The word came to English from French, derived from the Greek kerátion (κεράτιον), “fruit of the carob”, via Arabic qīrāṭ (قيراط) and Italian carato. The Latin word for carat is siliqua. In past centuries, different countries each had their own carat unit, all roughly equivalent to the mass of a carob seed. These units were often used for weighing gold.
Carob seeds were used as weights on precision scales because of their reputation for having a uniform weight. However, a 2006 study found carob seeds to have as much variation in their weights as do other seeds, though it seems that it is easier than with other seeds to recognize particularly large or small specimens and remove them. Thus, the carob seed was used as a weight not because it was naturally more uniform in weight, but because it could be more easily standardized.
In the United Kingdom, before 1888, the Board of Trade carat was exactly grains; after 1887, the Board of Trade carat was exactly grains. Despite it being a non-metric unit, a number of metric countries used this unit for its limited range of application.
The Board of Trade carat was divisible into four diamond grains, but measurements were typically made in multiples of carat.
There were also two varieties of refiners’ carats once used in the United Kingdom — the pound carat and the ounce carat. The pound troy was divisible into 24 pound carats of 240 grains troy each; the pound carat was divisible into four pound grains of 60 grains troy each; and the pound grain was divisible into four pound quarters of 15 grains troy each. Similarly, the ounce troy was divisible into 24 ounce carats of 20 grains troy each; the ounce carat was divisible into four ounce grains of 5 grains troy each; and the ounce grain was divisible into four ounce quarters of 1¼ grains troy each.
The solidus (carat) was also a Roman weight unit. There is literary evidence that the weight of 72 coins of the type called solidus was exactly a Roman pound, and that the weight of a solidus was 24 siliquae. The weight of a Roman pound is generally believed to have been 327.45 g or possibly up to 5 g grams less. Therefore the metric equivalent of 1 solidus was approximately 189 mg. The Greeks had a similar unit of the same value.
A carob based weight unit was also used in Egypt in the Byzantine and early Arab periods. In this region, glass weights were used for weighing coins. From these the weight of the Egypt carat has been reconstructed as 196 mg. This is consistent with the average weights of carob seeds in the region.
According to literary sources, the Arabic carat was only 2% less than the Syrian carat. Based on coins and glass weights their weight was reconstructed as approximately 212 mg. This is consistent with literary information that a solidus weighed slightly less than 22 carats.