Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Carob Tree - Il-Harruba

The Carob Tree (il-Harruba) is quite common on the Maltese Islands and could still be found in its natural habitat. The carob is one of the Mediterranean’s oldest trees, and grows without care or cultivation, surviving on meagre rainfall. This low-spreading tree with its characteristic canopy effect is part and parcel of the Maltese rural landscape and is protected by law.

The carob is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean, and the Bible is replete with references to what are likely to be carob-pods, like the pods that the prodigal son fed to pigs when he wasted his father’s inheritance and was forced to become a humble swineherd. The pods are also known as St. John's bread or locust beans because the pods were once thought to have been the "locusts" that were eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness. In the past carob seeds were used to weigh gold, hence the word "carat."
During the second World War, carobs fetched the highest price ever at a penny a pod. The seeds were ground along with precious and rare supplies of coffee-beans to make it last, something that the French did at the same time with acorns. In Malta and Sicily up to fairly recent times, carob syrup was used to soothe sore throats and ease coughs. I remember quite clearly when I developed a whooping cough and there was this old farmer (whose farm was situated in front of our home) who used to bring mum a lot of carob pods. She used to prepare this brownish mixture which she then made me drink. It didn’t look appealing but it really soothed my horrible and intense coughing bouts.

Carob sweets (il-karamelli) are still popular, and often sold at Good Friday processions because they are deemed traditionally to be the only sweets allowed during Lent, having supposedly medicinal properties. These sweets are made from the carob pods. According to an old Sicilian recipe for ‘Caramelle Di Carrube’ one needs to prepare equal amounts of carob pods and honey and have them boiled together until caramelised. The mixture is then strained and poured onto an oiled surface, marked into little squares and allowed to cool before being cut up into sweets.

Carob-pods, are now making a comeback as a health food in Europe. The carob-flour is made by grinding carob-pods that have been dried and roasted. It has a very strong flavour and must be used with care. The taste is a little like honeyed chocolate, and in fact carob is sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate. The dark-brown carob pods are not only edible but rich in calcium, sucrose and protein. Moreover, the pod has vitamin A, B vitamins, and several important minerals. And although carobs are very sweet, they contain far fewer calories than chocolate!! They are sold at high prices in many European food-markets, but in Malta they are no longer even harvested as food for animals!! Are carobs set for a revival in Malta too?


Sue said...

Zen, you've done it again... wonderful and very interesting post!
Here in the Northern part of Italy carobs are very rare... The very first time I saw them on sale was during a popular Fair ... only one stall had them and at certain prices!!!
I didn't know that they were probably thought to be the "locusts" eaten by John the Baptist.
One more thing... I know they make some very good honey with it but I didn't know about the sweets" Karamelli". Thanks!

Doreen said...

Yes I too remember when our Mum made or bought a mixture they called Carob Honey which was very soothing for a cough.
When my own kids were younger I used to use Carob flour/powder to make cookies,muffins or brownies instead of using chocolate, hmm I wonder where those recipes are!
Carob can also be used to make such items as cakes,candy, pudding, icing, bread, beverages, shakes, ice cream and fudge.
Great info again Zen, great work! Thanks!

Suki said...

Thank you girls. Sue I was quite surprised to know that u had never heard of the caramelli before. Next time you come to Malta during Easter time make sure you buy some or else ask yr sis to get some for you.

As for you Dor. Here's a good site with carob recipes:

Anonymous said...

Hi Zen, have posted a reply to your comment on my blog. Thanks for taking a peak at my page!

Doreen said...

Thanks Zen that's a great site, I have bookmarked it.

Michael said...

I am a beekeeper and in Malta if the weather is good in october to november we will have carob honey which collect is made by the bees that collect the nectar from the carob flowers

SG said...

I saw this Tv show called house hunters and it was mentioned that Carob was protected in malta,i work on an organic farm in California Usa and there are some carob trees,they have not been paid much attention to in years but thrive and produce thousands of pow each year.i am going to research the carob and honey sweets and see if i can make them,nice post