Carob:All properties and benefits

The Carob ( Ceratonia siliqua L., 1753) is an evergreen tree belonging to the Fabaceae family.It is a tree, rarely twisted, evergreen with expanded foliage, branched at the top. It can reach a height of 10 m. The stem is vigorous, with greyish-brown bark, slightly cracked. It has compound leaves, with 2-3 pairs of leathery leaves, bright green in color above, lighter below, with whole margins and more or less indented at the apexes.

The flowers, with a papilionaceous corolla and carried on short ears, can appear, before foliation, on the trunk and on the oldest branches. The fruits, called carob or vajane, are 10-20 cm long, thick and leathery siliques, first of a pale green color and then, when ripe, dark brown. They have a very hard external surface, with fleshy, fat and sugary pulp. They contain dark, ovoid, very hard seeds.

It is a typical Mediterranean species originating from the Arabian Peninsula. It is grown, especially in North Africa, Greece and Cyprus. In Italy, large productions are still found in Caltagirone, Comiso, Palma di Montechiaro, Raffadali, Santa Croce Camerina, Vittoria. The large carob groves of Sicily are disappearing, but still resist in some areas, such as in Ragusa and Syracuse. Appreciated in the regions of origin for the shade of the foliage.

Today the fruits (without seeds) are used for feeding livestock. They were once used as fermentation material for the production of ethyl alcohol. As a popular tradition, the seeds ground in flour were used as anti-diarrheal. The fruits are kept for a long time and can be commonly eaten fresh or dried or, alternatively, lightly baked. The seeds, inedible, are particularly uniform in size and weight and constituted the unit of measurement (carat) used for the evaluation of the gems.

Typical in Puglia in very long-lived plants is the appearance, after the first rains of August, of the so-called carob mushroom ( Laetiporus sulphureus ), sold by weight in gold in the local markets and cooked as meat with meat sauce.

The Carob tree

The Carob tree (from Arabic: kharub and Hebrew: charuv), Ceratonia siliqua, is a leguminous evergreen shrub or tree of the family Leguminosae (pulse family) native to the Mediterranean region. It is cultivated for its edible seed pods. Carobs are also known as St. John’s bread. According to tradition of some Christians, St. John the Baptist subsisted on them in the wilderness. A similar legend exists of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son.

This tree grows up to 10 meters tall. The crown is broad and semi-spherical, supported by a thick trunk with brown rough bark and sturdy branches. Leaves are 10–20 cm long, alternate, pinnate, and may or may not have a terminal leaflet.

Most carob trees are dioecious. The trees blossom in autumn (September-October). The flowers are small and numerous, spirally arranged along the inflorescence axis in catkin-like racemes borne on spurs from old wood and even on the trunk (cauliflory); they are pollinated by both wind and insects. Male flowers produce a characteristic odour, resembling semen. The fruit is a pod which can be elongated, compressed, straight or curved, and thickened at the sutures. The pods take a full year to develop and ripen – up to the next flowring season, the following autumn. The ripe pods eventually fall to the ground and are eaten by various mammals, thereby dispersing the seed.

Carob is a member of the legume family, and as such its roots host Rhizobia bacteria which lives in symbiosis with the tree and convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates which can be used by plants to make proteins.It grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas and tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. It is a xerophytic (drought-resistant) species, well adapted to the ecological conditions of the Mediterranean region, present in the altiplanic desert of South America. The deep root systems of these trees are intolerant of waterlogging.

The carob tree is typical in the southern Portuguese region of the Algarve, where it has the name alfarrobeira (for the tree), and alfarroba (for the fruit), as well as in southern Spain (Spanish: algarroboalgarroba), Malta (Maltese: Harruba), on the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia (Italian: carrubocarruba) and in South Greece as well as many Greek islands such as Crete and Samos. The common Greek name is Charoupia. The various trees known as algarrobo in Latin America (Hymenaea courbaril in Colombia and four kinds of Prosopis in Argentina and Paraguay) belong to a different family, the Cesalpinaceae. It also grows in the island of Crete in Greece.

Carob was eaten in Ancient Egypt. It was also a common sweetener and was used in the hieroglyph for “sweet” (nedjem). Dried carob fruit is traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat. Carob juice drinks are traditionally drunk during the Islamic month of Ramadan.Carob pods were the most important source of sugar before sugarcane and sugar beets became widely available. Nowadays, the seeds are processed for the use in cosmetics, curing tobacco, and making paper.

Carob powder and carob chips are used today as an ingredient in cakes and cookies. Carob is sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate. However, there is a significant difference in flavour. Carob is better suited to accompany fruit cooking (e.g. Apple and Carob cake) as it is milder and isn’t as bitter as chocolate. The seeds, also known as locust beans, are used as animal feed. They are also the source of locust bean gum, a thickening agent. In Egypt, carobs are consumed as a snack. Crushed pods are used to make a refreshing drink. Compotes and liqueurs are made from carob in Portugal, Spain and Sicily. Carob has proven effective in relieving diarrhoea in infants

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