Carob Pods: The Natural Sweetener

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Ceratonia siliqua is a dense shade tree that reaches heights of up to 50 feet. Several thousands of pod-producing evergreens were planted in Pasadena schoolyards during the Depression by Seventh Day Adventists... who hoped to provide a free, nutritious treat for schoolchildren.
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Making carob flour is a matter of removing the seeds, drying the husks over hot coals, and grinding them with a stone mortar and pestle into a fine, dark meal.
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Carob pods are flat and leathery, and can be foraged and eaten directly off the tree... but you'll have to spit out the hard seeds that are inside!
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Carob powder is a naturally delicious addition to many cake and candy recipes.

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!

On the other hand, I recently attended a wild foods dinner
where the host served us a simple, delicious dessert:
bite-sized pieces of broken Ceratonia husks, which we ate
raw.

When you go foraging for carob pods, be careful not to
choose green (immature) or moldy (overripe) specimens.
Collect only the firm, lavender-brown seed
cases–which ripen from late summer through early
fall, but can be found year round–and dust off each
one before you bite into it. As you chew, simply spit out
the tiny, hard seeds which are inside the pods. You’ll find
that the leathery fruits are wonderfully sweet …
and they’re easy to pack along, making carob pods
an excellent snack food for hikers and cyclists.

Pod Into Powder

If you’re lucky enough to lay in a large store of the
crunchy husks, you might like to grind your own carob
powder as a low-cost alternative to the store-bought
variety. To do this, you’ll first need to remove the seeds.
Wash the pods carefully and then steam them in a pressure
cooker–at 15 pounds of pressure–for
approximately 20 minutes. When the husks have cooled and
dried off, they’ll split open easily to release the seeds.
(Don’t discard those inedible nuggets, though … they
can be softened in boiling water and used to make an
attractive, natural necklace.) Finally, divide the seedless
husks into small sections and process the pieces in a
blender until they’re ground into a fine, dark meal.

You can also make carob powder by using a rough stone
mortar and pestle. Before you start, just crack open each pod (you’ll
probably have to use a pair of pliers to do so) and remove
the seeds. Once the husks are empty, dry them over hot
coals . . . or leave them in an oven, on the
lowest heat setting, overnight. Then grind the
cured pods thoroughly . . . and you’ll produce a
chocolate-flavored flour that’s great when added to cakes,
breads, and pancakes.

Carob in the Kitchen

Whether you grind it yourself or buy the commercially
prepared mixture, you can substitute carob powder for
chocolate and cocoa in just about any recipe.
Simply use the same amount of carob as you would of cocoa,
or–in a chocolate-based recipe–use three
tablespoons of carob for each square of chocolate.

The “locust tree” fruit can even be used in place of sugar
in all bread products (although it does give such foods a
dark brown color). Carob is also an excellent flavoring to
add to milkshakes, to baked beans … and even to
barbecue sauces!

A “Honey” of a Dessert

For your initial foray into the world of cooking with
carob, try this delicious cake … it’s a luscious torte
that’s almost guaranteed to convert you to the growing
ranks of carob fans.

Preheat the oven to 250°F and–while it’s
warming–beat together 1/2 cup of fresh, lightly
salted butter … 1/2 cup of raw (preferably wild) honey
… and 1/2 cup of unsulfured blackstrap molasses. When
these ingredients are well blended, fold in one egg and
stir the mixture well.

In a separate bowl, sift together 2 cups of stone-ground
whole wheat flour and 1/3 cup of carob powder, 1/2 teaspoon
of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/8 teaspoon of
sea salt.

Then–using a total of 3/4 cup of hot
water–alternately add the liquid and the dry
ingredients to the butter/honey/molasses base. Finally,
stir in one cup of chopped walnuts, and beat (with a wooden
spoon) clockwise–“with feeling”–until the
batter comes alive and gets almost fluffy.

Pour the cake mixture into a lightly greased 9″ X 9″ pan
(or use a double recipe and round 9″-diameter pans to make
a layer cake if you
prefer) and bake it for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the dark
dessert is moist and has shrunk away from the sides of the
container.

I like to serve the tasty cake with a frosting that’s
also flavored with carob, and will delight
honey-lovers with its naturally sweet taste. To make the
topping, cream 2 tablespoons of raw butter and 2/3 cup of
powdered milk together with 1/3 cup of carob powder. Add
1/4 cup of honey, 4 tablespoons of raw cream, and 1
teaspoon of vanilla … then beat until the icing has a
smooth, creamy texture. (You might want to double the
recipe, to cover a layer cake, or just so you’ll have
plenty of frosting for the treat … even after
the spoon-lickers and samplers have had their fill!)

Oh, Fudge!

Another rich–and tempting–dessert that can be
made from carob is fudge … and the basic recipe
requires nothing more than equal quantities of peanut
butter, honey, and carob powder.

Melt 1/2 cup of peanut butter and 1/2 cup of honey in
a small saucepan over low heat, until the mix is soft
and gooey. Then remove it from the stove and slowly stir in
1/2 cup of carob powder.

Mold the mixture into small balls, and roll each one in
whole sesame seeds or flaked coconut. As a variation (or if
you’d prefer to make some traditional fudge squares), you
can blend about 1/2 cup of chopped nuts or seeds into the
melted batter … spread it in the bottom of a long pan … chill it … and cut the hardened dessert into
squares.

Whether it’s used in treats or in breads or other “everyday” cooking, carob
always produces a superior natural flavor … a taste
you’ll want to try again! But even if you just chew on the
raw pods of the Ceratonia tree, I’m sure you’ll
agree that carob isn’t merely another overrated “wonder
food.” It’s a nourishing and tasty way to satisfy your
sweet tooth without suffering the negative
effects of refined sugar.