Carob is the name for the pods, seeds, and powder that come from the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua). This tree is native to the Middle East and the word “carob” comes from the Arabic word “kharrub” which means pod. The word “carat” is thought to be derived from the Arabic word for carob seeds, which were commonly used as weights in the marketplace. The flesh of the carob pods, also called locust beans, is ground into a powder that tastes somewhat similar to chocolate and is often used as a substitute.
Carob seeds and pod flesh have been eaten for centuries. The flesh is also known as St. John’s Bread after John the Baptist. The Bible states that he ate carob pods and honey while he was crossing the desert. Ancient Egyptians used the ground seeds as an adhesive. The Greeks and Romans ate carob pods and they spread the trees throughout the Mediterranean. Today, the trees are mainly grown in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Turkey.
Carob trees and pods
Carob trees are a member of the legume family. They are tall and bushy with numerous thick green leaves. The perennial trees resist drought and high temperatures and can live to be a hundred years old. They produce hundreds of tiny red flowers along their trunks between September and November. Male and female flowers are normally produced on different trees. When the flowers are pollinated they develop into green flat pods about four to ten inches long. These pods turn brown when ripe. The entire process from flower to ripe pod takes almost an entire year and once ripe the pods can remain on the tree without rotting for a long time. Inside the tough pods is a sweet juicy pulp that surrounds up to fifteen reddish-brown seeds. A mature tree can produce a ton of these seeds per harvest.
Both the pod and seeds of the carob tree are edible. The pods are generally ground up and the seeds are removed. The seeds are ground up to produce carob bean gum, also called locust bean gum, which is commonly used as a stabilizer and emulsifier in foods such as ice cream and fruit fillings. The seeds can also produce oil called algaroba that is used for medicinal purposes. The remaining pod and flesh are ground up to make carob powder, a substitute for chocolate. The pods are often roasted first to help bring out the chocolate flavor. The longer the pods are roasted the darker the powder and the milder the flavor. The carob powder is often made into solid bars, chips, and syrup.
Uses and health benefits of carob
Carob powder, bars, chips, and syrup can be found in well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores. The first three forms should be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year. The powder may form lumps over time that can be removed by sifting it before using. Carob can be used as a substitute for chocolate in most recipes. Carob powder can substitute for unsweetened cocoa powder and carob chips can substitute for chocolate chips. About one and a half to two parts carob is used for one part chocolate. Because carob is much sweeter than cocoa powder, less sugar generally needs to be added to the recipe. Carob is also not as strongly flavored as chocolate and is best as a chocolate substitute in recipes that have other strong flavors. It can be used in many different baked goods, candies, and beverages.
Carob is most commonly used as a chocolate substitute for those that are allergic to chocolate. It is also healthier than chocolate. It does not contain any caffeine or theobromine, both stimulants found in chocolate. Additionally, sugar and fat must be added to pure chocolate to make it palatable. Carob is naturally sweet, so products made with carob generally contain less sugar and fat. Carob also contains high levels of tannins that may be useful for treating gastrointestinal problems.