The Carob Bean Tree or “Wilderness Fruit” is thought to have been the locust that John the Baptist fed on while in the desert. This explains another common name St. John the Baptists’ Bread.
4,000 years ago the surprisingly uniform seeds of the Carob, called Keration in Greek, were used to measure the weight of gold. The word carat is derived from this function.
The Pod is the edible part and it is highly nutritious, leathery and sweet, something like a dry date. The flavour is of honey and chocolate. While many sweet toothed folks like eating the fresh pods the main commercial interest is as a substitute for chocolate and cocoa. At its peak of production Cypress exported $80 million worth of Carob to the U.S.A. Most of these pods are used in the production of health food shop items.
Unlike chocolate Carob contains no caffeine. Ground up pods are used in biscuits and confectionary manufacture. Cough linctus is also produced. Other medicinal products are obtained from the bark and roots. An average nutritional analysis shows 46 – 50% carbohydrate, 10% crude fibre and 6% protein.
Carob can be utilized in the home to make a pleasant substitute drink for hot chocolate as well as a flavouring for ice cream and a dessert slice.
One of natures survivors the Carob originated in the Eastern Mediterranean. Deep roots enable it to survive drought for many years. An evergreen, it can be contained within a small suburban garden as a multistemed 3 metre shrub, or let grow to its full potential as a single trunked tree to 12 metres high. In country areas it’s useful as stock fodder supply, the leaves, pods and seeds are all valuable food during hard seasons
The Carob is a most handsome plant with shiny blue-green foliage and bronzy new growth. The natural clean shape makes it an attractive landscape feature tree, or it can be clipped to create a small formal shape a shrub or a screening hedge. Multiplanted, Carobs make an excellent windbreak for more sensitive fruit crops. Used as a street tree in California it requires annual root pruning and regular deep watering to prevent path buckling. The only other bad habit I can think of is that if you don’t enjoy and hence pick the pods, they will fall, creating considerable litter.
Pollination is not straight forward. Some trees can be self fertile, others need a partner to achieve pollination. I recommend planting 3 trees. After 3 – 4 years you will observe the first flowering Hemaphodite trees (possessing both sexes) have green/yellow flowers where as male only flowers are red. After sexing your trees excess males can be removed. Carob trees commence bearing usually in their fourth year, a 12 year old tree can produce 40 kilograms of pods.
Fertilizers are not generally needed. Carob is a leguminous plant and produces most of its own nitrogen requirement with the help of soil borne bacteria.
The tree is able to withstand moderate frost down to minus 2 or 3 centigrade. The pods require hot summer conditions to ripen to a dark brown maturity. Carob grows well in the metropolitan area from near coastal areas to the hills and also into adjacent inland regions. It is tolerant of lime, sandy and clay soils.
Home Recipes – Carob Powder
Carob powder is a cocoa substitute. Pressure cook pods with water for 20 minutes. Cooking softens the pod, aiding seed removal. Discard seeds and cut pod into small pieces then dry. As required, place in a blender and ground into a powder.
Sweet Carob Cubes
2 cups sugar
¼ cup butter
¾ cup ground Carob
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
Pinch of salt.
Place all ingredients except vanilla in a heavy saucepan and bring to the boil stirring constantly, simmer until liquid reaches the soft boil stage, remove from heat and add vanilla, beat the mixture until it is really thick. Pour into a buttered tray or dish and allow to cool, cut into cubes.