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Eat carob alias locust beans fresh or dried

The plant has many names – locust bean, carob and St John’s bread. The edible part are the beans that grow in long pods. They have a malty taste, very sweet and slightly fruity, reminiscent of cocoa. Eat the pods fresh or dried; simply wash them and they’re ready to eat. People chew them and spit out the seeds. Occasionally you’ll find slices of dried carob in muesli mixtures.

Cooking with carob

Carob pods, or locust beans, can be pressed to extract a syrup, often called carob honey. It’s used instead of sugar syrup to preserve fruit and also to make schnapps. The dried carob pulp is ground to a powder that tastes like cocoa and can also be used in baking. Carob seed flour, made by grinding the seeds, is used in the food processing industry as a thickening agent. This additive, often designated on food labels as E 410, can be found in icecream, sweets, soups and puddings.

Origin and name

The locust bean (Ceratonia siliqua) belongs to the legume family and originated in the Arabian peninsula. According to legend, it was what kept St John the Baptist alive in the desert, hence the alternative name St John’s bread. Today the trees, which grow up to 18 metres high, are also cultivated in Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy.

Health benefits and buying

The 10 to 30 cm long pods hang in bunches from the branches of the female carob tree (male and female trees are required for pollination). The green skin turns brown as the pod ripens. The reddish, aromatic fruit pulp has a sugar content between 30 and 50 percent. It also contains starch, protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and tannins.

The "cocoa of antiquity" can be found all year round in well-stocked supermarkets. Look in health food shops for products like carob powder and carob spread.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de