Christopher Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods, available
for $17 from School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041. He has
conducted Wild Food Outings since 1974. A schedule of his classes is found in
the Talking Leaves Newsletter, available from the School of Self-Reliance.
Christopher’s newsletter can also be viewed on-line at The following
article was written by Chris:
Today it is nearly impossible to avoid white sugar in any pre-processed
or restaurant food. But not more than a few centuries ago, one of the major
food sweeteners in the world was a type of healthful "chocolate" that grows on
trees. It is believed that the fruit of this "chocolate" tree was used to feed
Mohammed's armies. This fruit also sustained John the Baptist during his sojourn
and meditations in the wilderness (Bible, book of Mark 1:16), and provided food
for the Biblical prodigal son (Luke 15:16) who was hungry and without money. Spanish
Civil War children who ate this fruit during the 1930s were able to remain free of
malnutrition. As recently as WWII, isolated military troops and their horses on the
island of Malta, and people in villages in Greece, credit their survival during the
German occupation to the use of this "chocolate" tree's survival food.
This "chocolate" tree is the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua). The carob fruit is
a dark brown, flattened leathery pod (or legume).
Carob is a native to the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and is
common in the Middle East. These are the areas where the best
commercial carob is grown. The trees propagated there from root stock produce the
superior carob fruit. Southern Californians and Arizonans know the ornamental carob
trees which are so widely planted as street and park trees.
Each leaf is alternately arranged and is typically pinnately divided into six to
ten round glossy leathery leaflets. Each pod measures about 1˝inches broad and four
to 10 inches long.
Carob powder (or flour) is produced by a continuous process of drying, grinding,
and roasting the pods. The resultant flour has a versatile array
of uses for those who have rediscovered carob's secrets.
IN PLACE OF CHOCOLATE OR COCOA
Carob powder is used whenever a recipe calls for chocolate or cocoa. To replace
carob for cocoa, simply use the same amount of carob. To replace
chocolate with carob, use approximately three tablespoons of carob powder for each
square of chocolate that the recipe calls for.
IN PLACE OF SUGAR
Carob can also be used as a sugar replacement. Carob powder is almost 50%
natural sugar and can be used instead of sugar in virtually all bread
and pastry products. This includes bread, waffles, cakes, pies, pancakes, cereals
(hot or cold), crepes, muffins, etc. Of course, using carob will result in
chocolate-brown colored foods and will impart a vaguely chocolate-like flavor.
If this is undesirable, you can try mixing various amounts of carob and honey to
find the mixture that suits you best.
Another reason to use carob is its unique flavor. It's often referred to as a
chocolate substitute, but carob does have its own unique flavor which lends itself
well to shakes, malts, carob-nut bars, bread products, and even mixed into baked
beans and barbecue sauces. Carob powder is somewhat reminiscent of chocolate; a
fresh carob pod however, has a flavor more similar to dates.
Carob is so different nutritionally and chemically from chocolate that people
allergic to chocolate can enjoy carob. A 1973 university study clearly indicated
that children who were allergic to chocolate could safely consume carob. The
"A very sensitive laboratory test which detects antibodies (allergy-type IgE) to
chocolate failed to detect antibodies to carob in the blood serum of
the same children. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that such children with
allergy to chocolate can safely be given carob."
CAROB AS A MEDICINE
James Veler of Los Angeles wrote to me to describe a personal experience.
He stated, "I keep thinking about so many facets of survival -- your articles
incline me that way. I wanted to tell you that after I came out of the hospital, I
had intense diarrhea for many days and couldn't bring
myself to eat anything. I read something about the carob tree in your book, so I
went out and bought some carob powder and some raw milk.
"You know, I couldn't eat a thing. I had so many pills in the hospital and my
digestion was so disturbed. Those fiendish iron pills were keeping me so disturbed
and needing to be near a toilet, plus the dreaded valium,
because the doctor thought that I only had a 'nervous stomach.' Ah, but all at once
I could drink milk flavored with carob, and I lived on that plus a few cookies and
some honey from the ironwood tree of Australia. Anything to boost my appetite. I
could get the carob milk down and hold it. And after I quit those pills, all at once
I was much better and could eat. I was
in such despair for a time, thinking I would never get well. Thanks to the carob!"
Carob is known for its medicinal properties. Reports in medical journals in the
1950s showed that carob powder added to milk formulas could help
infants keep down their meals. According to a study reported in Canadian Medical
Association Journal, out of 230 infants with diarrhea, only three were not cured by
the addition of carob powder to their formula. Carob
is also used for the treatment and prevention of diarrhea in livestock, and for the
prevention and cure of human dysentery. According to Marian Seddon, writing for
Desert magazine, "The pectin and lignin in carob not only regulate digestion, they
combine with harmful elements (even radioactive fallout) in digested food and carry
them safely out of the body."
Carob is an incredibly rich food source, and it perhaps the ideal "survival
food" since it lasts a long time, requires no special storage conditions,
and can be eaten with no preparations. It is rich in calcium,
containing 352 mg. per 100 grams, or 1,597 mg. per pound. By comparison, milk --
often regarded as an excellent calcium source -- contains only 120 to 130 mg.
of calcium per 100 grams, or 530 to 550 mg. of calcium per pound.
Furthermore, carob contains no oxalic acid, as does chocolate, which tends to
interfere with the body's ability to assimilate calcium.
Carob pods are about four percent protein and 76% carbohydrates.
carob is very sweet, it contains 60% less calories than chocolate.
Additionally, carob contains substantial phosphorus (81 mg. per 100
or 367 mg. per pound), and an abundance of potassium (800 mg. per 100
grams). Carob contains small amounts of sodium and iron, and it is
rich in vitamin A, the B vitamins, and many other minerals.
Carob also has several non-food uses. The small hard seeds inside the
pods were once used as weights and provided the term "carat." These uniform
seeds were first used by goldsmiths as measuring devices. Carob seeds
are also cooked into a thick gum. Commercial uses for this gum include ink
ingredients, film polishes, cosmetics, tooth paste, adhesives, etc. The
seeds can be boiled in water to soften and then strung into a necklace.
Carob powder is available at many sources, including supermarkets and
health food stores. However, although pure carob is the most
healthful, a variety of other ingredients are commonly added to carob, including
chocolate, sugar, and cocoa. Thus, it is important for allergic
individuals to ascertain that the carob they are purchasing is pure. Carob contains
only traces of theobromine, the active stimulant in chocolate and cocoa.
However, even theobromine is occasionally added to carob.
The mature pods can be picked off the tree, or gathered from the
ground, wiped clean, and eaten. These sweet and chewy pods make nutritional TV
or study snacks and can be carried along on driving, bicycling, or
backpacking trips. When gathering pods to eat, be sure that the pod is fully
mature but not too old. The pods ripen in late summer and early fall. Immature
pods are green or have traces of green. These lack both the flavor and
texture of mature pods, and are astringent. Their flavor can be improved by a
day or two of natural drying. Older pods may be moldy or insect-infested.
Western readers who have a source of the whole pods may want to try
making their own flour. The first step is to remove the hard seeds which are
notorious for gumming up grinders. One method of seed removal is to
place the washed pods in a pressure cooker at about 15 pounds of pressure for
20 minutes. When cool, they can be split open easily along one seam to
remove the seeds. The now soft pods can be cut into small sections and
processed in a blender until powdery.
The method that I prefer is to first break open the cleaned pods with a
pair of pliers. Once the seeds are removed, the pods can be slowly
dried in the oven at a very low heat (pilot light temperature is OK) for about
one day. Then, the de-seeded pods are ground in a stone grinder at a coarse
setting since carob has a tendency to gum the grinder. Then the
coarsely-ground pods are put back in the oven for another day. Once
dried more, regrind at a finer setting. Sometimes the carob is suitable to
use at this stage, but often a third drying and re-grinding are necessary.
I've used this flour with excellent results in various sorts of breads
(including carob/acorn bread), cakes, and pancakes.
Once I have de-seeded the carob pods, my wife will often add them to
our morning drinks that she make with her VitaMix, which is a 2 horsepower
food processor capable of finely grinding carob pods.
If you have no carob growing near you, you can obtain the whole pods
from Survival Services, P.O. Box 41834, Los Angeles, CA 90041. A sample
package of pods is $4; or you can send a S.A.S.E. and request their price list
Pasadena, California has approximately 2000 of these showy evergreen
trees. These trees are found around Pasadena City Hall, along streets as shade
trees, in parks, and school yards. One reason why Pasadena has so many
carob trees is because far-sighted Seventh Day Adventists planted them
around and on the grounds of all the public schools during the Great
Depression. Their hope was that school children would take advantage of
this free and nutritious food, a hope that has failed to materialize.
The majority of these pods are routinely raked into the trash and gutters.
Pasadena's city father's have declared that they would ultimately like
to cut down all the carob trees and replace them with carrotwood. Why?
Carob trees' roots frequently crack the sidewalks. Then the pedestrians who
occasionally trip on these cracks (or who trip on the fallen pods)
invariably sue the city for their own clumsiness!