We’re proud to grill everything on our savory menu over a mesquite grill. However, we’re often asked what is “mesquite?”.
The mesquite tree is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The pods that grow on this tree are edible and have been used for centuries by Native Americans, particularly in Mexico and the southern United States. As a result, mesquite has long been a popular ingredient in the Southwestern United States, but it is also gaining traction nationwide as people begin to discover its delicious flavor profile.
It’s a gluten-free and vegan ingredient that can be used to add flavor to anything from carne asada (steak) and pollo (grilled chicken) to barbeque sauce, vegetables, or even pancakes.Let’s explore exactly what gives mesquite its signature flavor, what is so alluring about mesquite, and where you can go to enjoy mesquite grilled foods.
The Tradition of Backyard Barbecues
Grilling meats over a wood-fueled fire pit is the traditional process, but since the average family might not own a large pit, a variety of tools can be used, including charcoal grills, propane grills, and pellet grills.
Commonly, a sauce, marinade, or dry seasoning is used on the meat before grilling to give it a sweet, smoky flavor. While there are many types of barbecue sauce, the typical store-bought version is made from tomato paste, water, sugar or corn syrup, vinegar, salt, onion powder and spices. It’s also becoming more common to see recipes that use beer or even cola In Mexico and the Southwest. The popular flavor of mesquite has also been gaining attention among many other regional American barbecue aficionados.
We’ve found that this flavor has motivated even the most loyal backyard grillers to put down the spatula and search for the nearest Mexican or barbecue restaurant serving up meals with some mesquite magic.
Mesquite Trees in the Wild
In total, there are over 40 species of mesquites. The most common are the velvet mesquite, honey mesquite, and screwbean mesquite. Mesquites typically grow to a height of 10 to 15 feet tall and have a surprisingly long lifespan of over 200 years. Mesquite trees grow in the desert ecosystems so common here in the Southwest and produce sweet-tasting pods that can be eaten by humans and animals alike. The best time to harvest the pods is when they have matured and appear brown or yellow in color.
Of course, mesquite didn’t begin as a 21st century ingredient for a woodfire barbecue pit. In fact, mesquite has been used as both a food and medicine for centuries. Native Americans would grind down the whole pods until they produced a sweet, nutty flour. This flour could be made into cakes or even mixed with water to make porridge. Mesquite powder was also a popular ingredient in many different kinds of beverages. For example, mesquite pods were boiled in water to create a tea to help with indigestion.
What Is Mesquite Flavor?
Today, mesquite is most commonly used as a flavoring for many of our favorite foods, and is used across the Southwest, Mexico, Argentina, Greece, The Middle East, and India. The pods are often ground and used to marinate meat for grilling, but many people cook with mesquite wood, as well. This process allows mesquite smoke to surround meats, fish, and vegetables to infuse them with the flavor.
So, what, exactly, does mesquite taste like? As mentioned, mesquite seasoning for dry rubs and sauces comes from the dried, ground pods of the mesquite tree. People report that it has a smoky taste. Because of this bold flavor profile, mesquite is often used to season meat, vegetables, and other foods before barbecuing.
Discovering the Differences: Mesquite vs. Hickory Flavor
While both mesquite and hickory are commonly used as wood pit barbecue fuel, their flavor profiles are unique. Both woods contain lignin, a compound that combusts and emits a desirable smoky flavor, but there are some key differences.
Mesquite is preferred by many familiar with wood pit and enclosed smoker barbecuing because it burns at a higher temperature. This makes it perfect for searing and browning meats, which can reduce the risk of food-borne illness by limiting exposure to bacteria. However, hickory is often considered a bit more versatile than mesquite because it can be used for common barbecue meats like briskets, steaks, chicken, and pork ribs, but it is also mild enough for fish. By contrast, mesquite has approximately four times the amount of lignin as hickory and can overpower delicate fish and seafood.
Thus, mesquite is more suitable for wild game, duck, lamb, and barbecue meats. Similarly, barbecue aficionados recommend that, when seasoning with mesquite, cooks should start lightly at first, as the ingredient can quickly supply more smoky flavor than desired.
The Health Benefits of Incorporating Mesquite into Your Diet
When people think of mesquite, they usually think of it as the sweet and smoky flavor we mentioned above—perfect for barbecuing meats and vegetables alike. However, Native Americans used mesquite for health purposes as well, creating teas and powders from the pods to provide medicinal benefits.
Feast your eyes on some useful health benefits of mesquite, including:
- Digestion and gut protection. Mesquite is known for containing saponins. Saponins are chemicals that can help promote gut microbiota and protect the intestinal wall.
- Helping to meet your daily fiber needs. Mesquite powder is a wonderful way to boost your fiber intake. The powder has natural soluble fiber that can help to naturally cleanse your digestive tract when ingested regularly. This is especially important if you’re looking for an alternative to cereal and other processed grain foods.
- A healthy boost to the immune system. Mesquite powder has been used in traditional medicine for years because of its ability to boost the immune system. This can be attributed to multiple factors, but the most critical is mesquite’s high antioxidant content. A healthy immune system means better protection against allergies and illness.
- Low glycemic index. Mesquite flour has a low glycemic index, which means that it does not cause blood sugar to rise after consumption. By comparison, wheat flour has a high glycemic index and can cause blood sugar spikes. Mesquite flour poses a much lower risk of high blood sugar, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.
- High mineral content. Mesquite powder is also full of important minerals, including iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Your body can use these minerals to support many distinct functions. For example, magnesium is important for healthy bones and strong muscles.
- High protein content. In addition to being full of fiber, minerals and antioxidants, mesquite powder is also a great source of protein. Protein is crucial for the creation of new muscle cells as well as the repair of damaged cells.
- Anti-fungal properties. When ingested, mesquite powder can help prevent infections by stopping the growth of harmful fungus in your body.
An Authentic Ingredient for An Authentic Meal
As mentioned, mesquite has been used for centuries in recipes because of the pleasant flavor it offers. Mesquite wood is now commonly used throughout the Southwest as the preferred fuel when smoking meats, mostly because of how well the high heat brings out its sweet and smoky flavor.
Today, mesquite is also gaining widespread popularity in the United States. The ingredient has experienced growing availability as a fuel and in dried form as a seasoning for meals at restaurants all over the country. However, it’s important to note that mesquite has its roots in the American Southwest and northern Mexico. Native Americans and early settlers alike created dishes and entire meals featuring this unique flavor profile, and mesquite is perfect for adding a little something extra to almost any local or regional fare.
The Mesquite Grill: A Taste That Is Impossible to Recreate at Home
While it is possible to find an abundance of unique mesquite flavored items sure to tempt your palate, do not settle for mesquite-infused meats and vegetables that are not roasted, smoked, and grilled to perfection over a wood fired mesquite grill.
In addition to mesquite grilled meat, we offer our unique mesquite grilled salsa and mesquite grilled veggies to create the ultimate mesquite-infused Mexican meals. However, mesquite is only one of many authentic ingredients you will find at Backyard Taco.
Our burritos, tacos, and other popular dishes are all created using the freshest ingredients, carefully selected to form the ideal flavor pairings. A perfect example is our Grilled Tostada Vampiro, which is made with a crisp corn tortilla, offered with mesquite-infused carne asada, pollo, birria (shredded beef), or pork Al Pastor and served with Monterey Jack cheese and a variety of vegetables, rice, and beans.
Dr. Tyler loves tacos! He is one of the owners of Backyard Taco, and can sometimes be found moonlighting there at night or on the weekends.
Dr. Tyler Robison is an alum of Mesa’s Mountain View High School. He graduted from Brigham Young University before being accepted to the “Top Ten-nationally ranked” University of Louisville in Kentucky, where he earned his Doctorate in Dental Medicine and a Master’s Degree in Oral Biology. He graduated with honors in the top ten percent of his class. Dr. Robison continued at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, where he received a second master’s degree in dental science and his orthodontic certification.
Dr. Tyler enjoys serving in his community. He is a provider for the Smile Back Foundation, which offers scholarships for free dental treatment to underprivileged East Valley students. He is also a Major in the U.S. Army Reserve and served during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2008.
Dr. Tyler Robison’s favorite pastimes include spending time with his family on the lake, at the beach, or on the slopes. He is an avid and crazy snowboarder! He has three incredible sons and one sweet daughter: Caden, Jace, Crew, and Bliss.