Mesquite trees – useful for more than just barbecue wood

Mesquite Flour, made from mesquite seed pods, is excellent in baking.

Mesquite trees are common all over our Far West Texas area, and across the entire Southwest. It’s one of the most common desert shrubs out here, and grows easily in the semi-arid areas of the Chihuahua, Sonoran, and Arizona deserts. Bees love mesquite trees, too.

The mesquite tree was a means for survival. Indigenous peoples to our region likely used the mesquite tree for everything from soothing the digestive system to use as an anti-fungal and antibiotic, to making bows, arrows, and sewing needles with the wood from the tree. Historically, the dried pods and seeds were milled (ground into flour) using a stone. This was done before mixing it with water and forming it into a cake for eating.

Mesquite flour is a terrific flour-alternative. With no gluten, and triple the fiber of whole wheat flour with a high protein content, it’s packed with minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. It has a sweet taste and a low glycemic index that helps to satisfy hunger and stabilize blood sugar, making it an ideal sweetener. You can add mesquite flour to smoothies, raw desserts, or energy bars.

While you can use it it with gluten-free baking mixes, (substitute up to a cup of mesquite flour in baking mix recipes) it works best when combined with wheat flours. It adds a denseness to your baked goods that regular wheat flour doesn’t.

Mesquite flour is more expensive than regular flours you’d normally bake with. With a little time and effort, you can hunt for mesquite pods and make your own mesquite flour. Look for pods that have turned from green to yellow-brown. You should taste the pulp from pods (what’s in between the shell and seeds) you’ll be collecting and sticking to trees whose pods taste sweetest. Don’t collect pods that have fallen on the ground – pick them straight from the tree. Be sure and gather the chubbiest pods you can find now, and store them in a dry area to completely dry out before you make your own mesquite flour.

After the pods are completely dehydrated, break them into one-inch pieces and run them through your food processor or blender until they have been ground down to a meal. Sift the flour to separate the fine flour from the chunks that remain, and process those chunks again. Repeat the process until all of the pods have been milled into fine flour. Store your newly milled mesquite flour in a glass jar in a cool, dark place, for up to six months.

The other day, I was gifted a baggie of this wonderful flour, ready to be added to our baked goods to kick things up a notch. The first thing I baked was blueberry muffins, in a mini loaf pan. I substituted half of a cup of the all-purpose flour the recipe called for, and once mixed, the batter took on a dark, molasses-colored hue. A little bit goes a long way, and I have since learned that it’s a good idea to start with a little less than what I used – a good rule of thumb is to add one teaspoon of mesquite flour per cup of whatever flour you’re using.

While the idea of brown blueberry muffins/loaves took a little getting used to since they were darker and much denser than what I normally bake, they were husband approved and will be baked again.

Mesquite Flour Blueberry Muffins
1  cup all-purpose flour
½ cup mesquite flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon for muffin tops
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder   
1/3 cup vegetable (or your baking oil of choice – I used almond oil) oil
1 large egg
1/3 – 1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 to 8 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries (about 1 cup frozen blueberries)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a large bowl whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Use a measuring cup that holds at least 1 cup and add vegetable oil, egg and then fill the cup to the 1-cup line with milk (about 1/3 to a 1/2 cup of milk). Add vanilla and whisk until combined.

Add milk mixture to the bowl with flour and sugar then use a fork to combine. Do not over mix. The muffin batter will be pretty thick. Add blueberries and use a spatula or spoon to gently fold the blueberries into the muffin batter.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups filling about ½ full. Sprinkle a little sugar on top of each muffin. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Note: if you want to bake traditional blueberry muffins, use omit the ½ cup mesquite flour and replace it with your all-purpose flour.

Printed with the permission of The Alpine Avalanche

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