The evergreen carob tree (Latin name = Ceratonia Siliqua) although very large at 7-10 meters high is actually a shrub and has been around for over 4000 years.
Carob is native to the Mediterranean and is a resilient drought resistant tree which tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. Hence why it grows well in warm temperate and subtropical weather like that in many parts of Europe like Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey and parts of America.
The fruit is by nature an organic product, as the trees are usually grown in the wild with minimum human interference in terms of cultivation practices.
After six to eight years of growth a carob tree starts to bear fruit (carob pods) and after twelve years it can easily yield 50kg of pods a year increasing to an average of 100kg to 125kg over the years. Carob trees can continue to yield pods for 100 years.
Average pods are reddish-dark brown in colour, and about 15 cm in length, they are slightly curved and flat like large runner beans and contain very hard seeds which are not edible but have other important uses.
Carob has been consumed since ancient times. The earliest use of carob by the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans was of course eating the pods raw straight from the tree.
The Egyptians also crushed the pods to produce a very thirst quenching drink widely enjoyed during Ramaddan. It is said that most Egyptian Kings had representatives in Cyprus to collect only the best carob pods to be sent to Egypt to be turned into this drink due to its healing qualities on the digestive system.
The Egyptians also extracted a gum from the seeds (LBG- Locust Bean Gum also known as CBG – Carob Bean Gum) to produce a liquid which they widely used in the mummification of their dead.
LBG is still used today as a thickener, emulsifier or stabilizer for many everyday products such as food, pharmaceuticals and cosmetic preparations.
Carob is also referenced in the Bible. It is said that while St. John the Baptist was in the dessert he sustained himself for long periods of time on the nutrition of the carob fruit, thus the pods are also referred to as St. John’s Bread.
Other uses of carob in the past were as a source of sugar before sugarcane and sugar beets became widely available. During wartime soldiers ate it to sustain themselves when food was scarce. Carob was and still is used to feed livestock.
Also due to the uniform weight (0.015grams) of the hard carob seeds found inside the pods gold merchants used them as a measure of weight. The word carat comes from the word Ceratonia Siliqua, the scientific name for the carob tree, it still today represents the value of gold as measured by its weight (0.015grams).
The jury is out; Carob is definitely worth its weight in gold.
If, however, you are still sold on raw cacao and are a raw chocolatier I think you should reconsider carob as an addition to your chocolate for more depth of flavour and sweetness.
To purchase quality organic carob products grown and ground in Crete click here.