Some long time ago, I used to have a more-or-less relevant ‘Quotation for the Day’ at the end of each post. After a few years, it became harder and harder to find new quotations, and I was spending more time in the attempt than in researching and writing the actual post – so I discontinued the practice (and received some flack for it, I might add!) I recently came across one of my favourite quotations again, and it gave me my topic for the day:-
"Carob is a brown powder made from the pulverized fruit of a Mediterranean evergreen. Some consider carob an adequate substitute for chocolate because it has some similar nutrients (calcium, phosphorus) and because it can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate. Of course, the same argument can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt." Sandra Boynton.
Suffice it to say that I could not agree more about carob as a substitute for chocolate. The carob does have many virtues however, so I want to talk a little about it today. The botanical name for the plant from which we get carob beans is Ceratonia silique. It is a leguminous shrub belonging to the Pea family, and is native to the eastern Mediterranean region (and perhaps Western Asia) and has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Some interesting factoids about the carob:
The large seeds are believed to have been used as a unit of weight in ancient times, and is likely the origin of the word ‘carat’ used by jewelers.
They are also said to have been the ‘locusts’ on which John the Baptist survived his sojourn in the wilderness – hence the alternative names for the carob of ‘locust bean’ and ‘St. John’s Bread.’
In the biblical story about the prodigal son, the starving young man ‘would fain have filled his belly with the husks [carob pods] that the swine did eat.’ Carob pods have a long use as animal fodder, and this, together with the biblical story, has provided another alternative name of ‘swine’s bread.’
The Duke of Wellington’s troops apparently used carob beans as a staple during the Peninsular War (1807-1814,) although I have been unable so far to find out any details of this intriguing story.
The plant has many uses in industry and agriculture. In particular, from a human food-perspective, the pod (sans seeds) provides the sweet powder which some folk find sufficiently chocolate-like to accept it as a substitute, and which is widely used to flavour bakery products, liqueurs etc. From the seeds is obtained a gum which has many applications as a thickener or stabilizer in food products such as cheese and ice-cream.
Although the shrub has been cultivated for thousands of years in its native lands, it seems that the use of the carob bean as a human food in the West is comparatively new. A booklet entitled The Carob in California produced by the Agricultural Experiment Station in Berkeley in 1919 has this to say:
Owing to the richness of the carob bean in sugar, it has been suggested that it could be utilized as human food. For such purposes those varieties should be selected with show the minimum amount of crude fiber because this ingredient is objectionable as far as human food is concerned.
Beverage manufacturers were clearly ahead of the food-producers in this regard. In The French Wine and Liquor Manufacturer. A Practical Guide, Etc (New York, 1863) by John Rack, in the chapter on Flavours used in Making Brandy, the author gives the following recipes:
St. John’s Bread. (SILIQUA DULCIS)
The Carob-tree is a native of Syria, Egypt, and all Southern Europe. The fruit of this tree is a bean from four to six inches long, and one inch wide, of a brown leather color, known as St. John’s Bread. This bean contains a marrow of a light brownish color, and very aromatic, the seeds of the bean are very hard, and of a brilliant brown color. This flavor when combined with raisins is much esteemed by the French and Ger
mans. Take five pounds St. John’s Bread, and five pounds Malaga raisins, boil them together for five minutes; when cold, filter. Use for eighty gallons brandy. (See “Recipe No. 5.”) St. John’s bread is also known by the name of Siliqua Dulcis, and can only be procured at the best wholesale drug houses.
And ‘Recipe No. 5” referred to in the above is:
To make Brandy without Foreign Liquor.
To 80 gals. Pure spirits, 5 o.p., add:
5 lbs. St. John’s bread,
5 lbs. raisins,
4 oz. orris root, powdered,
½ lb. white argol (crude wine-stone),
1 oz. acetic ether.
Color with sugar coloring.Boil the St. John’s bread and raisins together in 2 gals. soft water for 5 minutes, and when cold, filter. Pour over the powdered orris root ¼ gal. boiling water, and when cold, filter. Dissolve the white argol in 1 quart soft water, and filter. When the above ingredients are thus prepared, they are ready for use.