Chances are that you’ve got a carob or a honey locust (depending on your location) tree near you. The pods from these trees can be turned into naturally sweet powders that are healthy, tasty, versatile ingredients to have on hand. Making them isn’t complicated, so long as you remember that it is not the beans (seeds) that you eat, but the pods surrounding those seeds.
Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) grows in warmish climates that match its origins around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. In the U.S., look for it in California and the Southwest.
Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and thornless honey locust (G. triacanthos var. inermis) are in the legume family (Fabaceae), just like carob. But honey locust is considerably more cold- hardy than carob. It has been widely planted around the northern hemisphere. In the U.S., you’ll find it throughout the Northeast and in parts of the Midwest.
Foraging Carob and Honey LocustBoth trees have the compound leaves and the pods bearing multiple beans (seeds) typical of the legume family. Here’s more detailed information on identifying carob and honey locust.
Both trees start dropping their pods in late summer and early autumn. You want to gather the ones that have fallen off the tree of their own accord. You can simply gnaw on these fallen pods for a delightfully sweet trail snack. But if you yank the brown-but-not-yet-ripe-enough-to-fall ones off the trees, your face will pucker up in disgust at the metallic, astringent taste. Patience pays off with these particular wild foods.
Perhaps because carob is often compared to chocolate, many people assume that it is the seeds that yield the sweet powder. But although with cacao that is true, it’s not the case with carob, nor with honey locust.
Make Carob Powder or Honey Locust PowderThere are reports of the seeds of both these trees having been used as food, but more often it is the sweet pods surrounding the seeds that are mentioned. We’re going to ignore the seeds. Trust me on this: I once simmered honey locust seeds for 12 hours and they still didn’t soften to anything resembling edible, never mind palatable. And carob seeds? If one accidentally makes it into your electric grinder it will emerge from the experience unscathed.
1. To get rid of the seeds, it helps to soak the whole pods. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the pods, remove from the heat. Let soak for at least 4 hours or overnight. (Or longer. I once started soaking a batch of carob pods, got overwhelmingly busy with other stuff, and got back to them two days later. They were fine.)
2. De-seed the pods by splitting them lengthwise and removing the seeds. This will be easy to do after they’ve soaked.
3. Break the de-seeded pods up into small pieces.
4. Dehydrate or roast the pod pieces. You can do this in a dehydrator set on the medium setting, usually 135 degrees Fahrenheit, or in your oven on its lowest “warm” setting, usually around 150 degrees Fahrenheit
5. Grind the dried pod pieces in an electric coffee grinder — or go old school and roll them out on a flat stone using round stones as “pestles” or grinders. An empty wine bottle also works as a pestle (don’t ask me why I know this).
6. You can stop at this stage and you will have a sweet but granular product that will be tasty in energy bars and granola.
7. Keep in mind that neither carob nor honey locust will melt into a liquid state the way chocolate does. For beverages, smoothies, custards and other recipes in which grit would be unwelcome, I recommend sifting your pod powder. Do this simply by dumping the ground pods into a fine mesh sieve and tapping the sides of the sieve over a bowl. Save the gritty stuff that remains in the sieve for products where that texture doesn’t matter. Bottle the fine, sieved powder separately.
Okay, so you’ve got your delicious sweet pod powder. Now what?
Add it to smoothies. Mash it up with some peanut butter and oatmeal to make your own energy balls or bars. Cookies and muffins are begging for it. Because your pod powder is naturally sweet, you’ll be able to cut down on the sugar, honey, or other sweetener you’d be using otherwise.
Leda Meredith is a certified ethnobotanist and food systems educator who teaches wild edible plant and mushroom classes at New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and other organizations. is the author of seven books, including The Forager’s Feast; Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries; Pickling Everything: Foolproof Recipes for Sour, Sweet, Spicy, Savory, Crunchy, Tangy Treats; and The Skillful Forager: Essential Techniques for Responsible Foraging and Making the Most of Your Wild Edibles. Connect with Leda at www.LedaMeredith.com and Leda Meredith on YouTube, and read all her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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