Mesquite Flour, an Arizona Native

The last 15 years have seen the arrival or rediscovery of such ‘designer’ flours as mesquite flour, rice flour, amaranth flour, even chickpea flour, each lending a unique flavor to a particular type of ethnic cuisine. These flours, especially the first, also offer gluten-intolerant consumers dietary alternatives.

Mesquite Bean Pods

Made from the pod (or bean) of the mesquite, a bush or small tree, this low-cal, high-value flour was first developed and used by Peru’s indigenous people.

Later, Native American inhabitants of the Desert Southwest discovered its value. To this day, the mesquite remains a boon to those living in America’s deserts – from the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona to the Sonoran Desert spanning Arizona, California, and Mexico – who value native plants and their uses.

For example, in xeriscaping – also known as desert landscaping – the drought-tolerant mesquite provides food for humans and animals. The latter include bighorn sheep, antelope, ground squirrels, ravens, and quail. The blossoms provide nectar for bees (both wild and domesticated), and habitat for birds, notably hummingbirds.

Mesquite flour, made by drying and grinding the whole pod, is rich in the sweetness of fructose, or fruit sugar. In spite of that, it is surprisingly effective among diabetics in controlling blood sugar. This is because humans can process fruit sugars without the use of insulin.

Mesquite flour is also high in a type of natural gum that slows digestion from an average 1.5 hours to five, keeping blood sugar levels regulated.

If mesquite flour is not quite as common as rice flour, it is because the mesquite bush has armed itself with seriously painful thorns. Scientists speculate that this is an-ice age adaptation to prevent large animals like mastodons and ground sloths from eating the plant into extinction.

The defense still works today, but devoted mesquite flour advocates can arm themselves with knowledge. One good source might be the Moody Orchards-Arizona Mesquite Co., proprietor Mark Moody. The company not only makes its own mesquite flour, it also sells the wood to artisan carpenters around the globe. To buy their flour, call 928-851-1861 or skyrace999 @ gmail.com.

From a dietary standpoint, it is important to know that mesquite seeds (within the pods) are 40 percent protein. Add to that high values of calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc, and the wealth of soluble fibers, and mesquite flour tops even amaranth flour in nutrition. Moreover, mesquite flour is ‘total protein’; that is, it contains all eight essential amino acids.

A few cautionary notes to mesquite ‘newbies’:

  • Taste a pod before picking a bush to make sure the flour will be palatable.
  • Ripe pods are golden brown, like wheat, and snap like crisp celery when broken.
  • Do not confuse mesquite with highly toxic black locust, or less palatable honey locust pods.
  • Do not pick bushes located near traffic corridors, where exhaust is heavy or continuous. Also, do not pick near known locations for insect spraying, or off the ground, where highway runoff, animal waste, and other hazards can contaminate the pods.
  • Pick before – or well after – the rainy season to avoid and/or prevent invisible toxic molds, or aflatoxins.
  • Dry perfectly, then store beans in paper or cloth bags where safe from rodents. Food-grade plastic and metal buckets seal even more tightly, but may create mold if beans are not completely dry, so use bags and try hanging the bags from the rafters.
  • Never mind the little holes in the pods, from which harmless beetles will emerge (after having eaten a few beans during its larval stage). Sharing is part of the new mindset some call ‘eco-eating’.
  • Beans must be absolutely clean before milling operations will accept them

Recipes for mesquite flour baked goods can come from other enthusiasts, from gluten-free bakers, even from grocers who sell mesquite-flour foods. Recipes for baked goods are also available on Fill Your Plate; simply substitute one-third (or more) mesquite flour for wheat flour until the recipe ‘works’.

If all this sounds too labor-intensive for busy lifestyles, Moonrise Farms in Concho sells mesquite flour baked goods. In Prescott, the Crossroads Café serves some mesquite-based products. There is even an eatery in Washington, DC – the Mitsitam Café, in the National Museum of the American Indian – that advertises its mesquite flour-based foods.

 

 

 

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National Almond Day

Monday, February 16, is National Almond Day. When you celebrate with a handful of sweet yet crunchy almonds, remember that southwestern Arizona grows some of the tastiest, most nutritious almonds in the nation.

Almond in wooden bowl, on wooden background

If you don’t like your Arizona almonds raw, or even with sugar coating, Fill Your Plate – a project of the Arizona Farm Bureau – has some wonderful recipes from the pens of Arizona farmers, homemakers, and professionals. Try a cool, refreshing Artichoke Chicken Salad with almonds and rice, or a Farmer’s Mud Pie with chocolate ice cream and almonds (but no mud; we promise!)

Almonds got their name from the Greek word amygdala, or almond-shaped. They grow best in an area known as the Sonoran Desert. Here, in a meld of subtropical and low-desert stretching from Tucson and Phoenix, and west to Yuma, the mild winters, warm sun and abundant water create an ideal climate. This region, Zone 13 on the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) growing map, features wintertime temperatures ranging from 36 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit – the perfect chilling temperature for almonds.

This chilling temperature is what prompts nut and fruit trees to bloom in spring. Without it, yields are small to nonexistent. With it, and within the ideal range found in this unique biosphere, almond trees produce an abundance of sweet, wholesome nuts that are known not only for their flavor but for their nutritional value.

Surprisingly, prices for bulk almonds remain almost the same as they were more than a quarter century ago! In 1989, buyers paid $7.95 per pound. Today, that price is even lower from bulk almond suppliers, and the same or just slightly higher from area bulk or whole-foods grocers.

Like peppers – which we wrote about last week – almonds are not truly a nut. They are a drupe. In scientific terms, a drupe is a fruit, and the sweetness of almonds is due to this characteristic.

It takes five years for an almond seedling to become a tree and start bearing fruit. This occurs about seven to eight months after flowering. The flowers themselves are white to palest pink, and have a distinctive fragrance.

Better yet, consider the almond’s health benefits. They are not only low in calories but also loaded with calcium and chock full of heart-healthy HDL fats. That is, as long as you buy them raw (literally, steamed) or dry-roasted. If the label simply says roasted, you may unintentionally end up eating LDL fats you never bargained for.

Almonds are packed with magnesium for energy, vitamin E, folic acid, and phosphorus for bones and teeth. They are also the perfect companions for low-carbohydrate diets, at 10 grams (per ½ cup serving). In fact, ounce per ounce, almonds are so good at curbing carbs while delivering protein, vitamins, and minerals that some people prefer them as a snack to fruit, yogurt or granola bars!

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Little Known Facts about Chili Peppers

How fortunate for chocolate lovers that Valentine’s Day and chocolate both celebrate in the same month! After all, what better way to brighten February than to share the day for lovers with one of the most loved foods in the world?

We are just a little late for National Chocolate Fondue Day, February 5, but that does not mean we can’t share two of the most interesting facts surrounding chocolate. First, the Aztecs were the oldest society to serve chocolate as a drink. Second, they mixed it with hot chili peppers!

Spicy Chocolate Bar On Wooden Background Closeup. Chunks Of Brok

Historians believe that chili peppers – and chocolate – were first found (by explorers like Christopher Columbus) in and around Mexico. The Aztecs and Mayans  called them ‘chiles’ and ‘cacao’.

The burning sensation, or taste, in chili peppers is the result of capsaicin, a flavinoid secreted in the stem and collected in the ‘ribs’ of the chili. The ratio of capsaicin varies considerably from one type of pepper to the other. This heat is measured in Scoville Heat Units, or SHUs.

Cocoa bean bushes did not migrate, but chilis, or chiles, did, thanks to human intervention. The most important transplants went to the American Southwest, particularly Arizona, where hot sun, fertile soil, and adequate moisture has created some of the hottest and most flavorful chili peppers anywhere in the world.

There are six main varieties of capsicum, the Greek name for the species. The name means ‘to bite’, and some varieties of pepper do just that! Bite the tongue, that is, with a fiery nip that takes some getting used to. Aficionados simply grin and bear it, though not all can hide the flushed skin and sudden, sometimes profuse, sweating!

These hottest of the hot (50,000 to 855,000 on the SHU scale) include (in order of heat):

  • Cayenne Long, Pakistan Dundicut, Piquin, Thai Prik Khee Nu
  • Chiltepin, Chinese Kwangsi, Rocoto, Santaka, Thai (100,000)
  • African Birdseye, Habanero (from Cuba), Jamaican Hot, Scotch Bonnet, S. American Chinenses Extreme
  • Red Savina Habanero
  • Dorset Naga, Francisca, Naga Jolokia or Tezpur
  • Bhut Jolokia from India

Some of these varieties are foreign, but your chances of finding them improve if you visit Chile Acres Farm, which boasts of 16 varieties of chili peppers, as well as sundry other foods like goat cheese. Other growers include K&B Farms, Apple Annie’s Produce & Pumpkins, and Mortimer Family Farms.

For cooks, both professional and domestic, Fill Your Plate also offers a number of unique and Arizona-specific recipes for chili peppers. Choose from an Arizona quiche or spicy hot zucchini patties. Whatever your choice, you are sure to enjoy the intense but never overpowering zing chiles add to food.

Important as the flavor of chili peppers may be, the range and scope of their health benefits are even more significant. For example, capsaicin itself is antibacterial and helps prevent everything from cancer to diabetes. It is also a pain reliever, and capsaicin ointment is available over-the-counter for major sports- or arthritis-related discomforts.

Chili peppers also contain:

  1. A whopping 240 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, an antioxidant
  2. Vitamin B, and the vitamin B-complex group (niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1), important for metabolism and so much more
  3. Vitamin A, for vision
  4. Flavonoids like ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin, all of which protect against the free radicals that cause serious disease
  5. Minerals like potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium, the latter good for the heart, skin, nerves, and blood pressure

So much good from such a small fruit (yes, chiles are a fruit, related to the nightshade family, which includes potatoes and tomatoes)!

Have you had your 3-5 USDA-recommended servings of fruit today? If not, why not start with the hottest products on your grocer’s shelves? Chiles, to be exact.

 

 

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Fun Facts about Winter Vegetables

In the United States, fresh vegetables are available year round, thanks to Arizona sun, abundant crop water, and innovative growing methods.

Fresh, organic kohlrabi

 

As a result, the idea of a ‘winter’ vegetable is obsolete. Still, some crops do produce better in cooler seasons, and in Arizona – according to Fill Your Plate – these include beets, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, and root crops like sweet potatoes and carrots, to mention just a few.

 

If you can’t get your kids to eat their veggies, no matter how you cook or ‘dress’ them, you might want to share a few of these interesting facts while they are struggling with a broccoli floret!

 

Broccoli is very high in phytochemicals, those little molecules that give plants their color, flavor, and smell. Scientists say plants evolved these chemical ‘signals’ to attract eaters (including humans), who likely helped disperse the seed. Broccoli worked overtime to get that vibrant green, and – because these molecules also help protect the immune system – green lovers will get an extra wallop of good health.

 

Cabbage is at its best in winter. Cold sharpens the flavor and insures a crisp leaf. Cabbage is also more than coleslaw, or stuffed cabbage leaves. Try Albondigas-meatball soup, with cilantro and zucchini (have your offspring try to guess the origin of those words). Full of antioxidants, cabbage is also an excellent source of vitamin C. So why is it white? It sacrificed most of its phytochemicals to make that uniquely unforgettable flavor!

 

Brussels sprouts supposedly come from around Brussels, Belgium. Until the late 1800s, they were not even well known in England. They have never been very popular in America, in spite of their lively green color and curious growing habit – sprouting like leaves from a central stalk. For those who love the little green cabbages, however, the University Of Arizona Cooperative Extension Unit advises that the mild winters of the Verde Valley are the perfect climate for them.

 

Kohlrabi is weird, say some. If you saw it growing, you would have to agree. This unique veggie has a greenish-white bulb like an onion that grows above ground, from which the leaves sprout. Think of it as a fat, fat stem, with a name that suggests the dark-eyed beauties of the East. In fact, the name comes from the German words for ‘cabbage’ and turnip. It has a sweet, mild flavor, but your kids might love it just for its looks and the name!

 

Beets are a root crop like potatoes but so brilliantly red they can actually color the foods you add to them. For Valentine’s Day (or just to get your kids to eat them), cook beets with pasta. For the mid-winter blahs, cook and serve with a sweetened ginger glaze. The coloring, which comes from antioxidants known as betalains, makes them the healthiest food in the world. Buy them locally at the Bathtub Spring Farm, or the Whipstone Farm, and see what magic you can make!

 

Carrots, probably the younger set’s favorite vegetable thanks to Bugs Bunny, are also brightly colored – an indication of their health value. Steamed and served with butter, they are naturally sweet, and locally available in Arizona. Northerners have to wait until summer! The same great flavor, but in colors like red or purple (carrot’s original colors), is coming back into fashion. See if you can find them at Crooked Carrot Farm in Queen Creek or GreenGate Fresh in Yuma.

 

Finally, the all-time favorite across ages and generations is the potato. It came to Europe in the 14th century, and landed in Ireland thanks to English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. In Ireland, it caused a famine, but in the United States it has become a staple food across all ages and ethnic groups. Imagine dinner in a restaurant without a baked potato, or Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. Imagine a life without hash browns, tater tots, or French fries (for which we can thank Thomas Jefferson, not the French). We value them for their mild flavor, Vitamin C and densely packed energy in the form of carbohydrates. The Incas valued them for healing broken bones, sunburn, and arthritis!

 

The lowly potato is also the first vegetable to be grown in space. In the fall of 1995, NASA and the University of Wisconsin collaborated with the goal of feeding astronauts and future space colonists who would be away from earth for a very long time. Buy your little space travelers at Schnepf Farms, Aqua Linda Farms, or Desert Roots Farm.

 

 

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Farm Journal Legacy Project Workshop

phoenix workshop

The Four Types of Wealth to Share

Here’s a staggering fact: Families fail to keep their fam­i­lies and fortunes together for three or more generations 90% of the time.

 

While these seem like unbeatable odds, with good planning and preparation, farmers can become part of the coveted 10% who stick together, says Johnne Syverson, a family business consultant with Transition Point Business Advisors in West Des Moines, Iowa.

 

The key is to focus on all four types of wealth and capital—human, intellectual, social and financial.

 

Syverson says human capital involves who we are, where we come from and the talents of the family. Intellectual capital includes work and life experiences, formal and informal education, spiritual beliefs and practices and work ethic. Social capital consists of a person’s contribution back to the community. Finally, financial capital is comprised of assets, such as real estate, machinery, livestock and buildings.

 

“These components make up a more holistic view of wealth,” Syverson says. “It is important to transfer all components of wealth to the next generation. Without which, the financial wealth will eventually disappear.”

 

Families who are successful in transitioning their operation understand wealth in this way, Syverson says. Other good habits and common characteristics of successful families include:

 

  • Meet regularly and have fun together
  • Communicate well and exhibit trust
  • Know their family story
  • Actively mentor the successive generations
  • Celebrate shared values and accept any differences

 

“These things don’t have anything to do with taxes or buy-sell agreements,” Syverson says. “They have to do with relationships.”

 

Syverson will be leading a Farm Journal Legacy Project Workshop in Phoenix, Ariz., on Feb. 20. He will explain how to construct a succession plan, have critical conversations with stakeholders and assemble a helpful team of advisors.

 

Event Details:

 

Farm Journal Legacy Project Workshop
Friday, February 20

 

Arizona Farm Bureau
(located between Werner Road and Elliot Road)
325 South Higley Road
Gilbert, AZ 85296

 

Speakers will include:

 

  • Johnne Syverson, Transition Point Business Advisors
  • CPA Craig R. Thomson, Frost
  • Lawyer James R. Hiento, Ridenour Hienton

 

Learn more here and register here, or by calling 877-482-7203.

 

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