Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mesquite Flour: A Flavorful Ingredient in Baking (with Cornbread Recipe)

Intertwining mesquite pods are a beautiful sight to behold. There is something fluid about their appearance that makes them look like they are performing an interpretative dance inspired by the double helix pattern of DNA. Scientists have been trying to decode the unique flavor of mesquite pods, but no unique molecule has been discovered to date, (the premise in the studies is that it is definitely present and will eventually be revealed).  

If you ask people who bake with mesquite flour to describe its taste you will get a variety of descriptions. Most concur on a warm spicy quality that is malty and faintly smoky. The nuances in mesquite are what make it such an interesting ingredient in cooking and baking. Notes of caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, coffee and nutmeg are commonly called out, but there are also fruity qualities that show up as dark cherry, dried apricot and coconut. If I had to describe this unique melding in one sentence I'd say it conjures up caramelized wet dates sprinkled with incensed spice. There is a resinous element present in mesquite flour that comes from naturally occurring galactomannin, a gum-like substance that is mildly balsamic. This quality makes mesquite flour a flavorful substitute for "breading" flour in some recipes and a mild thickening agent in others.

Mesquite flour adds a warm and spicy nuance to breads, cakes, cookies and pancakes, and is naturally sweet and high in fiber. It is most outstanding in cornbread, which is one of the ways Native Americans bake with it. Glass Petal Smoke has modified an existing recipe by Native Seeds/SEARCH  (Southwestern Endangered Aridlands Resource Clearing House) to make it even more nutritious and flavorful. Native Seeds/SEARCH "conserves, distributes, and documents the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds, their wild relatives and the role these seeds play in cultures of the American Southwest and Northwest Mexico." Their efforts are worth supporting in the kitchen. Slow Food agrees and has placed mesquite pod flour on its "Ark of Taste" list.

Mesquite Cornbread
Modified Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
(Serves 9 -12)

½ cup organic Peruvian mesquite meal (several brands available)
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon non-iodized sea salt
1 cup low-sodium/low-fat buttermilk (or low fat plain yogurt)
1 omega-3 egg (organic if possible)
3 tablespoons grade “B” maple syrup (or grade “A” maple syrup, or mild honey)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (fruity type best)

·      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
·      Grease an 8 x 8” baking pan and set aside.
·      Combine cornmeal, all-purpose flower, mesquite meal, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt in medium-sized bowl.
·      In a separate bowl, beat the egg and slowly incorporate buttermilk (or yogurt), maple syrup (or honey) and olive oil.
·      Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
·      Pour batter into greased 8 x 8” pan.
·      Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean. This is a dense cornbread with a slightly lower rise than regular cornbread. Be careful not to overbake.
·      Allow the cornbread to cool for 15 minutes. Place on a wire rack to finish cooling.
·      Eat or refrigerate/freeze for future use.

*For savory and spicy cornbread add the following to the dry ingredients— 1 cup fresh or frozen corn, ¾ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, 3 tablespoon minced onion, and 1 tablespoon chipotle flakes.

Native Seeds' original recipe for mesquite cornbread can be found here.

Mesquite pods have been used by indigenous cultures for hundreds of years. They are naturally sweet, gluten-free, high in fiber and low-glycemic. Organic Peruvian mesquite meal can be purchased in bulk from Nuts Online (an economical way to purchase this ingredient). Casa de Fruta offers 7, 16 and 32 ounce options alongside great articles and recipes. Mesquite flour (meal) can be added to oatmeal, yogurt, smoothies and other foods to boost nutrition and flavor.

Oliviers & Company flavored olive oils add an interesting twist to this recipe; especially the citrus pressed olive oils which round out the earthy flavors in mesquite and blue corn, and provide balance (versus a lift) in flavor. The chili pepper olive oil is terrific if you prefer savory and spicy cornbread. If you choose to use the chili pepper olive oil follow the savory option in the recipe and adjust/omit the chipotle flakes.

Changes were made to the original recipe in order to increase flavor and heart-healthy fats. Specific changes include: blue cornmeal (higher in nutrition and more in earthy flavor), organic Peruvian mesquite meal (more pronounced warm spice and malt notes) aluminum free baking powder (no metallic taste, no aluminum), low-fat buttermilk or yogurt (lower in saturated animal fat), grade “B” maple syrup (richer in flavor, slightly less sweet than grade “A”) and extra virgin olive oil (heart healthy fat).

"Mesquite Flour: New Life for an Ancient Staple," was written by scientist Peter Felker and published by Gastronomica in their Spring 2005 issue. You can read it here.

Lomoesque photo of "Mesquite Cornbread" by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Photo of Chilean mesquite pods modified from its source on Wikipedia and is licensed under Creative Commons.