Carob trees come from the Middle East and can be found all over the Mediterranean. However, it is Portugal that stands out as one of the largest producer of this product known as “alfarroba” by the Portuguese.
Carob seeds are also used for extracting a gum with several industrial applications, namely in the food sector as a thickener and in the pharmaceutical industry. In the past, carob seeds were also used as a unit of weight (carat) for precious materials such as diamonds.
A few years ago, carobs started to appear in many kitchens as a main ingredient due to its nutritional values and the possibility of replacing some foods such as chocolate or milk, which has boosted its use and appreciation as a regional product.
The increased use of this pod, which is found throughout the Algarve, has led to an increase in the price. The price of an arroba (the used measure, weighing around 15kg) is between €20 and €30. A food that in the past had virtually no value, nowadays is hitting the headlines in all regional newspapers due to the robberies taking place that is leading to serious concerns for Algarve farmers.
To find out more on what has be done to transform this fruit into a such a valuable product, The Portugal News went to speak to two of the manufacturing carob companies in the Algarve.
Carob World, a company based in Faro that transforms carobs into bars and spreads, and launched its products in 2015. At that time, it was almost a shot in the dark that became a great success in the long term.
“Our products are based on carob powder. The carob is harvested, goes to the factory and the seed is separated from the pulp, because the seed goes to the pharmaceutical industry as it is a highly valued raw material used for drugs,” explained Ana Paula Appel, Marketing Manager in Carob World.
She added that: “Carob powder is a natural substitute for cocoa powder, so everything that you can do with cocoa powder you can do with carob powder, with the only difference being that the carob has a specific flavour and aroma.”
According to Ana Paula, the client’s feedback was great from the very beginning. “Those who tried were fascinated because they couldn't understand how we managed to turn that into such a product, because carobs were food for animals and still often considered to be”. At the moment, what started out as something strange has become a super food enjoyed all over the world.
Another Algarve brand that works with this fruit is Grand Carob. Also based in Faro, the company produces carob drinks that replace milk, using only four ingredients - carob, almonds, water and salt.
It was at a time when his doctor suggested stopping drinking cow's milk that Nuno Alves, founder of Grand Carob, started looking for new alternatives and found out how great it would be to create a new drink based on carobs.
“Carob is very abundant, sustainable and has a much higher nutritional value for the development of healthy food products”, said Nuno Alves. However, he added that there is still a lack of awareness about the benefits of this pod.
“Consumers still don't know very well what carob is, they need to know its benefits and its sustainability”. That's why he suggests that all entities linked to the carob industry should come together to promote this resource - "brands, producers or anyone whose activity is in any way related to carob should come together to create a strong association to defend and promote the benefits of the carob”.