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Monday, September 13, 2010

CAROB: THE CHOCOLATE SUBSTITUTE

CAROB


Carob is native to the region around the Mediterranean Sea, and is best known for being a chocolate substitute. I’d probably seen carob before, but the first time I realized I was looking at a carob tree was in Antalya in Turkey, when a runaway camel was recaptured because it had stopped to eat the carob pods on a tree. The beast had quite a feast before being found, and I locked myself in a carpet shop until the camel had gone, as I had a phobia of camels, having been bitten by a particularly foul-tempered one.
                                                                                                             
    Carob trees are evergreens and another name for them is Saint John’s Bread, because when John the Baptist was in the desert, the Bible says that he ate wild honey and locusts, locusts being a name for the beans, rather than the insects. Before cultivation of sugar cane and sugar beet, carob was a useful sweetener. It was used in ancient Egypt, and seeds were found in the tombs of the pharaohs when they were excavated. The gum from the beans was also used in the embalming process.

It was used as a sweetener by the ancient Egyptians and carob juice has been enjoyed by people from many cultures on high days and holidays. In times of famine, people eat it, but at other times I guess they leave it for the camels. The tree is drought resistant and they can live for more than 50 years, and that is just as well as they don’t provide beans until they are 15 years old. Then a large tree might produce a ton of beans at one harvest. The gum produced by the beans is used commercially as a gelling agent, a thickener and a stabilizer/emulsifier in ice creams and desserts. It’s added to babies’ powdered milk because it prevents infant diarrhea.

It was recorded in 4BC by Theophrastus, and it was planted by the ancient Greeks, who had sweet tooths. The Romans used to eat the green (unripe) pods as a sweet. Apart from being better for your health than chocolate it has other medical properties. It doesn’t contain theobromine which means that it is safe for your four legged friend the dog. In traditional medicine it has been used to treat prostate infections, and powdered carob is said to be good for coughs, sore throats and to cure warts, when applied directly. Carob is rich in trace elements and minerals as well as vitamins A, B and D. Modern medical research has suggested that it may control cholesterol levels and help to control diabetes. It also has astringent properties. It was popular with opera singers in the 18th century as it was supposed to keep the voice in good shape- useful for opera singers. They chewed the pods and seeds or beans. Modern medical researchers have agreed that it is a good anti-diarrhoeal treatment. The pods are used for cattle feed when the beans have been removed.

You can drink carob powder like cocoa, but may need to add honey rather than sugar, it seems to taste better somehow. You can substitute the same quantity of carob powder for cocoa powder. It’s better for your health and won’t bring you out in spots as cocoa powder sometimes does.

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