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7 Jan

Carob: The Sicilian Tree of Life

Well, we can’t consider the carob tree Sicilian. Its origins extend from Greece yet we believe the Arab dominations of the 800s brought the plant to the island. From the Arabic /kharrüb/ (bean pod) the name has remained over the centuries and its use has been fundamental for the survival of the island due to its health benefits. Today the tree grows all over the world. Yet few people understand what this plant can do for our health. Let’s see what we are missing.

Stong Like Oak:

A powerful tree growing up to 10m high, it has strong branches covered in thick brown bark. The wood itself—hard and close-grained—is excellent for tool handles. Hunters and workmen used them as handles on the ends of picks and axes for centuries. The wood burns long and it often used to smoke sausages or other local meats and is a long-burning energy source in wintertime.

Carob passed from generation to generation during the Spanish domination. Along with olive and almond trees, carob trees grow for centuries producing work and securing land ownership for future generations. More trees meant more branches. These branches created summer foliage producing shade for livestock in the blistering Sicilian summers. It’s a wonderful cycle!

The Fruits of Your Labor

The carob fruit is perfect for both livestock and humans. 10cm long leathery pods grow off the branches when ripe. Within the pod are seeds and the pulp of the pod has a unique smell to it (like burnt chocolate). Anyone who has biked or walked through a Sicilian carob orchard in July and August would recognize the scent filling the air.

The seeds themselves have a special story. The size and weight of the seeds are mostly uniform throughout all carob pods. Because of this constant mass, the ancients used them as standards of measure for weighing precious metals. Gold weighed against carob seeds to define its purity. From gold the standard of measure moved to precious stones, specifically diamonds. From the Greek, keration, meaning, “carob seed” we have “carat” in English.

Mighty Microscopic Muscles

In addition, carob exhibits antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. A 2011 study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology demonstrates the preservative effects of Carob powder against certain food-borne pathogens. No wonder the locals used carob in the well-known ‘mpanatigghi from Modica. For centuries these sweet cookies – made with chocolate, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, and carob – contained a quantity of ground beef. It was a form of preserving the beef and its benefits over the course of a week and turning it into a sweet delicacy. They may not have recognized all the scientific properties behind carob, but they knew a good thing when they had it. Pastry chefs and grandmothers still use carob today in many products. So get yourself some pods and start chewing!