bulk. Numerous other companies privately lab this mesquite flour and include it in their mixes.
Posted January 20, 2014