Carob as we now think of it in the West is a dark brown bean flour ground from carob beans. In the Western food world, it has been promoted as a chocolate substitute since at least the 1970s.
The carob tree is an evergreen tree which grows up to about 15 metres tall (50 feet). Its large, shiny leaves grow in pairs. Though the tree is evergreen, it will shed old leaves at various points in the year. ”Carob does not shed its leaves in the autumn but only in July every second year, and it only partially renews leaves in spring (April and May) (Diamantoglou and Mitrakos 1981)” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 10. Healthy leaves are dark green on top, and a light-green to grey on the undersides. Carob. AgriFutures Australia. 24 May 2017. Accessed July 2018 at https://www.agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/carob/ Leaves stressed from too much water will turn yellow.  P.J. Correia and M.A. Martins-Loução. Leaf nutrient variation in mature carob (Ceratonia siliqua) trees in response to irrigation and fertilization. Tree Physiology 17. Heron Publishing: Victoria, Canada. 1997. Page 814.
The trees can live to be 100 years old.
It is frost tolerant down to -7 C (20 F) and can withstand long droughts because it is deep-rooted. It does not, however, like wet soil. It is well-suited for areas such as the Middle East, the Mediterranean, California, Arizona, etc. In the United States, it’s recommended for USDA zones 9 to 11.
The tree is a member of the legume family, though it will not fix nitrogen in the soil as other legumes do. ”It is known that the evergreen Mediterranean species Ceratonia siliqua L. cv ‘Mulata’ (carob) is completely dependent on soil inorganic N because it lacks symbiotic nitrogen fixation, even though it belongs to the Leguminosae family (Martins-Loução 1985). P.J. Correia and M.A. Martins-Loução. Page 813.
The trees can be grown from seeds or by grafting. Grafting is often done to propagate certain varieties, with the grafts being done onto seedling rootstock. Trees from grafted stock are often considered more prolific bearers than those from seed.
Sometimes a tree can be grown from a cutting but the cuttings are not always successful and the resulting tree can be inferior. Beaton, Scott A. The Carob. The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. March 1998. Accessed July 2018 at http://rfcarchives.org.au/Next/Fruits/Carob/Carob3-88.htm
Consequently, cultivated varieties are almost always propagated by grafting, to produce desired characteristics.
The three main fruit traits that distinguish domesticated carobs from their wild relatives are larger bean size, more pulp and greater sugar content. Increase in the size and number of seeds is less evident. These pod features together with productivity and environmental adaptation seem to have been the most important selection criteria for growers.” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 22.
Cultivars that do best at seed production seem to do more poorly at pulp yield, and vice versa: “It is known that pulp and seed content show a negative correlation…. Spanish cultivars are largely characterized by high pulp content and medium seed yield (8-10%)” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Page 31, 32. Another important factor for growers in selecting cultivars is whether the cultivar is a regular, reliable bearer each year, as opposed to a biennial bearer. ”High yield is an important characteristic for farmers, but regular bearing also has
to be considered as most cultivars show alternate bearing.” Ibid, Page 33.
One cultivar rated for having more flavour than average is the one called “Santa Fe.” Pulp flavour is also an important consideration for carobs grown for the food industry. A test on pulp flavour of 31 cultivars, ranging from 37.1 to 51.6% of total sugar (reported as glucose), indicated that flavour preference is not directly related to high sugar content. The hermaphrodite cultivar ‘Santa Fe’ was rated highest; it has a sweet, nutty flavour and high sugar content (47.5%).” Ibid, Page 36.
There is no real commercial growing of carob in North America, as the price that it would fetch is too low compared to what other crops will bring. North American producers of carob products will instead import the beans from abroad.
The tree blooms in the fall with blossoms shaped like catkins that appear on old wood. They may even sprout from the limbs and trunk of the tree. There are male trees producing only male flowers, and female trees producing only female flowers. Occasionally, a tree may product both. Some liken the scent of the male flowers to human semen.
Pollination occurs both via wind and insects. Pods develop only on the female trees. A tree needs to be between five and nine years old before it starts to develop pods. It takes ten to twelve months for the pods to set, develop and ripen. They will only start to grow in size late in the following spring (April to June), and then to mature and dry from June onward. I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 18.
The pods will be broad and long, from 15 to 30 cm in length (6 to 12 inches.) The pods are green at first, turning a dark, leathery, shiny brown when ready to be picked. The green ones are much heavier, being about 70% water, compared to the matured dry ones which will be only 12 to 18% water. I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 18.
Manual harvest has of course been the traditional method of harvesting the pods. The pods can be knocked down to the ground with long, thin poles, or people can shake the trees in an attempt to dislodge the pods. Now, there are machines that can shake the trees to reduce physical labour. I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 36.
Inside the pods, surrounded by a sweet, juicy pulp, are reddish-brown hard flat beans that look somewhat like watermelon seeds. There will be up to 15 beans per pod, but on average about 10. You will also see beans referred to as seeds.
Though the pod can be eaten raw, it isn’t very often. The whole pod is used for many purposes.
The seeds are used to make locust bean gum. In fact, for many growers, this is the tree’s prime economic importance today.
The seeded pods are roasted and ground into carob powder, which is used in recent times as a substitute for cocoa powder.
Historically, the pods were often used as animal feed. While the high sugar content adds energy to the animals’ diets, the high tannin content can inhibit digestibility of other nutrients, which puts a limit on how much carob you want in the diet of animals such as pigs. Stein, Hans H. Effects of Caromic 105 on growth performance of weanling pigs. Department of Animal Sciences. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Accessed July 2018 at http://nutrition.ansci.illinois.edu/keyword/carob-pod-meal
Whole carob pods are used unprocessed as stock feed or coarsely ground (“kibbled”) to separate the seed and pulp. The seed is usually sold to be processed into gum and used in the food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and pet food industries; or it is used in the manufacture of inks, paints, ceramics, paper and chewing gum. The kibbled pulp is used as stock feed, sold as is to the food industry or processed (raw or roasted) into powder or syrup… The kibble may be milled or ground and sieved to produce caffeine-free carob powder, which is a natural sweetener used as a healthy substitute for cocoa powder in baking and food manufacture, as a food stabiliser, or a darkening agent. It is also used to make molasses and alcohol, and as a substitute for coffee” Carob. AgriFutures Australia. 24 May 2017. Accessed July 2018 at https://www.agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/carob/
The substance in carob that makes carob reminiscent to some people of chocolate is “saccharine” (note, not the same as “saccharin”, the sweetener.) Carob pod contains 40-45% sugars. “Carob pulp is high (48-56%) in total sugar content (mainly sucrose, glucose, fructose and maltose.” Stein, Hans H. I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 23.
Owing to this sweetness, syrups can also be made from the pods.
The pods were also used for people as food in times of famine. They came to be a substantial supplement to the diet of people on the island of Malta during the two year siege of the island during World War Two.
In California, the tree is grown as an ornamental.
Carob is widely planted as an ornamental and shade tree on the streets of California, Australia and elsewhere; male trees are preferred as they do not provide litter from pod fall. However, the carob’s value as a drought-tolerant, air pollution tolerant, low-maintenance tree for street and landscape planting could be limited by the large mature size and strong, invasive roots.” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 29.
Modern food uses of carob
In modern times, carob is used for the following human food purposes, amongst many others:
- Carob liqueurs;
- Carob powders for use in candies and desserts;
- Carob syrup / carob molasses;
- Karamelli, candies made in Malta from melted then solidified carob syrup, and sold during Lent;
- Dried whole carob pods chewed upon by Jews abroad at Tu BiShvat (a tradition dying out as the carob pods can be replaced now by other more appealing produce.)
Carob compared to chocolate
Carob does not taste like chocolate. The biggest thing that carob and cocoa have in common is that they are both brown. Carob looks like chocolate and can function like chocolate, but the taste is completely different. In fact, the longer you roast the beans to get the colour closer to cocoa, the blander the flavour.
Carob’s taste is not unpleasant: some wags have observed that what might make so many “health food” carob bars taste awful is all the other awful healthy stuff that is added to the carob.
Chocolate lovers hate carob: some will say you might as well be eating dirt. In the eyes of the new Food Moralists, however, carob’s main virtue is that it is not chocolate, chocolate having been tainted in their minds as being vaguely immoral.
In substituting carob powder for cocoa powder, the first step is to set expectations. Carob can be made to look a lot like chocolate, but, it will not taste anything like chocolate. Period.
The second thing to remember is that setting comparisons with chocolate aside, even in terms of its own flavour, the flavour is not pronounced, so you need to use more carob powder than you would have used of cocoa. Swap in 1 1/2 to 2 parts carob powder for every 1 part cocoa powder originally called for in a recipe.
On the other hand, carob is naturally sweeter than cocoa, so you may need to reduce any sugar called for in the recipe when making the swap.
Making carob powder at home
“Pick and wash the ripe pods and boil in just enough water to cover, or steam until tender. Cooking softens the pods, making splitting them open fairly easy. Remove seeds, cut pods into small pieces and dry well. Put the pieces in a blender and grind into a powder. Process only small amounts at a time.” Lang, Frances. Permaculture News. The Channon, NSW, Australia. March – May 1996. Accessed July 2018 at https://permaculturenews.org/2009/04/09/the-carob/
Carob is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, Vitamins A and D, and potassium.
Carob has fewer calories than chocolate, and is almost fat free. In practice, however, carob is made into things such as carob bars and treats which will have both sugar and fats added. In fact, carob, having almost no fat, requires added fat to be made into bars, candies and desserts. The fat normally used is palm or coconut oil, both of which are high in saturated fat. The fat in cocoa is almost all unsaturated fat, which is good for you. Consequently, it is possible for a carob bar to end up being less healthy than a chocolate bar.
It is high in tannin. “Ripe carob pods contain a large amount of condensed tannins (16-20% of dry weight).” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 23.
Some people have touted the protein value of carob, but its protein isn’t particularly high, nor is it certain how much of that is actually available to our bodies.
…trials showed that carob pulp contains only 1-2% digestible protein and is relatively low in metabolizable energy (Vohra and Kratzer 1964). In food value, carob pods are similar to most cereal grains (NAS 1979). The protein has a low digestibility because it is bound with tannins and fibre (Loo 1969).” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 23.
The primary health benefit of carob is as a substitute for those who are allergic to chocolate, but who want something that has the appearance of chocolate.
Animals can safely eat carob, unlike chocolate, because it contains no theobromine. It also contains no caffeine.
1 cup = 100 g = 3 1/2 oz
Store carob powder in a sealed container in a cool place for up to 1 year.
Carob is native to the Middle East. It is still debated whether it originated in the Mediterranean area as a whole, or in what is now southern Saudi Arabia, or in the Horn of Africa area.
Charcoal from carob wood has been found in Jericho, Israel, dating to 8000 to 6000 BC. Carob seeds have been found in deposits in Mount Caramel, Israel, dated to about 6000 to 4000 BC. Dried pod fragments were found in a northern Judean desert cave, along with olive pits and remnants of pomegranate, dating to 4000 BC. Items made of carob wood, along with pods, were found in tombs in Egypt dating from 2000 to 1800 BC. 50 pieces of preserved carob pods were found at Herculaneum (buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.) L. Ramón-Laca and D. J. Mabberley. The ecological status of the carob-tree (Ceratonia siliqua, Leguminosae) in the Mediterranean. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 144, 431–436.
Though carob trees grew all over Israel, and the pods were harvested, the Old Testament is silent about them (while celebrating barley, dates, figs, grapes, olives, pomegranate, wheat, etc.) The Talmud, however, mentions carob several times, referring to it as not fit for human consumption. Soloveichik, Meir. Why Jews Used to Eat Dried Carob…
It has been actively cultivated since about 2000 BC. The Greeks grew it, both in Greece and in their Italian settlements in southern Italy.
It is the Muslims, however, who are credited with developing cultivars for different purposes.
In a work from 11th-12th century Seville, recently attributed to Ab l-Khayr (1990: 263–264) ….. Ab l-Khayr says the tree grew in al-Andalus [E: Spain], and, in Syria, produced abundant and thick honey, and was therefore used, as it was in Egypt, to make confectionery. He refers to several cultivars: [burdj n] – according to Asín (1943: 236) this must be read porchín, i.e. ‘linked to pigs’– [sandal ], which also produced a honey used to make sweets, and [ n ], i.e. Chinese.” L. Ramón-Laca and D. J. Mabberley.
Carob was brought to parts of the New World by the Spanish. Its formal introduction into the US is thought to be later:
The carob tree was likely introduced into the United States from Spain by the US Patent Office in 1854. In the 1950s W. Rittenhouse and J.E. Coit promoted this species in California and introduced budwood of selected cultivars from Cyprus, Israel, Tunisia, Greece, Yugoslavia, Crete, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Seedling trees grown for shade on the streets of cities in southern California and Arizona were selected for commercial production on the basis of their floral and fruit characteristics.” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 21.
Carob trees were introduced into Australia in the 1850s by settlers:
The first trees were planted around the year 1850, with seeds imported by Afghan, Italian, Greek and Spanish immigrants. The carob was to be used as food for fattening animals which were used for the pulling of cultivation and harvesting implements. The carob is found very scattered in this country, normally in the form of isolated trees in streets, gardens and agricultural developments. The first commercial orchards were planted in the 1980s and are found in the localities of Burra, Gawler and Loxton (South Australia), and later extending to other areas such as Geraldton, Nabawa, York, etc. in the state of Western Australia. Beaton, Scott A. The Carob.
Literature & Lore
The names St John’s Bread and Locust Bean came about because of the “guess” that carob pods were the food that were eaten by John the Baptist during his time in the wilderness, as mentioned in the New Testament:
“….and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον) (Matthew 3:4 & Mark 1:6 )
John was, many believe, influenced by the Essene sect, who ate dried locusts. Some modern people try to refute that the Essenes did, but the Damascus Rule 12.13-14, an Essene manuscript that is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran near the Dead Sea, discusses eating actual locusts.
Modern-day Western apologists, coming from cultures in which consuming insects is next to anathema, write pages defending the theory that carob beans, not actual locusts, were meant. The actual Greek word, “akris / akrides”, though, used here, and in the Gospel according to Mark, means the insect called “locust.”
The current thinking among many scholars now  . . . the widespread notion that the ἀ. were carob pods (St. John’s-bread; so TKCheyne, EncBibl s.v. ‘husks’) is supported neither by good linguistic evidence nor by probability (s. HastDB s.v. ‘husks’ and ‘locust’); s. also ἐγκρίς). — Bauer-Danker lexicon, 39, s.v. ἀκρίς appears to be that John did indeed actually eat locusts. Whatever modern Western feelings are about the matter, the plain truth is that in Judeao-Christian tradition, there is nothing wrong with eating insects. In fact, the Bible even states explicitly that locusts are kosher to eat: “Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.” (Leviticus 11:22.)
In Luke 15:16, the story of the prodigal son says, “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” The word “husks” translated there is actually “τῶν κερατίων” in the Greek, meaning carob pods, which were indeed used for pig food.
The American rabbi, Meir Yaakov Soloveichik, writes humorously about carob’s past culinary role in the Jewish observance of Tu b’Shvat:
Surely there are many American Jews, at least of a certain age, who still vividly remember, as children in religious school, imitating their ancestors by ingesting [carob] in honor of Tu b’Shvat, the annual Jewish festival of trees that is celebrated today. And there is ample reason why they should remember: carobs are remarkably unpleasant to eat. As my Mosaic colleague Philologos once candidly put it, carobs “are flattish, irregularly curved, serrated along the edges, four to six inches in length, hard as nails to bite into, and yield—if you haven’t meanwhile broken all your teeth—a mealy substance that has been described as smelling like Limburger cheese.” Soloveichik, Meir. Why Jews Used to Eat Dried Carob…
The Hebrew word for carob is “haruv.” Many sources attribute today’s English word “carob” to this root.
The Yiddish word for carob is “bokser”, which comes from an alternative older German word for the tree, “bokshornbaum”, meaning “ram’s horn tree.” Soloveichik, Meir. Why Jews Used to Eat Dried Carob…
The Greeks called carob “keration” ( τό κεράτιον) which means “small horn”, reflecting the curled shape of the pods. The Romans called it “carratus”.
Carob seeds, being small and consistent in size and weight, came to be used for measuring precious materials such as diamonds and gold.
Carob seeds were being used for measuring diamonds and gold even up until the end of the Renaissance, still being referred to as “carratus”. This evolved into “carat” for diamonds, and “karat” for gold.
Carat is used to measure the weight of a diamond. The weight of a carat was standardized in 1913 at 200 mg, or .2 grams. Thus, 5 carats equals 1 gram.
Karat, on the other hand, which is used for gold, is not used to measure the weight of gold, but rather the purity of it. Pure gold is deemed to be 1000 / 1000, or 24 Karat. There is no higher number of Karat; 24 stands for 100% pure. To see how pure your gold is, you take the number of Karats that it is, and divide by 24. If it’s 18 Karat gold, that’s 18 / 24 = 75%. The remaining 25% will be an alloy.
Daily Telegraph. Sacred Mysteries. London: 9 April 2004.
I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997.
Soloveichik, Meir. Why Jews Used to Eat Dried Carob on Tu b’Shvat. Mosaic Magazine. February 2015. Accessed July 2018 at https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2015/02/why-jews-used-to-eat-dried-carob-on-tu-bshvat/
Morton, J. 1987. Carob. p. 65–69. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. Accessed July 2018 at https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/carob.html
Philogos. A Brief on Bosker. The New Jewish Daily. 4 Feb 2005. Retrieved 15 January 2007 from http://www.forward.com/articles/a-brief-on-bokser/
W.P. Armstrong. Malodorous Male Flowers Of Carob Tree (Ceratonia siliqua). 28 July 2010. Accessed July 2018.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||”Carob does not shed its leaves in the autumn but only in July every second year, and it only partially renews leaves in spring (April and May) (Diamantoglou and Mitrakos 1981)” I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 10.|
|2, 14.||↑||Carob. AgriFutures Australia. 24 May 2017. Accessed July 2018 at https://www.agrifutures.com.au/farm-diversity/carob/|
|3.||↑||P.J. Correia and M.A. Martins-Loução. Leaf nutrient variation in mature carob (Ceratonia siliqua) trees in response to irrigation and fertilization. Tree Physiology 17. Heron Publishing: Victoria, Canada. 1997. Page 814.|
|4.||↑||”It is known that the evergreen Mediterranean species Ceratonia siliqua L. cv ‘Mulata’ (carob) is completely dependent on soil inorganic N because it lacks symbiotic nitrogen fixation, even though it belongs to the Leguminosae family (Martins-Loução 1985). P.J. Correia and M.A. Martins-Loução. Page 813.|
|5.||↑||Beaton, Scott A. The Carob. The Archives of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia. March 1998. Accessed July 2018 at http://rfcarchives.org.au/Next/Fruits/Carob/Carob3-88.htm|
|6.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 22.|
|7.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Page 31, 32.|
|8.||↑||”High yield is an important characteristic for farmers, but regular bearing also has|
to be considered as most cultivars show alternate bearing.” Ibid, Page 33.
|9.||↑||Pulp flavour is also an important consideration for carobs grown for the food industry. A test on pulp flavour of 31 cultivars, ranging from 37.1 to 51.6% of total sugar (reported as glucose), indicated that flavour preference is not directly related to high sugar content. The hermaphrodite cultivar ‘Santa Fe’ was rated highest; it has a sweet, nutty flavour and high sugar content (47.5%).” Ibid, Page 36.|
|10.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 18.|
|11.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 18.|
|12.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 36.|
|13.||↑||Stein, Hans H. Effects of Caromic 105 on growth performance of weanling pigs. Department of Animal Sciences. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Accessed July 2018 at http://nutrition.ansci.illinois.edu/keyword/carob-pod-meal|
|15.||↑||Stein, Hans H.|
|16, 19, 20.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 23.|
|17.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Page 29.|
|18.||↑||Lang, Frances. Permaculture News. The Channon, NSW, Australia. March – May 1996. Accessed July 2018 at https://permaculturenews.org/2009/04/09/the-carob/|
|21.||↑||L. Ramón-Laca and D. J. Mabberley. The ecological status of the carob-tree (Ceratonia siliqua, Leguminosae) in the Mediterranean. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 144, 431–436.|
|22, 27, 28.||↑||Soloveichik, Meir. Why Jews Used to Eat Dried Carob…|
|23.||↑||L. Ramón-Laca and D. J. Mabberley.|
|24.||↑||I. Batlle and J. Tous. Carob Tree. Rome: International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. 1997. Page 21.|
|25.||↑||Beaton, Scott A. The Carob.|
|26.||↑||. . . the widespread notion that the ἀ. were carob pods (St. John’s-bread; so TKCheyne, EncBibl s.v. ‘husks’) is supported neither by good linguistic evidence nor by probability (s. HastDB s.v. ‘husks’ and ‘locust’); s. also ἐγκρίς). — Bauer-Danker lexicon, 39, s.v. ἀκρίς|