ceratonia siliqua

Carob tree

The Carob tree (from Arabic: خروب "kharūb" and Hebrew: חרוב Charuv), Ceratonia siliqua, is a leguminous evergreen shrub or tree of the family Leguminosae (pulse family) native to the Mediterranean region. It is cultivated for its edible seed pods. Carobs are also known as St. John's bread. According to tradition of some Christians, St. John the Baptist subsisted on them in the wilderness. A similar legend exists of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son.

A traditional food plant in Africa, this little-known fruit has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.

Morphology

This tree grows up to 10 meters tall. The crown is broad and semi-spherical, supported by a thick trunk with brown rough bark and sturdy branches. Leaves are long, alternate, pinnate, and may or may not have a terminal leaflet.

Most carob trees are dioecious. The trees blossom in autumn (September-October). The flowers are small and numerous, spirally arranged along the inflorescence axis in catkin-like racemes borne on spurs from old wood and even on the trunk (cauliflory); they are pollinated by both wind and insects. Male flowers produce a characteristic odour, resembling semen. The fruit is a pod which can be elongated, compressed, straight or curved, and thickened at the sutures. The pods take a full year to develop and ripen. The ripe pods eventually fall to the ground and are eaten by various mammals, thereby dispersing the seed.

Habitat and Ecology

The Carob genus Ceratonia belongs the Leguminosae (Legume) family, and is believed to be an archaic remnant of a part of this family now generally considered extinct. It grows well in warm temperate and subtropical areas and tolerates hot and humid coastal areas. As a xerophytic (drought-resistant) species, Carob is well adapted to the ecological conditions of the Mediterranean region. Trees prefer well drained loams and are intolerant of waterlogging, but the deep root systems can adapt to a wide variety of soil conditions and are fairly salt-tolerant.

While previously not believed to form nitrogen fixation nodules typical of the Legume family, more recently trees have been identified with nodules containing bacteria believed to be from the Rhizobium genus.

Although used extensively for agriculture, Carob can still be found growing wild in eastern Mediterranean regions and has become naturalized in the west. The carob tree is typical in the southern Portuguese region of the Algarve, where it has the name alfarrobeira (for the tree), and alfarroba (for the fruit), as well as in southern Spain (algarrobo, algarroba), Malta (Ħarruba), on the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia (carrubo, carruba), and in Southern Greece as well as many Greek islands such as Crete and Samos. The common Greek name is Charoupia ,[Ελληνικά: χαρουπιά]. In Turkey, it is known as "keçiboynuzu", meaning "goat's horn". The various trees known as algarrobo in Latin America (Hymenaea courbaril in Colombia and four kinds of Prosopis in Argentina and Paraguay) belong to a different family, the Cesalpinaceae.

History

Ceratonia siliqua, the scientific name of the carob tree, derives from the Greek kerátiōn (κεράτιων), “fruit of the carob” (from keras [κέρας] "horn"), and Latin siliqua "pod, carob." The term "carat", the unit by which diamond weight is measured, is also derived from the Greek word kerátiōn (κεράτιων), alluding to an ancient practice of people in the Middle East weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob tree. The system was eventually standardized and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.

In late Roman and early Byzantine times the pure gold coin known as the solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24 carat gold means 100% pure, 12 carat gold means the alloy contains 50% gold, etc.

Subsistence on carob pods is mentioned in the Talmud and the New Testament.

Traditional uses

Carob was eaten in Ancient Egypt. It was also a common sweetener and was used in the hieroglyph for "sweet" (nedjem). Dried carob fruit is traditionally eaten on the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat. Carob juice drinks are traditionally drunk during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Carob pods were the most important source of sugar before sugarcane and sugar beets became widely available. Nowadays, the seeds are processed for the use in cosmetics, curing tobacco, and making paper.

Modern uses

Carob powder and carob chips are used as an ingredient in cakes and cookies. Carob is sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate, however the flavour is significantly different. The seeds, also known as locust beans, are used as animal feed. They are also the source of locust bean gum, a thickening agent used in numerous processed foods. In Egypt, carobs are consumed as a snack. Crushed pods are used to make a refreshing drink. Compotes and liqueurs are made from carob in Portugal, Spain and Sicily. Carob has proven effective in relieving diarrhea in infants.

See also

References

External links

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