Monday, July 4, 2011

Harvesting Wild Kiawe Beans

Kiawe is the Hawaiian word for mesquite - it grows wild in the arid desert areas of the islands and it grows in the open fields in Kihei.

The kiawe trees are full of blossoms and beans in various stages and the trees will continue to produce pods throughout the summer.

A brief history of kiawe in Hawaii

As an island food, Kiawe beans have been forgotten but these bean pods are edible and taste like honey.

After the beans are harvested they need to be dried completely before they can be ground into flour. There's a local insect that sometimes bores small holes into the pods but they're still usable. Since the beans are dried, any insects or larvae would leave the pod before it's time to grind them.

There's usually lots of dead branches on the ground under the trees. These can be cut up and used on the grill to produce kiawe smoke. Kiawe beans can also be fire roasted prior to grinding

How to Harvest Mesquite is a short and informative YouTube video. In Tuscon, harvesting mesquite beans each summer is an annual event. Organic mesquite flour retails for $18/lb on Amazon.

The pods must be completely dry in order to grind them in to flour. They can be dried in the sun or in an oven on a low temperature. I've tried grinding the pods in a coffee grinder but I think the best way to grind them is in a corn grinder. I have an Estrella hand cranking grinder for making masa and it works great for this task. It takes three passes through the grinder, tightening the grinding wheels each time, to make kiawe in to flour. After it's ground, I put it through a flour sifter to sort out any remaining chaff. 

Lots of photos, nutritional information and recipes can be found
on the Desert Harvesters website.

An article about a neighborhood in Tucson with kiawe trees in their sustainable landscape design:
Eat Mequite!

Information and links to uses and recipes for kiawe flour:
Native Cultures: Mesquite Flour

And, more information about kiawe in Hawaii:
Kiawe: Hawaii's Tropical Mesquite