In keeping with the sustainability development goals of the UNESCO network we would like to highlight two culturally relevant and underutilized regional crops that have a long history and offer a creative solution to our food based obesity problems and scarce water resources.
Mesquite: San Antonio Superfood
The mesquite plant is endemic to San Antonio’s semi-arid landscape, and its pods can be harvested for use in brewing beer, making jelly and caffeine-free coffee. When milled, it makes a great gluten-free flour with a nutty, sweet flavor that can be used in bread, cookies and other desserts, like our mesquite pecan cheesecake and mesquite chocolate chip cookies!
The mesquite tree is drought resistant, and provides both shade and food to livestock animals as well as a habitat for important pollinators like bees and butterflies.Mesquite has a low glycemic index, plentiful in natural sugar, protein and fiber. It is also rich in minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Amaranth: Not Just a Weed
Amaranth, known as pigweed, is seen as a menacing weed by many instead of a rich source of complete amino proteins; just as Mesquite trees are so prolific in our region they are seen as a trash tree instead of an alternative gluten free, mineral rich source of drought resistant flour.
These nutritionally rich superfoods represent a cultural and ecological heritage. At present, many locals and residents are unaware these ingredients are edible, while others only remember their parents or grandparents using these ancient foods that today have been lost in our modern society.
The semi-nomadic peoples who have called San Antonio home for 11,000 years foraged from seasonal foods like mesquite pods and amaranth and traded with their MesoAmerican neighbors, but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Spanish that agricultural systems were introduced and implemented creating another mixing of colonial foods and cultures that resulted in both corn and flour tortillas being a part of our culinary landscape.
Prior to and during the arrival of the Spanish the indigenous groups in the area made a mesquite bread that they referred to as “pan negro/black bread” produced from the hard chocolate flavored mesquite pods.
Tortillas are an indigenous food traditionally made from nixtamalized corn masa made throughout MesoAmerica. The borders between Mexico and Texas represent more of a geopolitical line than a division as our Native American and Mexican cultures are almost inseparable today.
Mesquite and amaranth tortillas represent important cultural elements of our past and are literally crops for the future as they grow effortlessly with no necessary adaptations, are nutritional superfoods, and will survive in a warming environment with less water. We would like to highlight the “bread” of our city as the ubiquitous tortilla, utilizing ancient crops in order to evolve, educate and inspire our community to go back to the foods our ancestors used to nourish themselves with minimal impact to the landscape and its precious resources.
Mesquite amaranth tortillas are made using a process called nixtamalization, wherein the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkalizing solution. This traditional method is also utilized with hominy corn. Nixtamalization softens the outer skin, the endosperm, dissolving lectins and making it easier for the body to absorb the corn’s nutrients.