Cooking With Mesquite (or carob): Some Facts and Tips
By Anastasia Rabin
As I flip and serve pancakes at the Desert Harvesters pancake breakfast each year, I’m constantly questioned by those waiting in line about how and what to cook with mesquite flour. I am no expert, but here are a few facts and tips about cooking with mesquite that I have learned from my own experiments and from those of others.
The most commonly asked question I get asked is “Can you use it like regular flour?” The answer is yes you can, but don’t expect it to taste or behave anything like regular flour. There are several reasons for this and understanding them has helped to guide me successfully through my experiments with using mesquite flour.
The flours that we use are most commonly made from cereal grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. These grains all contain varying amounts of glutenin, a protein that is commonly referred to as gluten. Gluten gives dough its elastic qualities and is especially important for leavened dough because it allows gas bubbles formed by the leavening to be trapped. The dough stretches as the bubbles grow and the resulting effect is dough that rises well and bakes into something light and airy.
The light, chewy, and somewhat stretchy substance that most of us recall when we think of bread, is made with high-gluten flour. Gluten-free breads and baked goods (usually made for the sake of people with wheat or gluten allergies from rice or spelt flours) have a crumbly quality to them. This can be favorable in some recipes like pastries, cookies, and even muffins, but is typically considered an undesirable quality for breads since slicing or applying any sort of spread is likely to leave you with a pile of crumbs.
Mesquite contains no gluten and is therefore guilty of this same tendency. That is one of the reasons why it works best when mixed with wheat flour. I have noticed that having too much mesquite in my pancake batter has resulted in a super-wet batter that won’t really cook through. The pancake remains like pudding in the middle no matter how long I leave it on the griddle. (The same thing has happened to me when I used too much oatmeal in pancakes) I think that this might be a result of the leavening not having that critical amount of elastic structure in which to rise. The bubbles from the baking soda cook out too quickly leaving the center raw, wet, and sealed inside a semi-burned crust.
The ratio of mesquite to wheat can vary depending on what it is you are making and what the desired texture is. Playing around with varying types of flours and amounts of gluten will add yet another important variable in your experiments.
Another reason for diluting mesquite flour with wheat flour is that mesquite has a very strong flavor that can be overpowering. In its uncooked form I find it to be entirely palatable. It makes the best pinole that you’ll ever have and is also a great addition to smoothies as a protein powder. But when it is cooked it can have a “sharp” flavor to it that pinches the middle of your tongue. Try cooking a little bit of the straight flour as a mush or porridge and you will taste what I mean. The same flavor came through when I used it 50/50 with whole-wheat pastry flour to make pie crust one Thanksgiving. I like my cheese to be sharp but not my piecrusts. Although it is just a matter of taste (as are so many culinary experiences) I think that most would agree. Diluting it with wheat flour seems to take care of this potential problem entirely, and allows the true, tangy-sweet flavor of the mesquite to really be enjoyed without overwhelming the palate.
Mesquite flour contains more sugars than regular flour and therefore burns very easily. I suspect that this may have something to do with the funny taste that it can get as a result of cooking. Again, this is a challenge that can be mitigated somewhat by adding wheat flour. You may want to lower the cooking temperature of your recipe a little if you are adding mesquite to it. At the very least, keep a close eye on whatever you are baking. Solar ovens work great for baking with mesquite because burning is impossible!
You can start adding mesquite to your diet by trying out the recipes offered on this website. Carob flour can be used in much the same way as mesquite flour. Try substituting carob flour for mesquite flour for some variety.