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D I D Y O U K N O W ?
Velvet Mesquite: Great for Cooking and Eating
by Sue Hakala, Master Gardener
The Velvet Mesquite tree, Prosopis velutina, has one of the best tasting pods of all mesquite trees. The pods can be
ground up or, soaked and used to smoke and flavor foods while cooking. This tree only grows naturally in the Sonoran
Desert in Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Deciduous, it can grow to 55 feet tall, known to put out roots to a depth of 160
feet and in a radius of 50-60 feet in a never-ending search for water. Most of the roots are in the upper three feet of
the soil, where water and oxygen are.
Living up to 200 years, Velvet Mesquites grow up to elevations of 5,000 feet. Researchers that have re-photographed
the exact same vista in the Sonoran Desert from 50 to 100 years ago, have discovered that the mesquite tree is
overtaking the land by out-competing other species as they have deep water-seeking roots. Mesquites lately are
retreating to large washes and flood plain areas as the water table drops.
Bees pollinate the tiny flowers of the Velvet Mesquite, and the resulting bean pods are up to eight inches long, with
three distinct parts. The pods are most abundant during times of drought when they are most needed, saving the life of
many animals and travelers in the past. Mesquite seeds/beans are scattered by animals that ingest them. Passing
through the gut actually enhances germination. If not ingested, the seeds need to be tumbled in a wash flood to scarify
the seed or weathered so that it can sprout.
Mesquite trees, as with all members of the Legume family, put nitrogen back in to the soil that is starved by drought or
over-grazing. Deer, quail and a wide variety of birds find shelter and hiding places within and under the mesquite.
Mesquite wood is very hard and is quite attractive in furniture: the sapwood yields a yellow color, the heartwood a
Cooking with Mesquite
Native Americans and chuckwagon cooks have loved the long-lasting coals and sweet smoky flavor that the mesquite tree
gives when burned. There is nothing like mesquite to impart a delicious flavor to foods from vegetables to beef. The
smell of poultry basted with tequila, roasting over glowing mesquite coals is fantastic.
If you have cut down a mesquite tree save the wood, dry it, and use it for cooking. It is best to use mesquite with
stronger tasting foods that can stand up to the assertive flavor that the wood will impart. Make a wood fire in a
barbecue grill, allow it to burn down creating glowing coals which will transmit a savory flavor to any of the
following: pork ribs or chops, shrimp, salmon, quail, potatoes, corn, eggplant, squash, wild game, leeks, red pepper,
steaks, burgers, chicken, and duck.
Soak dry mesquite chips or pods in some water for at least 30 minutes. Spread them over your barbecue coals to impart a
smoky taste to pork, turkey, quail, beans, and salmon or, anything you'd like. Experiment with using the soaked chips
or pods in a metal container placed on your barbecue to get a different flavor. Collect and save the pods for this
purpose if you can, as they are a renewable resource, the wood isn't.
Green and juicy pods of the Velvet Mesquite simmered taste like snow peas or cherries. Not yet dry pods can be mashed
and soaked in water to produce a nourishing drink. Ripe pods of the Velvet Mesquite are tan streaked with a
reddish-purple color. Use a pole to bring down branches so that you can reach the pods to pick them off. Rinse pods to
remove dirt. Pat them dry. Place pods on a cookie sheet. Bake at 150 degrees for 3 hours to kill the beetle larva
inside, until pods are dry and crispy. Cool then whirl about 15 at a time in your blender for just a few seconds, and
then sift twice to remove the fibers and seeds. Keep in an airtight container. Use the flour to make bread or, add to
stews to thicken them and provide a protein punch. It is best to take a little taste test of the pods that you might
want to use, as some trees produce very bitter tasting pods akin to burnt coffee or molasses. If you want to store the
pods for smoking, be sure that they are oven dried, then store them in the freezer.
Up to 1/3 cup of mesquite flour can be substituted for regular flour in cookie, bread, cake and muffin recipes adding a
touch of sweetness. Here are some of recipes from Ruth Greenhouse formerly of the Desert Botanical Garden:
Cream 1/2 cup margarine with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and mix well. Sift together 1/2 cup mesquite flour and 1 1/2
cups regular flour. Mix well. Bake at 375 degree for 8 to 10 minutes.
Grind 2 cups dry mesquite beans in a blender. Add everything to 2 cups boiling water. Mix and strain through a fine
sieve. Add 2 cups cool water. Chill or serve warm.
Photos by Candice Sherrill
Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated November 21, 2004
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopafirstname.lastname@example.org 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092