Name: Carob (Ceratonia siliqua)
Otherwise known as: St John’s Bread, Locust Bean
Habitat: An evergreen tree member of the family Leguminosae that grows to about 10m in indifferent soil throughout the Mediterranean region and is now naturalised in any warm temperate area of the world. It has thick, resinous, oval, green leaves; small, dull brown/green flowers that transform into clusters of long, green, bean pods, while the bark is dark red.
What does it do: Like all members of this family, it converts atmospheric nitrogen through its root system into nitrates, which are converted into proteins. Carobs produce fruit after six to eight years and will continue to do so for 100 years. It is ideally suited to our climate, being drought resistant. The name derives from the Greek Keras meaning horn.
Carobs have grown in our region since ancient times; the extracted gum was used as an adhesive in mummification, and Theophrastus used it to treat diarrhoea. The beans were found during excavations at Pompeii.
The plant contains proteins and carbohydrates, vitamins A, B, B2, B3 and D, the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, manganese, barium, copper and nickel as well as five amino acids.
Carobs are processed in two ways: first they are kibbled then the seed – which is very hard – is removed, and either roasted or subjected to an acid treatment that removes the coating. The seed established the standard weight against which gem dealers and goldsmiths measured their products, hence karat or carat, now set at 200mg. The husk is used as human and animal foods; it is free from caffeine and theobromine, which are triggers for allergies and migraine, and therefore makes an excellent alternative to chocolate. Carob syrup is present in many confectioneries in Cyprus.
The polysaccharides obtained from the seed are called galactomannans and have a number of uses. EU additive E410 on a food product will indicate it contains carob. The main action of carob is to act as a binding agent and it is found in the following popular products: ice cream, yoghurt, mayonnaise, jams, sweets, sauces, tinned and packaged soups and diet foods. In pharmaceuticals it can be found in pomades, pills and toothpaste, emulsions and shaving cream.
Carob wood is extremely hard and used in the building and furniture industry, and is a source of local charcoal. In 1998, the last time there was a survey of carob production, Cyprus contributed about six per cent of the world’s requirements.