Native mesquite trees are drought-tolerant and grow throughout the desert southwest. As a popular shade tree in landscapes, they produce thousands of bean pods that fall to the ground, get raked up and thrown away without most people realizing that they're not only edible, but they're delicious and nutritious too!
The pods can be ground up into gluten-free, protein rich flour. It can be incorporated into many recipes such as pancakes, pastries and cookies by replacing approximately 25% of the wheat flour with mesquite flour. It can also be used in place of almond or coconut flour in many gluten-free recipes.
The main harvest season in the low desert begins around the first of June. It's best to harvest the pods before the monsoon rains when the humidity is low to avoid the growth of Aflatoxin. (For more information, see https://www.desertharvesters.org/harvesting-processing/aflatoxins-how-to-avoid-them/)
Once you identify a mesquite tree, taste a ripe bean pod before harvesting from the tree (pods that have completely lost their green color). There's a range of sweetness among each tree, however some trees produce pods with a chalky aftertaste that sucks the moisture out of your mouth. Be sure to only harvest from trees with good-tasting pods.
How do you taste a bean pod? Just break off a piece of the pod and put it in your mouth until you start to taste it, then lightly chew the pulp to release more flavor, then discard the fiber and seeds.
After you find a good tree, lay a tarp down to catch the pods that are dry and fall easily. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Harvest only from the tree, not the ground
- Remove leaves, stems and unripe pods
- Separate the ripe, moist pods that are bendy and enjoy them as a special treat
- Completely dry the pods before storing in an airtight food-grade bucket
- Place pods in shallow boxes inside a vehicle with windows closed in sunlight until dry
- Place pods in a shallow pan in a solar or conventional oven on low until dry
- Any small holes in the pods are made from Bruchid beetles boring out of the pods. In order to kill the larvae inside the pods:
- Put dry pods in an airtight container in the freezer for a few days (When you take them out, let them come to ambient temperature before opening the container so they don't absorb moisture, then dry them again, see above)
- Toast the pods in the oven until lightly brown (caution: pods can burn easily due to high sugar content)
- There are two main methods to making flour:
- Small batches of pods may be ground up in a coffee grinder or blender, then sifted (grain mills will not work, they will get gummed up from the high sugar content)
- Large quantities of pods can be quickly and easily ground and sifted in a hammermill (A hammermill pulverizes the hard seeds as well as the pods, making it a protein-rich flour)
We are very fortunate to have a hammermill in Phoenix, so be sure to register for one of the milling events in June at https://growphx.com/events/
For more detailed information about mesquite identification, harvesting, drying, storing, processing and cooking, register for the mesquite webinar on June 11, 2020 at 5 pm at https://www.urbanfarm.org/event/victory56/
Mesquite recipes: Eat Mesquite and More