Monday, November 11, 2013


One of my most vivid early childhood memories is sitting with my grandfather under a big tree in the centre of a village square on the island of Paros (Cyclades, Greece)on our summer hollidays. Large green pods are hanging off the tree and I ask my grandfather whether these are actually beans. "No, these are carobs, we have plenty of those in Greece", he replies, "They're sweet like sugar... they helped us survive the war, no one really eats them anymore". And I would be looking at them wondering how can these weird beans taste as sweet as sugar...?
Until a few years ago that is pretty much what I knew about carobs. Although I always came across the carob tree aroung Greece - even in the centre of Athens - I am ashamed to say that I had never even tried it! The Greeks fed it to the animals and most had stopped using it in cooking and baking, I guess carobs reminded them of the diffuclt days of war and starving, who knows...
With the organic food and health craze of the recent years, carob made its glorious return in the shelves of health foodstores and in the organic farmer's markets! People realised that this fruit actually saved the lives of starving people and children during the war not just because they ate something that tasted sweet and replaced many expensive and rare-to-find basic products like flour, coffee or sugar, but due to its great nutritional value. 

So what about the health benefits of the carob fruit?
Well, it is very high in protein (80%), it's very rich in calcium (100 gr of carob contain 350 mg of calcium, when 100 gr of milk only contain 130 mg of calcium). It is also very rich in phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. It also contains iron, manganese, barium, copper and it is high in vitamines A, D, B, B2 and B3.
It is anti-allergic, antiseptic, anti-varial, analgesic, anti-bacterial and an antioxidant! All of these qualities are mainly due to the Gallic acid in the tannins of the carob fruit, which also helps in the treatment of poliomyelitis in children (the polio desease). In addition, it fights osteoporosis (due to its high content in calcium and phosphorus), regulates the digestion process, and it magically cures diahrea both in children and adults.
And that's not just it... It regulates the blood glucose levels, which makes it especially beneficial for people with diabetes, it lowers harmful cholesterol levels, it may help to burn fat and calories in the body, it is effective against asthma and asthma caused by allergies and it helps in treating cough and flu.

Where does it grow?
Tradditionally the carob tree (Ceratonea siliqua) grows in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The tree was known to the ancient Greeks, who planted the seeds in Greece and Italy.
In the Illustrated Botanical Dictionary, written by Demetrios Kavadas and published in 1956, the author counts 3,300.000 carob trees arround Greece!!! Back then, the estimated annual carob produce in Greece was about 37.000 tons!!!

How do you eat it?
You can eat it raw when it's fresh and ripe if you happen to find it or you can eat it dried (see photo above). You can use carob powder/flour (ground pods, see photo below), which is naturally sweet, in a number of recipes, replacing regular flour, like cakes, cookies and biscuits or even to make pasta...and it's gluten-free (just make sure regular flour with gluten hasn't been added to the carob flour during processing)!!! It can also successfully replace cocoa powder in several recipes and is also used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Ground pods may be boiled to make carob syrup or honey, which again can be used in several recipes, in salad dressings or as a sweetener.