Mesquite: New Agricultural Traditions for an Ancient Food

As the Southern Arizona climate gets hotter and dryer, a nutritional powerhouse with a sweet flavor may once again be a common food in southern Arizona. Raised in a water-frugal way on an aggressive, long-lived, nearly impossible to kill plant, mesquite was an important staple food in ancient times that was largely forgotten until recently.

“Mesquite has the potential to be a major food crop in Arizona,” says Mark Moody of Arizona Mesquite Company. Moody will soon harvest beans from 700 trees grown from collected seeds picked from coyote scat. Why coyote scat? Moody had noticed the scavengers are selective and choose the sweetest pods.

Most of the mesquite flour sold in the United States is imported from South America where there exists a more sophisticated industry. Arizona is the only state that has a grass-roots movement with a number of small non-profit organizations that have purchased hammermills (milling equipment) hosting annual community mesquite millings.

Milling by hammermill achieves in minutes what used to take hours of patient grinding using stone or bedrock mortars. At a community milling event, anyone can bring three 5-gallon buckets of sorted and dried mesquite pods and go home with an economical year’s supply of this nutritious 16% protein, slow-metabolizing, diabetes-friendly and gluten-free flour. It can be used as protein powder for smoothies, as a rub to season and coat meats, and in raw goodies. Substituting naturally sweet mesquite flour (1/4 to 1 cup) in any recipe adds protein, complex carbohydrates to slow down digestion, minerals and fiber, and acts as a subtle sweetener.

If you’re interested in learning more about harvesting mesquite for flour or how to manage the mesquite trees in your backyard to maximize productivity, attend the all day New Agricultural Traditions for an Ancient Food Mesquite Workshop on June 13 at Cochise College, Benson Center. Organized by UA Cooperative Extension, USDA’s Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) and non-profit Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture.

Mesquite Workshop Information

  • When: Friday, June 13,   8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Where: Cochise College Benson Center,  1025 State Hwy 90
  • Cost:  $30 ($20 students) includes lunch and mesquite snacks.
  • Register: Online at http://bajaaz.org/calendar/mesquite-workshop/ Mail checks made out to BASA at BASA Mesquite Workshop, P.O. Box 40935, Tucson, 85717. Info:

For more information, check out the event page for New Agricultural Traditions for an Ancient Food Mesquite Workshop. You may also call or email Valerie McCaffrey at (520) 331-9821 and valerie.mccaffrey@bajaaz.org.

Valerie is a founder and board chair of Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture and has been harvesting and eating mesquite for years.

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