Mesquite is the common name for several small spine hardwood trees or shrubs of the genus Prosopis in the pea family. They are native to the southwestern U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean Islands.
The seed pods are edible, and the wood is used for fence posts, railroad ties, and furniture.
The wood is also used in barbecuing and smoking foods. Mesquite gives an slightly sweet smokey flavor to foods.
CAUTION: Smoked foods contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are known carcinogens. Smoked foods are known to be carcinogenic when eaten as a regular part of a person's diet. Most people do not eat enough smoked foods for this to be a major concern.
HOWEVER, the hotter the wood or charcoal burns, the more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are produced. And mesquite burns hotter than hardwood charcoal, and produces much more of these dangerous hydrocarbons.
One study found 8 times the cancer causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in meat cooked with mesquite than hardwood charcoal, and 40 times the benzopyrene, the most dangerous hydrocarbon. I like the flavor of mesquite, but this information gives some serious food for thought.
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