Do you eat the Algarrobo fruit? Perhaps without even knowing?
At this time of the year you will see farmers in Mallorca, where I happen to live, beating long dark locust beans off their trees with long sticks. Now is the time for the annual algarrobo harvest.
The Algarroba tree, or Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), is native to the Mediterranean region, and is also prolific all over the Middle East, where it has been in cultivation for at least 4,000 years. The plant was known to the ancient Greeks who planted the seeds in Greece and Italy.
There are references to the carob in the Bible. For example, this plant is also called ‘St. John’s Bread’ or locust bean because of the pods which were thought to have been the locusts that were supposedly eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness. Some people think that it is the carob fruit that is referred to in the Bible as the ‘Manna from Heaven’, both, for its nutritional value and also for its easy availability.
The seed of the Carob tree is the ancient weight used by goldsmiths in the days of yore to weigh gold and precious stones. The seed of the carob fruit is always of the same weight, hence the word carat (from Ceratonia).
Mohammed’s army ate kharoub, and Arabs planted the crop in northern Africa and Spain when the Iberian peninsula was invaded by the Moors. The Spanish later carried carob to Mexico and South America, and the British took carob to South Africa, India, and Australia.
Carob trees grow well where citrus fruit is grown. They prefer dry climates that receive more than 30 centimetres of annual rainfall. In other words: the Mediterranean-type climate.
The fruit of carob is a pod, technically a legume of 15 to 30 centimetres in length, fairly thick and broad. Pods are borne on the old stems of the plant on short flower stalks. Carob trees have both male and female flowers. The dark-brown pods are eaten directly by livestock (horses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats), but us humans know carob mainly because the pods are ground into a flour that is a cocoa substitute. Good for people who suffer from diabetes, for instance.
The carob bean is widely used as a substitute for chocolate. Although this product has a slightly different taste than chocolate, it has only one third of its calories. It is virtually fat-free (chocolate is half fat), is rich in pectin, is non-allergenic and has no oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of calcium. Carob is also rich in sucrose (almost 40 %, plus other sugars) and protein (up to 8 %). The pod has vitamin A, several B vitamins, and a number of important minerals. As a consequence, carob flour is widely used in health foods for chocolate-like flavouring.
There are plenty of other uses of carob as well, medicinal, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and industrial.
Some nutritionists claim that from the nutritional values of the carob fruit and its extensive availability worldwide, hunger throughout the world could be combatted if the fruit would be used to feed humans instead of animals.
If only our local farmers would know that. Over the last few years, the Mallorcan algarroba trees get more and more neglected. The cost of manpower is too high to harvest the locust beans whilst the wholesale price per kilo of carob beans is as low as 30 Cents. Not worth anybody’s while getting out of bed for.