What the heck is mesquite molasses?
|Mesquite pods among the leaves|
If you decide to chomp on some pods, or the seeds inside, be aware that the seeds do contain an enzyme that inhibits conversion of proteins to amino acids so although they are not toxic and eating one or two won't harm you I would not make it a practice to eat them on a regular basis or in any quantity unless they have been cooked, because heat denatures enzymes (just like in a mash).
To make the molasses, which I will go into in greater detail below, you smash and steep the pods in water for an extended period of time to extract the sugars and flavors from the pods. The liquid is then reduced to a syrup. Most people will roast the pods in the oven to develop more complex flavor. The lighter roasts will produce more of a crystal malt/caramel flavor while a darker roast emphasizes more roasty character. Overall, the flavor produced is full of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon.
Mesquite molasses is often used as an alternative sweetener to honey or corn syrup, especially for the gluten-free folks. (The mesquite flour is also a good option for GF folks, if you can find it. It's usually only made in limited quantities in the southwest US.) Fortunately, it can also be used for brewing.
Obtaining Mesquite PodsMesquite pods reach maturity during the later part of the summer. If you live in a somewhat rural area in the part of Mexico or the US where mesquite grows, you may be able to forage for them yourself. I'm not an expert in this field, but as I understand it different species have some different flavors and a few are rather bland, so experimentation will be your friend. I didn't realize mesquite grew in my particular area (I live in a suburb of Fort Worth on the outskirts in a developing community and didn't realize the fields were full of mesquite trees) until I saw the pods hanging from the trees this summer. Instead, I arranged to purpose pods from another brewer on homebrewtalk (member GTG) for a very reasonable price. Next summer, you may find him or others selling or trading pods.
|Pile of pods -- the small wholes are from Bruchid beetles|
If you can pick pods yourself, you want to pick fresh pods off the trees, rather than the ground. The pods are a food source for Bruchid beetles, which are tiny, harmless beetles that consume the same sugars you want. They are more likely to get inside the pods on the ground and eat up the sugars. Do not harvest green pods, wait until late July through September when they are light brown or darker (may turn red). You only need two pounds for a five gallon batch so you don't need to strip an entire field. However, if you end up with too many there are some interesting uses for the syrup you can find online.
WARNING: mesquite trees often grow in areas with poisonous snakes, like rattlesnakes. In grassy fields you may not see a snake kicking it on the ground beneath or around the tree until you step on it or near it. Be aware of your surroundings and if possible, wear boots or other clothes that can offer some protection from the fangs of an angry snake. Bringing a snake bite care kit might not be a bad idea as well.
Mesquite Molasses Recipe
|After a light roast|
One pound mesquite pods, roasted
Half gallon of clean water
Cookie sheet or other flat pan safe for oven use
Kettle/pot one gallon or larger
Strainer or colander (you may want to use both if you have them)
Slotted spoon or other device to remove pods
Step One - RoastFirst thing you want to do is roast those pods to develop deeper flavors. You can roast at different lengths of time to produce darker pods with more roast character. It is a very simple process. Rinse off the pods if you haven't already and spread them out on your cookie sheet. Heat the oven to 350F and put the sheet in the oven. Roast them for at least ten minutes. If you want them to stay light, take them out now. You can leave them as much as thirty minutes for a very dark pod. You'll want to check on them every few minutes after ten minutes to make sure they aren't burning and see when they have reached your desired level of roast. I've read some people say twenty minutes is a good mix of lighter caramel and more roasty character that works well in beer. Once you are happy with them, take them out of the oven and turn it off.
Alternatively, if you wanted to get some smoke in the beer you could smoke the pods.
Step Two - SteepingThe next step is pretty much like mashing. First break up the pods. The pods aren't as hard after roasting so you can break them up with a hammer, potato masher, or meat tenderizer. I found I could break them faster by hand by snapping them in my fingers but depending on how much you do and your process using a device to crush them may be faster. Basically you are just looking to break them up into inch-long pieces so the sugars can be extracted.
|About 45 minutes into steeping|
Initially the aroma is kind of woody with a hint of vanilla and coffee. After about ten minutes the woody character starts to subside. After thirty minutes the vanilla, caramel and cinnamon really start to come out. Only a hint of woody character remains, which is unsurprising since it is a big pot of water and plant material. After an hour the woody character really disappeared and some roast character started to come out.
The recipes I found said to take the pods out at 90-120 minutes in and break them up and add for another 30 minutes. Then remove the pods, discard and raise the temperature just under boiling until the liquid reduces to a thick syrup. You want to reduce the liquid without creating burnt flavors or extracting tannins from the inevitably present small bits of pod left behind. If you don't get every tiny piece of pod out, it's ok, it will all end up in your trub in the fermentor.
|Remaining liquid after removing pods after two hours|
Add to a sturdy plastic container or a preheated glass container (preheat it so it doesn't crack). It's easier to transfer into a storage container when it's hot than when it cools, like any other thick syrup. Cool and refrigerate until ready for use. I do not recommend keeping it refrigerated for more than a few days because, like wort, it's a bowl of sugar ready for bacteria to consume and spoil. The more water you extract the harder it is for bacteria to ferment (like honey and maple syrup) but unless you can test the water content, I would not rely on that. If you need to store it for more than a few days, freeze it in a plastic container. You don't have to reduce it to a thick syrup, you can leave it more liquid-y and just account for the extra liquid in your mash or sparge water volume. If you plan on letting it hang out in your fridge for a few days I would reduce it to avoid creating a more welcoming environment for bacteria to spoil it. So if you oppose reducing it to a syrup, at least freeze it as soon as you can.
If you are an extract brewer, you can do the same process at the beginning of your brewing day and not reduce the liquid to a syrup, just using it as the water you steep your grains in and build your boil from there. The same can be done for an all grain brewer but as mentioned above, account for it in your water volumes.
I actually liked the flavor a little better in the earlier stage where the vanilla was more prominent but I think the end result will be better in a porter where it will play with the chocolate and crystal malt.