The Carob Tree’s botanical name is Ceratonia siliqua, also known as St John’s-bread or Locust Bean, (not to be confused with the African Locust Bean). In Greece they are known as “Haroupia” or “Ksilokeratia” and are also referred to as “Teratsia” by Greek-Cypriots.
The ripe, dried pod has been traded since ancient times in Mediterranean areas and the Middle East. Such was the importance of this versatile crop that the term “Carat”, the unit by which precious metal and stone weight is measured, is also derived from the Greek word kerati?n (????????), alluding to an ancient practice of weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the Carob tree by people in the Middle East. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams. In late Roman times, the pure gold coin known as the Solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24-carat gold means 100% pure, 12-carat means the alloy contains 50% gold, etc.
For me personally, the biggest surprise was finding out the multitude of uses that the Carob pod has been put to. So not only is it a nutritious source of food, (during the Second World War, it was common for the people of Malta to eat dried Carob pods as a supplement to rationed food), but it has, in the past, been used in the production of cough syrup, liqueur, livestock feed, chocolate substitute, juice drinks, used as an aphrodisiac, a natural source of calcium (contains 3 times more than milk), it is also rich in iron, phosphorus and natural fibre and several studies suggest that carob may aid in treating diarrhoea in infants, so many health benefits are attributed to the humble Carob.
Carob fruit contains 13% simple sugars (fructose, maltose and glucose), 20% sucrose, 3% pectin, 4%protein, 3% mucilage polysaccharides and 35% starch. Also minerals containing 36% calcium, 24% potassium, 29% copper and most of the vitamin is riboflavin. Carob is low in fat, contains no caffeine and no theobromine, so rarely acts as an allergen.
The seeds of the Carob pods, also known as locust beans are the source of locust bean gum, a food thickening agent. Some of the more exotic uses of Carob have been in the manufacture of film and car tyres! So no wonder, in Cyprus, the Carob is known as “Cyprus’s Black Gold” and in the 1900’s carobs were one of the main exports of Cyprus. In my opinion, whatever you do, do not judge the Carob, by the powdered Carob, chocolate substitute. The syrup (teratsomelo) derived from the Carob pods is actually very good for the stomach, has a good amount of vitamin E content and can lower cholesterol levels, as well as tasting delicious when added to cake mix or just on its own. Locally the pods have also in the past been used as part of animal feed as they are so nutritious.
Banner FinalThe carob product most widely used, especially in the food industry, is carob bean gum (CBG), or locust bean gum (LBG). This gum comes from the seed endosperm and chemically is a polysaccharide, a galactomnnan. 100 kg of seeds yield 20 kg on average of pure dry gum. The mucilaginous gum, known as ‘tragasol’, is used in a wide range of commercial products as a thickener, stabilizer, binder and gelling or dispersal agent. The food industry uses CBG for the production of a large number of different commodities, including ice cream, soups, sauces, cheese, fruit pies, canned meats, confectionery, bakery products and pet foods. Technical applications of CBG include cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, film emulsions, paints, polishes, ceramics and adhesives.
Tannin or dyestuff: Ripe carob pods contain large amounts of condensed tannins (16-20% of dry weight).
Alcohol: A high sugar content and its relatively low cost have made carob pulp among the earliest horticultural crops used for the production of industrial alcohol by fermentation in several Mediterranean countries.
Medicine: Tannins extracted from the pulp act as an anti-diarrhoetic. Ground pulp and seed endosperm are used in the preparation of pharmaceutical products.
Natural Antioxidant: The polyphenols in carob are also powerful antioxidants, protecting your body from damage from free radicals and environmental toxins. A 2002 publication of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” included an in vitro study of the antioxidant ability of carob pod polyphenols. The study determined that even the pods of carob contained polyphenols. These were shown to have distinct antioxidant ability, when adjusted for polyphenol concentration, which was lower in the pods than in the beans.
With so many uses, no wonder, at one time, there were over two million carob trees in Cyprus! Most likely the reason why it was known as “The Black Gold of Cyprus”, due to the importance in revenue creation for the Island.
On your next visit to the Island of Cyprus, I suggest making time to visit the functioning Carob museum, in the town of Limassol where amongst other things, in the carob factory, you can witness a demonstration of carob toffee making and taste-test a variety of traditional products such as pasteli.
I hope you have enjoyed finding out about “The Black Gold of Cyprus” – The Carob, my childhood sweet.
Article by Pany Galanis
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