Here in Portugal at this time of year, farmers and homeowners alike can be seen collecting their crop of carobs from the trees. I spent a few hours myself recently shaking the branches of my own tree with a broom to dislodge a few that are still tantalisingly holding on that I can’t reach.
In fact, I was a bit overzealous, as I managed to break the head off my broom in the process. But real Portuguese farmers can be seen spreading a huge sheet on the ground to catch them while a beater bashes the tree with a bamboo pole to reach the ones at the top, perhaps with the whole family involved in collecting them up into sacks.
Carob powder is made from the ground pods of the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), also known as locust bean or St. John's bread. These latter names are said to come from the belief that the ‘locusts’ sustaining John the Baptist in the desert, according to the Biblical story, were actually carob pods.
The trees are native to the Mediterranean region, although they now grow throughout North America too.
Inside the pods are seeds that need to be removed in order for the powder to be made.
One method of creating carob powder is by boiling the pods, cutting them in half, removing the seeds, drying the pods and then grinding them into a powder.
Other methods would see the pods being roasted before grinding to make their colour darker and therefore more closely resembling cocoa. Either way, the powder ends up looking almost identical to cocoa powder, especially when roasted, but what about the taste?
Carob cake (bolo de alfarroba) or carob biscuits (biscoitos de alfarroba) are great alternatives for those who are allergic to chocolate, because the flavour and appearance is similar, and Portuguese bakers across the country have many recipes for these delicacies, with traditional treats featuring carobs featuring highly at many festivals across the country.
It has its own naturally sweet taste and it's a little nutty. Some people like it. Others don’t. And although carobs can be turned into carob chips that look like chocolate chips, if you put them in your cookies, you will notice the difference.
Health food proponents and recipe developers have tried to treat the two powders as one and the same over the decades, but chocolate lovers won’t be convinced!
But carobs do have their benefits - they are considered by some to be healthier than cocoa, as they contain polyphenols - antioxidants known to reduce the risk of heart disease.
And it is said that 19th-century British chemists sold carob pods to singers – apparently chewing on carob pods helped singers maintain healthy vocal cords and soothed and cleansed their throats.
Not only can tasty treats be baked using them, but farmers also use carob flour dissolved in water for a weaning diet for piglets, calves and other ruminants. Some equestrians will feed carob to their horses as part of a 'cool feed' (high fibre) or to replace sugary titbits.
My dog loves them and will happily munch on a whole one as a treat, and guess what - many dog treats, such as dog chocs, are made with carob powder, no chocolate used at all. As carob doesn't contain caffeine and theobromine, it is safe for your pooch to enjoy. You can even make your own doggie treats using carob powder, there are plenty of recipes online.
The seed of the carob weighs around 0.20g, and apparently a diamond weighing 20g would weigh the same as 100 carobs seeds, and the word carat owes its derivation to the carob, and the seeds were used originally by Arab jewellers to weigh against their precious stones long ago.
Although carob seeds were used as a standard of weight, it would be pretty simple to keep a heavier set and a lighter set on hand in order to use the one that suited your needs best - if you were selling, the lighter set would fit the bill, if you were buying, then the heavier set would be to your advantage!
Carobs or Alfarroba
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