Making Flour From Mesquite, by Pete Thorsen

My goal this past year was to make flour from Mesquite pods and I did meet this modest goal. To do this I planned ahead and I was able to purchase an old hand crank meat grinder and a hand crank grain mill. Both were used but appeared to be in excellent shape. The all-metal grain mill looks much like the old-style meat grinder but has two flat plates between which the milling takes place. New hand meat grinders and new grain mills like what I bought are still made and readily available. Many can be found on eBay and other online sites. Thrift stores also often have these items. The ones that I bought were found used at yard sales and I ended up having only a $12 total investment for two items. (Yes, I am thrifty!)

On the Internet I had read about how people ground mesquite and they used many different means to do so (some quite expensive). This was something I wanted to try because the land here has plenty of mesquite trees and they produce an incredible amount of seed pods, even in very dry years. While the desert in the American southwest does contain many edible wild plants, it is still a desert and all plants are sparse. Except for Mesquite that is, at least in my general area.

The Mesquite pods are green and when they ripen they turn cream-colored and get dry and hard. The pods look remarkably like regular string bean pods. And they are about the same size too. Like all natural growing things, the pods even on the same tree ripen at slightly different times. The trees have many thorns and even the pods are very sharp on the end when they are dry. Leather gloves are a good idea when picking the pods. A cloth bag or an old pillowcase makes a handy thing to use when gathering pods. As always when in the desert, be mindful of the weather, wear a hat an drink plenty of water.

The normal plan is to pick the pods from the trees just before they fall to the ground – once on the ground, they are quickly infested with bugs (which just adds protein!). Once picked, the pods then are further dried and after that ground into flour.

My Milling Plans

Once completely dry, the actual beans inside the pods become incredibly hard. So hard they resist almost all milling efforts. American Indians ground them between large coarse rocks using a lot of effort. Nowadays in many areas where Mesquite trees are common, there are traveling hammer mills that go from town to town to mill the very hard mesquite pods/beans. Obviously, most people do not own their own hammer mills.

I had a plan and I did this a little differently. I first picked the pods and then ran them through the meat grinder before any further drying as I anticipated that they would be too hard after they were fully dried. Oh, they felt dry on the outside and looked quite dry. But if you cut them open with a sharp knife, the actual beans inside were still relatively soft.  I don’t think that once they are completely dry you could run them through a meat grinder, but I admit I’ve never tried it.

The meat grinder was in no way ever designed for this task but it did the job flawlessly. The only problem was the effort required to grind the pods. It was quite a chore. I suppose you could hook up a diesel engine from a dump truck or something to do this grinding but I did manage to do it by hand. One thing that could be done would be to make a longer crank, so you have added leverage to make it easier. I should mention that I am no longer a young man and no longer in my prime. A strong young man (or woman) would likely not have a problem grinding the pods. I looked but there were no strong young men or woman available at the time that I ground the pods!

Dehydrating

After the meat grinder had ground the pods into what I would call crumbles, I put those grindings in my electric dehydrator for about eight hours to make sure they were very dry. I checked them a couple of times and by the end, the crumbles were noticeably lighter in weight and completely dry as far as I could tell. The true test of dryness was when I ran them through the hand crank grain mill.

The next step was running the dried crumbles through the hand grain mill. This operation went very easy and could have been performed by kids, if some were available. The hand mill I have is adjustable and I did fiddle with that to get it to where I liked the consistency of the resulting product. I see no reason a person could not run the product through the mill twice if you thought it needed it. I then sifted all the resulting flour. I then had my first ever mesquite flour.

The resulting Mesquite flour is up to thirty percent sugar. You can tell that right away when you get some on your hands because it is rather sticky. Keep that sugar content in mind when using this flour; obviously, you can cut back on adding additional sugar in your recipes.  Also, that high sugar content of those Mesquite pods means that after TEOTWAWKI you could very likely make moonshine from them too. (For medicinal use only of course!)

Baking Tests

After I had my Mesquite flour, I promptly went to the house and made some muffins to try out this flour and they turned out–well just okay. Keep in mind the flour contains a lot of sugar and no added sugar is required in most baking. Getting the flour on your hands, it becomes sticky just like you are handling candy or sugar. This ‘sugar’ also causes problems in some grain mills I have read where it sticks and coats the plates or grinding wheels (burrs). The flour even after it was sifted contained a lot of fiber but this did not in any way spoil the finished product–at least for me. Also, this Mesquite flour if totally gluten-free for those allergic or sensitive to gluten. The flour is light brown in color and end products made with this flour are a darker brown.

I found using Mesquite flour for baking very problematic. Most people that have used it mix it with regular flour and varying percentages. I think they all use mostly wheat flour and just maybe twenty percent or less of the Mesquite flour in the mix. The Mesquite flour I could not get to rise so my first cupcakes looked more like cookies. And it does have a very unique taste. Like any taste some might find they like it and some not so much. I rather like the taste.

Another serious problem I found when using pure Mesquite flour was baking it enough to get the center done. I admit it resisted all my efforts not to have the outside way over baked and still have inside baked thoroughly. Flat cookies or pancakes worked okay but anything I tried thicker would always end up uncooked in the center and overcooked on the outside. It is still a work in progress. That is why Mesquite flour is mixed with other regular flour. I so far have never tried mixing with other flour because my plan was to use the Mesquite after the end times when regular food products were unavailable or at least sparsely available.

With Some Tenacity…

I am a guy and baking is not my area of expertise. Someone with more baking experience would very likely have much better luck than just an old farm boy like me. But I am tenacious and I will continue to harvest the readily available Mesquite pods and work on making more and more recipes for our use. My wife is a trooper and does taste all my creations and sometimes offers suggestions to make a better end product. So far she has left all the baking using this flour to me but maybe in the future, I can entice her to get involved in the actual baking and recipe making experiments.

Overall I think this is a viable option for a source of flour in a SHTF situation for those living in the southwest. It can be totally done without the use of power (you could use the sun instead of a dehydrator) and requires no planting or anything like that. A solar oven could be used for the baking. Mesquite is a very common tree and yes the flour is gluten-free. I’m sure there are many ways to accomplish this task that are likely better than the method I used but I did it this way and it worked for me at a very modest cost. If you have regular flour available the locally harvested Mesquite flour could be used to greatly extend your normal flour supplies. Anyone living near Mesquite trees have seen just how full of pods each tree gets and it is a shame to let that valuable resource go to waste.

So, in closing, I would urge every prepper living in areas of the southwest where Mesquite trees are common to take full advantage of this natural resource.




20 Comments

  1. Whoo Boy, is this ever timely. I live in the land of mesquite (deep south Texas) and using the natural resources that naturally grows without cultivation sounds like a good plan. Thanks for the post.

  2. Some feel the garden of Eden is the earth itself. The food is all around us, all we have to do is pick it up.

    Mesquite pods are one of the foods the good Lord has blessed us with. The native Apache’s the government interred at the Ft. Sill concentration camp once walked 90 miles one way (over a single weekend) to gather the pods they remembered and cherished from their childhood.

    Keep working with the recipe, hopefully it will come out better next time.

  3. Grazing cattle in West Texas and eastern New Mexico is how eastern New Mexico got covered in Mesquite. Cows would eat the pods, move 10 miles and spread the undigested seeds where they would make new plants. When I was a kid, eastern New Mexico was pretty barren. You go out there now, and it is covered in Mesquite.

    I wonder what toxins are in them seeds.

  4. If I were attempting this process I might include acorn flour from oak trees that I read are abundant in Texas. There are many websites that describe the process of making flour out of acorns. The combination of milled acorn flour combined with mesquite flour should help break down the sugars. The absence of gluten in the flours will make for a dense bread. Having some vital wheat gluten in long term storage would help soften the bread when added to the mix.

  5. Don’t be discouraged. The only wild flour I know of that will rise like wheat flour is Lotus. Everything else (acorn, etc.) is pretty much just a “chunk of stuff” to quote the wild harvesting author who taught me. The important thing is that it contains digestible carbohydrates.

    Maybe try noodles.

  6. Pete, Great article and testing. I also live in mesquite country. There is a big tree in my front yard here in the city.

    Since density and rising are iissues with mesquite bean flour, what about flatbreads? Your efforts with western bakery products such as muffins, cookies, pancakes are commendable. But I’m not sure that I ever heard of Indians baking a muffin.

    Can you make tortillas in a press, thin and crispy pizza flatbread, or fry up tortilla triangles to make chips? Please let us know how your testing efforts continue.

    Again, such a useful, timely article.

  7. I could add that the pods can be boiled and the resulting sweet water be reduced into a tasty sweet syrup. It is a process kind of like making maple syrup.
    The desert is full of edibles.

  8. I tried this and the resulting flour was so very bitter that I couldn’t eat the “cookies” I made from it. I guess it was closer to a hard tack than a cookie. I thought I had made a mistake by grinding up the entire pod instead of only the seeds inside.

    I don’t think I’d try it again, but if anyone has a recipe that is better, please share.

  9. Why would you grind the entire pod? Shouldn’t you just process the seeds? It seems that would be like grinding the whole acorn. Someone please let me know on this. My daughter has a super abundance of mesquite, to the tune of thousands of acres. This could possibly help a very many people.

  10. “Why would you grind the entire pod? Shouldn’t you just process the seeds? It seems that would be like grinding the whole acorn. Someone please let me know on this.”

    Think of it as eating green beans – you eat the whole pod there too. The pod contains the sugar and other nutrients. Plus on mesquite removing and using just the bean would be, well, problematic at best.

    “I tried this and the resulting flour was so very bitter that I couldn’t eat the “cookies” I made from it.”
    We all have different tastes but I found the mesquite flour to be more than just edible, I enjoyed the taste.
    For anyone that has foraged wild plants I am sure you have found the same species of plants sometimes taste way different than others you have eaten, at least I found that to be true. Many foraged plants I found were bitter. I often gather banana yucca flowers for salads but I always taste test in the field because some I found were very good and some were very bitter. The plants always looked identical and the only way I would know if they were bitter or not was a quick taste test.

  11. Another note: Those of you in mesquite country, when the pods turn yellowish just pick one off the tree and chew on it. That will let you taste what the flour will be like to some extent. When hiking I would often chew on an occasional pod when they were ripe. The texture is poor but just chew on it a little and spit out the fiber.

  12. On YouTube are videos about ‘Stamping Mills’ that were used to process Gold Ore. Surely, a Stamping Mill idea could be used to process Mesquite Seeds during a long food Crisis, or a Stamping Mill of sorts could be used for the ‘food’ hobbyist. The Stamping Mill would ‘bust-up’ the seed before a grinder is used.

    In a real life crisis, it might be ~easier to have a number of Goats and Sheep around. = +Eat all the other critters that eat Mesquite Seeds too, along with the Goats and Sheep.

    Man is the apex predator. A big Rattlesnake might think it’s the boss of the Mesquite Patch, feeding on all the mice eating Mesquite Seeds. But to Mankind, the rattlesnake is just another critter for the frying pan.

  13. I enjoy reading about gathered foods. But there is a huge problem that is rarely addressed. If you listed all the commonly accepted edibles that can be gathered between half and three quarters of them have an asterisk that essentially describes some toxic property. Either they are toxic if consumed in large amounts or they require special processing that will remove or convert the toxin. Mesquite beans are apparently very susceptible to a toxic mold that can kill you. If you don’t open the bean pod you may not even see the mold. Just a thought for those who eat the whole pod or grind it whole.

  14. We lived in the SW desert for over 30 years. I had always wanted to try processing mesquite beans, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I hope you’ll continue your testing and research, because this certainly would be a plentiful resource. There is a cookbook that’s commonly sold in the Tucson area that features prints of Ted DeGrazia paintings and has recipes that call for mesquite as an ingredient, but it doesn’t specify whether to use the beans when soft or hard and dry, so I found it pretty useless.

    On a related subject, the beans of the palo verde trees are pretty tasty when they’re green and soft. In our area that was around mid to late May. I used to pick and eat them when I was walking our dogs.

    The desert is full of food if you know when to pick it and how to prepare it.

  15. Pete, Great read. Would be compelling to see how mesquite flour cooks under varying conditions (regular oven, solar over, hot plates). From my experience tinkering around and milling different flour substitutes from nature, the burn points vary intensely and gives a glimpse at carbohydrate content of the material. The more it carbohydrates, the higher the carbon content. Without either other ingredients that help it rise and create air pockets the quicker to burn. I have an old pocket manual I picked up at a flea market in 1998 published in the early 1900’s that delves into unconventional uses of mesquite including a concoction for a wound dressing, a tonic, a way to make an adhesive and even a wart remover. Naturally, my skepticism got the best of me on the latter. I had a wart on my third toe that had been there for 13 years. Decided why not give it a shot, better than using pharmaceutical wart removers or the methods that use freezing and cold temp to shrivel it up. whats the worst that could happen? Took 3 hours to prepare after sourcing the other two ingredients. Followed instructions for placement, hour a day for 2 weeks. Four days in I noticed a reduction and after 15 days very little remained. Awestruck it worked. Mother Nature is marvelous, isn’t she?

  16. Storing a few dozen superpails of hard red winter wheat berries now will give you a glutenous flour source. This could give you a mesquite flour improver/extender that could last over 25 years at one pound a week. This will cost 3K from Pleasant Hill grain, 2K from Rainy Day Foods in paper bags (add pails, mylar bags and O2 absorbers to total cost) or perhaps under 1K if sourced locally in bulk.

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