PIJ #58, March-May 1996
by Frances LangCarob, or St John’s Bread, is known in the botanical world as Ceratonia siliqua from the Caesalpiniaceae family. It is a small to medium sized, long-lived evergreen tree with dense foliage. Leaves are glossy, green, round and leathery, new growth is bronze coloured. Trees are single sexed and so will need a male and female tree to produce pods. One male tree can pollinate about 10-20 females. It is an excellent fire barrier as its leaves burn very poorly.
The fruit is a dark brown flattened pod, 13-30cm long and about 2.5cm wide. It contains a sweet, chocolate tasting pulp and several bean-like seeds. Sugar content can be higher than 50 percent in varieties harvested for direct human consumption. The pods are harvested in autumn and it can take 6-7 years for a tree to produce pods. A 25 year old tree can produce 125kg of beans. Carobs are native to the Mediterranean but have enormous potential for landcare in Australia. They are drought resistant and enjoy dry, rocky sites and tolerate any soil except heavy clay. They are very tolerant of salt.
The carob can be eaten fresh or roasted or ground to powder. The tree’s uses include; animal fodder for sheep, goats and donkeys, bee forage, windbreaks, shade and industrial use. It can even be used to treat diarrhoea in humans and animals. The seeds are 35 percent gum which is used for adhesive and many food manufacturing processes such as cream cheese or ice-cream.
Seeds require scarification or boiling water treatment followed by three days soak to aid germination. The seeds should be sown in spring or summer in individual tree tubes or recycled milk cartons. The potting mix should be sandy and free draining. Transplant seedlings when they are 8-10cm high to reduce damage to the delicate tap roots.
While carob can be used to make a powerful liqueur it is generally associated with healthy living. It contains none of the theobromine which is associated with migraines caused in some people by real chocolate.
Processing Carob Powder
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.