I have a favorite pair of shoes, a favorite pillow, a favorite coffee mug and a favorite ethnobotanist. And he says that mesquite was the most wildly consumed food amongst native desert people prior to WWII. Since then however, consumerism and commercialization have radically altered diets creating some of the most diabetic populations in the world.
We have a few mesquite trees in our yard. Each year between the heat of the summer and early autumn, their bean pods appear, then ripen and drop to the ground. Occasionally, I’ve missed this window and have been seen strolling the neighborhood streets in the early hours of the morning searching for beans.
There are several varieties of mesquite which I can’t name but I’m told that if you’re just planting, go with the native mesquites. Inspired by Gary Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat, I first began experimenting with the pods over a decade ago. In his book, Gary writes of taking them to a local tortilleria when he first began his trek to eat locally.
When I collected my first batch, I turned to my local Slow Food organization for assistance. Fortunately, they conduct an annual milling through a group called Desert Harvesters. They have restrictions about the beans in that they must be dry and debris free and they want them harvested from the tree rather than the ground.
Mesquite is a fascinating product. If you haven’t tasted it before, it has an earthy sweetness to it. It creates a gluten free flour with a high protein content. Somewhere, on my
weekend project, overstuffed cookbook shelf, I have a small pamphlet of recipes. I’ll admit to not having tried them. The simplest way for me to use it is as an additive to cake batters or pancakes.
Sometimes when I’m storing my pods before the milling, small holes appear.
These are created by bruchid beetles that are emerging from the pod. The beetles actually lay their eggs in the mesquite flowers – so they are a part of the tree growth cycle. As you know from my previous posts, the thought of eating insects doesn’t concern me. I doubt very much that it concerned the Native people whose diet consisted largely of mesquite.
Some medical research has indicated that eating traditional foods such as mesquite has a beneficial effect for people with diabetes. The benefits include regulating blood sugar levels and reducing the onset and effects of diabetes. It has also been shown that a return to traditional Native American foods together with an exercise program can bring dramatic results in regards to diabetes in Native Americans.
Don’t have access to mesquite? Many beans have benefits. Do have access to mesquite but haven’t tried it? Do it. It would make a huge contribution to our local food security.
Mesquite Superfood Shake
adapted from Navitas
1/3 cup whole cashew nuts
1/2 Tbs mesquite flour
1 cup of water
pinch of cinnamon
In a strong blender, whip the cashews, water and dates into a cream, as smooth as possible. Add the flour and cinnamon and blend again. Add a couple handfuls of ice and blend into a frosty mixture.
What ancient food source might you be overlooking today that you can bring back on to your table?