Carob Pods: The Natural Sweetener

Carob pods are a sweet treat with a taste suggestive of chocolate, but nutritionally a lot better for you.

| September/October 1980

What do you do if you have an incurable sweet tooth, but you don't want to pollute your body with the sugary, cocoa-flavored candies, cakes, etc. that it craves? Well, "chocaholics," you can now take heart, because whenever your taste buds demand something sweet, feed them carob instead ... it's a pure, unrefined food that can be easily substituted for chocolate (and for other processed sweets, as well).

If you've ever shopped in a natural foods store, you're probably already familiar with carob, which appears on the shelves in powder form and as an ingredient of candies and baked confections. Actually, carob pods have even more possibilities than you may realize . . . not only can they provide a tasty stand-in for chocolate and cocoa, but they're also a very nutritious food.

Carob is rich in protein, A and B vitamins, and such essential minerals as phosphorus and calcium. It's also much lower in fat and—especially because it's naturally sweet—in calories than chocolate or chocolate products. Furthermore, carob is nonallergenic and doesn't contain theobromine, a stimulant which is present in chocolate.

It Grows on Trees!

Although most folks think of carob as a flour, it's not derived from grain. The sweet is actually a powder, which is finely ground from carob pods that grow on trees. Native to the Mediterranean region, Ceratonia siliqua also grows in the hot, arid climate of Arizona and southern California ... where it often reaches a height of 50 feet. Spreading from a short, thick trunk, the evergreen produces a dense crown of glossy, dark leaves. Its numerous fruits—in the form of long, flat pods—each contains 10 to 16 small brown seeds in a sweet pulp. The leathery, strong-smelling seed cases can be gathered right from the tree (when they're ripe) and eaten raw . . . or ground into carob powder for use in baking.

The carob tree (it's sometimes called St. John's bread, locust bean, or honey locust ... but don't confuse it with the true honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos) has played a major role in man's diet since Biblical times. The pods of the hardy plant often nourished people during periods of starvation or warfare ... and carob was widely used as a natural sweetener—because of its sugars—before the introduction of refined sucrose.

Eat 'Em "In the Raw"

Nowadays—although the use of processed carob powder for baking purposes is quite common—most people don't ever consider eating the raw pods. In fact, whenever I offer them to participants in my wild foods classes and workshops, the unanimous reaction is one of disbelief ... and often distaste. A manufacturer of commercial carob powder even told me that—even though he considered them suitable for livestock feed—the pods required, in his opinion, complicated preparations in order to make them edible for humans!

6/11/2007 12:59:41 PM

Can you make carob chips out of carob powder, and if so, how? :)

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