How to Make Mesquite Bean Syrup

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mesquite bean syrup in a cup
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

I get weird looks every time I mention mesquite bean syrup. But then, that’s because I don’t live in the Southwest.

Up here in NorCal, everyone thinks I am somehow magically making a syrup from the wood they use for grilling, and so I get a lot of squinched-up noses at that idea. (It’s not as insane as you might think: Hickory syrup is made with the bark of that tree.) No, I am making syrup out of mesquite’s dried bean pods. Yes, mesquite is both a tree and a legume, so it puts out beans. Kinda like a honey locust tree, or a redbud.

Mesquite can be found in Southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, the southeast corner of Colorado, most of Texas, and in little scattered pockets of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. It’s also a non-native invasive in Australia, so if you Aussies are reading this, here’s something you can do with this plant.

You can easily buy mesquite flour in places like Whole Foods, and it’s made from beans of a South American variety of mesquite, so I am sure you can make syrup from that flour. But I’ve never done it. If you have, let me know how it went in the comments, OK?

All told, there are about a dozen species, the best of which are honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), velvet mesquite (P. velvtina), and the screwbean mesquite, which is P. pubescens. I am using honey mesquite for this recipe, but any variety works.

Simply gather your beans and make sure they are very dry, which normally isn’t hard in the desert. Only thing you’ll notice are little holes in the beans.

Photo by Hank Shaw
Photo by Hank Shaw

These are caused by bruchid beetles, whose larvae bore their way out of the dry pod. So yeah, they are exit holes, not entry, which means you are not likely to eat a ton of little larvae. Even if there are some in your beans, who cares? They’re teeny and will be cooked to death with the bean pods as you make the syrup. So don’t sweat it.

So how to make mesquite bean syrup?

It’s actually very simple because the bean pods are naturally sugary; there is no sugar added. In a nutshell, you break up the pods, steep them in water, and that water becomes your syrup.

Here’s how. First, I use a ratio of 1 gallon of water to 1 pound of beans. Smash them up as best you can. I put the beans in a heavy duty plastic Ziploc and bash them with a rubber mallet. You’ll never destroy the seeds, but that’s fine.

You don’t want to boil or even simmer the water. This is very important. Beer brewers will know why: Higher temperatures extract tannins and other bitter compounds from the pods, which can wreck your syrup. Slow and low is the key.

Dry mesquite beans on a plate.
Photo by Hank Shaw

You can do this in a low oven, or on the stovetop set on low, but the best method is in a slow cooker. Just put all your crushed beans and water in the slow cooker, set it so it will never even simmer, put the lid on and walk away.

How long? At least overnight, and 20 to 24 hours is better. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer first, then again through a paper towel or cheesecloth to get the fine, suspended particles out.

You now have an awesome liquid the color of dark chocolate, with a high enough sugar content to brew into alcohol if you wanted to: 1 gallon of water with 1 pound of crushed mesquite pods steeped 18 hours got me a specific gravity reading of 1.030, which would make a beer of about 3% alcohol.

That’s not strong enough to be a syrup, though. Now you need to reduce the liquid to get it to the sweetness you want.

Again, don’t boil it. I pour the syrup into a pot and heat it to the steaming point, and let that cook very gently until it is reduced by half, about 2 hours. Slowly reducing the syrup produces cleaner flavors than you’d get by boiling it down.

mesquite bean syrup in a coffee mug
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

And what are those flavors? They are borderline mystical. Seriously.

Mesquite bean syrup combines hints of malt, mocha, cinnamon and vanilla with a definite woody background. It is wonderful stuff you need to taste to fully appreciate.

And, since mesquite is common-to-invasive wherever it lives, you might as well make use of it, right?

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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59 Comments

    1. Trae: Typically a month or so before it starts to ferment. Keep an eye on it. You can also cook it down slowly until it is a true syrup, which will be more stable.

  1. Is there anywhere that sells the dried pods intact? Everything I’ve seen online is for the for the flour. I’ve wanted to try making mesquite coffee for ages, now I’d really like to try the syrup too

  2. It’s mesquite bean season right now, in South Texas. Is there any way I can speed up the drying process? In the oven, perhaps? , I could collect 30 pounds of beans easily. I’d love to put up a bunch of syrup.

  3. i will be driving through the mojave in a couple of days, and i was wondering if there are still beans on the trees. Ive been doing some research, and I cant find any information on the fruiting of the trees besides some information on when the beans were harvested by the natives “in spring and summer”.

    1. Blayne: Probably not redbud, but yes on honey locust. The technique is a little different, but it is done. I don’t have honey locusts around me, so I don’t have an exact set of directions for you.

  4. I was gifted a bag of mesquite flour so I may give this a try. Increasing the volume of the steeping water may help with the paste issue. Only one way to find out!

  5. Got a friend who will brew with it! I tried to make the syrup with the commercial flour and water…guess what happens when you put flour in water, that’s right–PASTE!! It doesn’t strain, but makes good pancakes. To make the syrup, dry (170, 5 hours) or roast (350, 10-15 min) the beans, crush in plastic bag with hammer or rolling pin, steep, strain, reduce (I’m still working on the last 2)
    Thanks for the great input.

  6. Curious to know if green pods could be used for smoking in BBQ? Anyone tried that? I would but it doesn’t grow around here (Appalachian Mtns) that I know of.

  7. Have you tried fermenting? I started some wine – 1.5 gallons – from 2 pounds of beans + sugar, before I read your post. I am not sure it will retain it’s “mesquite-ness.”

  8. Can you reuse the bean mash? Say by drying and grinding into flour? Or does the soaking extract all the goodies? I’m looking around for a mill that can handle mesquite as well as wheat, acorns etc. Any suggestions?

    1. Patrick: Never tried it, but I am betting a lot of the goodness gets leached out in the syrup making process.

  9. How interesting! I’m making a note to try it with the flour since I’m in NY… you make it sound so delicious I’m hoping it works out!

    1. Rosemary: However you’d use syrup! Great on pancakes, or as a base to a soda with seltzer. I add it to dark beer in the brewing process. You can glaze meats with it, too.

  10. My favorite thing to do with the flour is use it in cornbread. Replace ~2 Tbsp of flour with it and that mystical flavor comes through…