Carob is widely known as St John's Bread and historically known sweetener. "St. John's Bread" or "locusts" sustained St. John the Baptist in the desert, according to the Bible (now the word "locusts" is attached not just to the carob tree, but to a number of other leguminous trees with pinnate leaves and oblong pods). As a sweetener (as well as food) it was used in Ancient Egypt. Carob pods were the most important source of sugar before sugarcane and sugar beets became widely available. Dried carob fruit is traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat (holiday celebrating the New Year of the Trees).
Biological name of the Carob is Ceratonia siliqua, from family Fabaceae. It is an evergreen shrub or tree, cultivated for its edible seed pods. The scientific name of the carob tree derives from the Greek keration "carob" (from keras "horn"), and Latin siliqua "carob, pod". By the way, the term "carat" is also a derivation from the same Greek word keration, due to the practice of people weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob tree (and further diamonds), before standardized system of fixed weight of one carat. Carob seeds (or carat seeds) was also the measure of purity for gold in late Roman and early Byzantine times.
In Sicily carob tree is called Carrubo, in Italy - Carrubio, in Brazil – Alfarrobeira, and Algarrobo in Guatemala. Carob tree is 15-17 m in height and at an age of 18 years may have a trunk of 85 cm in circumference. The crown is broad and semi-spherical. Its leaves are pinnate with 6 to 10 opposite leaflets, dark-green and leathery, 10–20 cm long. It has tiny green-tinted red numerous flowers. Most carob trees are monoecious (with individual male and female flowers). The fruit is a pod that is 15 to 30 centimeters in length and fairly thick and broad, can be thickened at the sutures, straight, curved or even compressed. The pod is light to dark-brown and filled with soft brown pulp, with seeds that are very hard. The unripe pod is green and very astringent. As for the ripe pod it is very sweet when chewed (except the seeds). Carob is a member of the legume family, and as such its roots host bacteria which convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates which can be used by plants to make proteins.
The tree is rather beautiful, but is cultivated around the world primarily as a food crop, for its sweet and nutritious fruits. Carob is native to the eastern Mediterranean, that is why it is well adapted to the ecological conditions of this region. The tree is typical in the southern Portuguese region, in southern Spain and on the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Although the root system is usually deep, Carob can not tolerate waterlogging. As for the soil, it prefers different types: from rocky hillsides to deep sand or heavy loam (but with good drainage). It grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas and tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. Carob prefers typical ideal mediterranean-type climates - dry climates that receive more than 30 centimeters of rainfall, with cool, not cold, winters, mild to warm springs, and warm to hot summers. The pods should not be exposed to rain or heavy dew after they have turned brown and developed high sugar content (as wet pods ferment quickly).
Parts Used and Market
The pods must be harvested before winter rains, those that don't fall are knocked off with the pole. After that they are caught on canvas sheets and sun-dried for 1 or 2 days until the moisture content is reduced at least to 8%. Then they are crushed and graded. The seeds are crushed as well. The pods serve as cattle feed: for horses, pigs, goats and rabbits (but not chicken); the flour is often utilized in dog biscuits. A flour made by beating the seeded pods is high in fiber and has been utilized in breakfast foods and is used in confections (especially candy bars), or honey-like sirup and molasses. It has been combined with wheat flour in making bread or pancakes. Carob pods are processed to a cocoa - like flour which is added to cold or heated milk for drinking.
The seeds are removed to make locust bean gum. This gum is much employed in the manufacture of cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, curing tobacco, making paper (photographic paper, paint, ink) and some others. Where rubber latex is produced, the gum is added to cause the solids to rise to the surface. It is also used for thickening silkscreen pastes and bonding paper pulp. In Germany, the roasted seeds have served as a substitute for coffee (in Spain, they have been mixed with coffee).
As a wood it is used for cabinetwork and turnery due to its firmness.
Carob pods are not only edible, but also rich in sucrose (almost 40% plus other sugars) and protein (up to 8%). The pod contains vitamin A, B vitamins, and several important minerals. Carob flour is a famous cocoa substitute that has slightly different taste than chocolate, is fat-free, is rich in pectin, is nonallergenic, has abundant protein, has no oxalic acid (which interferes with absorption of calcium) and has only one-third the calories of that of chocolate. More over, the extracted sugars of the pod can be utilized to produce fungal protein; and infusions of the pulp are fermented into alcoholic beverages.
The seeds are removed to make locust bean gum, or ‘Tragasol’ - a tragacanth-like gum (manogalactan). It is a very important commercial stabilizer and thickener in bakery goods, ice cream, jelly, salad dressings, cheese, bologna, sauces, salami, canned meats, fish, mustard, and other food products. The remaining husk consists of mostly carbohydrates (35-60%), dietary fibers, tannins, proteins and minerals and this husk is used for making carob powder (as a cocoa replacer mostly in natural food markets).
St John's Bread has several health benefits. In several countries it is used as a laxative. From Carob crushed pods a refreshing drink with a distinctive taste is made. Carob is very often considered as ‘healthier’ alternative to chocolate. Sometimes it is used instead of coffee or added in confections (and consumed by people who cannot, or prefer not to, consume caffeine, theobromine or other psychoactive substances). As a sweetener it is safe for children. For the same reason carob is used in the production of pet treats (it is sweet, but unlike chocolate doesn’t contain theobromine, which animals are unable to metabolize).
The pod husks are chewed by the singers as they believe that this clears the throat and voice. There are some researches that Carob acts as an antioxidant, as well as improve digestion. It may also have cholesterol-lowering potential. Forty-nine adults with slight to moderate hypercholesterolemia were given 5 grams of the product 3 times a day in addition to their normal diet. The patients consumed the dietary fiber in a variety of foods. Over an eight-week period, total cholesterol (as well as LDL-cholesterol) levels were significantly reduced. This effect may be due to the naturally high levels of lignin and polyphenols (as it can bind bile acids and cholesterol and facilitate their excretion).
Thanks to Pinitol (one of the component of the carob fiber) Carob has been shown to regulate blood glucose (it has some potential value for diabetics). As for digestive aid Carob is appeared to bind water in the digestive tract resulting in improved intestinal motility typical of insoluble fibers. Besides there are some other health benefits that need further researches.
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