Mesquite powder comes from Prosopis genus of mesquite trees most commonly known for their firewood used to impart flavor to barbecued and smoked foods.
One of the other prized treasures of the mesquite tree is also its edible seed pods which have been utilized as a food source by humans for a very long time. These are the sweet "fruits" of the tree that when ripe are ground whole and sifted to produce a fine flour-like powder.
Mesquite powder or sometimes called algarroba flour was an essential nutritive food of many indigenous cultures of the southwestern desert regions of the U.S.
It wasn't just a minor part of their diet but was for many peoples, like the Cahuilla, a primary source of nourishment ranking next to the oak acorn in order of importance.
Cahuilla tribes of Southern California Colorado Desert gathered large quantities of both the honey mesquite pods as well as the screwbean variety which has a much different shape but similar smoky-sweet mesquite flavor. Mesquite flour was typically prepared as dried cakes which could be stored and used as an instant sustaining food supply.
In some Sonoran Desert regions, like in Arizona and Mexico, mesquite is found growing next to other popular desert foods like prickly pears, nopal pads and fruits of the saguaro cactus.
Unlike carob (Ceratonia siliqua), another pod legume utilized for its powder, mesquite seeds while they are too hard to eat can be ground easily with the proper appliance. Carob seeds, the source of "locust bean gum", on the other hand, are removed before making carob powder from the fruit or pod pulp.
Mesquite trees are members of the legume family and thus restore nitrogen to the soil. The pods are sometimes referred to as "mesquite beans" for this reason, although they are botanically classified as fruits.
As long-living species, mesquites can grow into very large trees that provide much-needed shade to desert ecosystems. It is often used as an ornamental shade tree in these environments due to its abundant leaf coverage.
Ever wonder why mesquite trees look so lush and green in the hottest and driest climate conditions? That's because they have a long taproot which is very efficient at reaching water tables deep within the earth. They are sometimes even considered an invasive species as trees can deprive other native plants of water. (*) Wild trees also tend to proliferate when water sources are directly accessible and likewise spread very easily through seed dispersal.
Mesquite pods are the fruits of the tree that develop in the spring and are ready for harvest by mid-summer, after they mature, dry and change color.
In North America, there are three popular species of mesquite used for their edible pods. These are honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) and screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens). (*)
Immature mesquite pods are green, soft and fleshy. Depending on the species they eventually turn an off white to yellowish color while others can have a reddish flecked striation. There is of course the exception of the screwbean mesquite variety which has a completely different twisted pod that grows in tight clusters.
Fresh mesquite pods usually have a sweet sometimes fruity flavor with a caramel-like taste, but this can depend on the tree source and location. Texas is quite famous for its prolific honey mesquite tree population and is known for its rich flavorful sweet-tasting pods.
Mesquite varieties, like Prosopis pallida or Prosopis alba, also grow in South American countries mainly Peru, Argentina and Chile. According to our research, most commercial mesquite powder available online or in markets is sourced mostly from Peruvian grown mesquite pods, especially P. pallida.
In a nutshell (or seed pod in this case), here are the main nutritional benefits of mesquite powder.
Mesquite powder is considered to be a good source of soluble dietary fiber which can help to satiate the appetite. Just one tablespoon of mesquite powder is reported to contain about 2-4 grams of total fiber.
Mesquite powder has a sweet taste because it can contain about 59% simple sugars, mostly in the form of sucrose, fructose and glucose. Most of the sugar content in pods from South American species observed in some research was found to come from sucrose and about 5% fructose and 2% glucose.
Mesquite pod powder is often advertised as a type of low glycemic sweetener by many brands since it is less apt to cause blood sugar spikes.
However, while mesquite is used to add sweetness to recipes, in our opinion it doesn't make the best substitute for crystal or granule sugars. Its texture is more like lucuma powder and it doesn't dissolve into hot drinks. It's good in coffee and tea to add flavor, but you will have some at the bottom of your cup in the end.
When incorporated into recipes it can, in fact, help to reduce the amount of other sweeteners used and its fiber content will naturally slow down digestion and sugar uptake.
By far one of the most popular ways mesquite powder is utilized is as a gluten-free flour alternative. This is because the seed pods when ground and sifted produce a very fine powdery consistency very similar to other flour varieties.
It is often used with other types of flours in gluten-free recipes or can be used to cut grain-based flour. The standard substitution ratio is to use about 25% mesquite flour for wheat or white flour when baking things like bread, biscuits or muffins.
Mesquite powder is also a nutritional source of minerals primarily calcium, iron, potassium as well as some magnesium and zinc.
As a type of legume fruit pod, it does contain protein with some nutrition fact labels claiming about 1 gram per tablespoon (or 8 grams) of powder. It is especially rich in the amino acid lysine. Lysine assists the uptake of calcium and supports strong bones and connective tissues.
One interesting known fact about mesquite pods, especially wild-harvested varieties, is that they may contain a type of bruchid beetle which enters the immature pod, feeds and develops, then exits the pod by drilling small round holes after they fall from the tree.
Some pods, however, may still contain beetles which when ground will simply add more protein to the powder. Native peoples often considered this insect protein source a benefit that added to the flour’s nutrition profile.
Mesquite powder is very versatile and goes well in both sweet and savory foods.
As we mentioned it is frequently utilized as a flour alternative when making baked goods and is also a popular pancake ingredient tradition in some parts of southwestern America. It is often blended, however, with other types of grain or nut flours for best texture not used strictly on its own.
In desserts, it blends well in many cacao recipes and also with other similar tasting powders like maca, lucuma and carob. A popular ingredient in protein bars and granola recipes. A traditional condiment is also made using mesquite flour mixed into creamed butter for a spread topping.
Its sweet caramel-like flavor is known to go well mixed into coffee, tea or blended into beverages and shakes.
Used as a spice seasoning, mesquite powder can be sprinkled over breakfast cereals, yogurt or used in vegetable sautés, baked beans, BBQ sauces or as a spice rub for meat.
Most mesquite powder available commercially is labeled a raw product but may go through some high heat exposure during the drying process.