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Mesquite May Be Next Health Food Craze or Hardwood Floors

July 06, 2001

MESA, Az. When most of us think of mesquite, we think of mesquite-flavored potato chips or barbecue briquettes, and usually not furniture, flooring or cookies.

Researchers in the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness and the Department of Nutrition at ASU's Polytechnic campus are trying to change that by making mesquite a viable alternative crop for arid areas, and, at the same time, the next "green" raw material and raw ingredient.

"By creating a model to prove that a mesquite crop is economically feasible, our hope is to show potential lenders/investors that mesquite can be a big business and that the crops can be used in many ways by many industries," says Julie Stanton, professor in the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness.

The Agribusiness side of this team effort is looking at growing alternative crops in environments that normally do not support agriculture, like arid dry climates or areas that have experienced soil degradation due to poor water quality. As part of the first phase of this project Professor John Brock and Professor Emeritus Richard Gordon researched the potential for mesquite to grow in a formal cultivated manner, as opposed to wild, so that certain characteristics could be controlled.

"Mesquite trees are perfect for the environment," says Stanton. "They use little water, put nitrogen back into the soil, restore natural habitats, and lower soil erosion."

Nutrition professors Woodrow Monte and Jeff Hampl are conducting the nutritional analysis of the pods and meal as well as trying to develop recipes and other uses for the pods and meal such as in cookies or cereals.

According to Monte, "flour made from mesquite pods is an exquisite ingredient from a nutritional point of view." Protein and fiber is high, fat is low, and it's a good source of calcium.

In addition to food, the crops can be used as a resource for other industries.

"Nothing would be wasted on a mesquite farm," says Stanton. "The wood is hard, so it could be used for furniture, flooring and other housing materials. In addition, the trees can be used for landscaping purposes as well, though the pods/meal may be where investors would see the best return on their investment."

Research on making mesquite tree investment profitable has typically focused on long-term production of wood.

"Our research is new for the field in that it focuses principally on the pods," says Stanton. "Through our four years of field research, we have been able to develop financial, biological and nutritional data needed to convince investors to help an alternative crop, like mesquite, get off the ground."