What is Carob?

Carob ( Ceratonia siliqua )
Fabaceae, Legume Family

Carob is native to the eastern Mediterranean, probably the Middle East, where it has been in cultivation for at least 4000 years. The plant was well known to the ancient Greeks, who planted seeds of this plant in Greece and Italy.

This plant is also called St. John's bread or locust bean because the pods were once thought to have been the "locusts" that were eaten by John the Baptist in the Wilderness.

That story was apparently wrong--he ate migratory locust. Seeds were used to weight gold, hence the word "carat." Mohammed's army ate kharoub , and Arabs planted the crop in northern Africa and Spain (Moors), along with citrus ( Citrus ) and olives ( Olea ).

Spaniards carried carob to Mexico and South America, and the British took carob to South Africa, India, and Australia.

Records show that carob was intentionally introduced into the United States in 1854, and the first seedlings were apparently planted in California in 1873. For commercial production cultivars with the finest quality fruits are bud grafted on common stock.

Carob grows well anywhere that citrus is grown, and it prefers dry climates that receive more than 30 centimeters of rainfall--ideal mediterranean-type climates.

The fruit of carob is a pod, technically a legume 15 to 30 centimeters in length and fairly thick and broad.

Pods are borne on the old stems of the plant on short flower stalks. Interestingly, most carob trees are monoecious, with individual male and female flowers.

The dark-brown pods are not only edible, but also rich in sucrose (almost 40% plus other sugars) and protein (up to 8%).

Moreover, the pod has vitamin A, B vitamins, and several important minerals. They can be eaten directly by livestock, but we know carob mostly because the pods are ground into a flour that is a cocoa substitute.

Although this product has a slightly different taste than chocolate, it has only one-third the calories (total 1595 calories per pound), is virtually fat-free (chocolate is half fat), is rich in pectin, is non-allergenic, has abundant protein, and has no oxalic acid, which interferes with absorption of calcium.

Consequently, carob flour is widely used in health foods for chocolate-like flavoring.

A very fine polysaccharide gum--mucilaginous, odorless, tasteless, and colorless--can also be obtained from the pod and is now used in many products.

There are also several putative medicinal uses of the plant, and singers formerly chewed the pod husks in the belief that this clears the throat and voice.

Most carob used in this country comes from the Mediterranean Region, especially Sicily, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, southern Sardinia, and Italy along the Adriatic Sea.

Carob can be produced in California, and was grown for a while in the Southland, but this has not been economically successful because the land is too valuable to devote to this crop.


Carob is a species that has a long history of use by humans. Other names commonly used for Carob are St John's Bread and Locust. Legend has it that St John ate the pods of this species and hence the name.

Evidence of the use of Carob products by humans date back to ancient Greece and Egypt where the plant was used as a source of food.

The seeds from the Carob tree are extremely consistent in size and weight and are believed to have been the original gauge for the 'carat' used by jewellers.

The species itself is ancient having survived the last ice age and flourished throughout the Mediterranean region since. It is well adapted to harsh climates and poor soils. Throughout its natural range the species has been widely cultivated because of its reliability as a food and fuel resource even during times of drought.

Description: The carob tree is a slow growing, medium sized evergreen tree originating in the eastern Mediterranean. It is a member of the Legume (Pea) family and is the only member of the genus Ceratonia. It is a xerophilous scleophphyllous species well suited to dry infertile environments. The species is trioecious with male, female and hermaphrodite inflorescences and is often multi stemmed growing up to 15 meters in height. The production of fruit begins around the age of 15 and continues for the life of the plant. The leaves are broad, dark green and offering substantial shade. The pods are long and leathery often growing up to 300mm long.

Carob Products

Carob is a highly versatile and useful tree to humans as there are a wide range of products derived from its fruits and timber. Primarily, foods for both human and animal consumption are obtained from it's seeds, pulp and seed pods. Every part of the fruit is able to be consumed. However food is not the only product supplied by this species.

Carob in Food

The fruits of the Carob tree can be eaten either green or after having been processed. The Inside the seed pod there are up to 15 seeds surrounded by a saccharine pulp. The seeds are separated from the pulp and used to make locust bean gum sometimes known as Ceratonia or Carob bean gum.

This product is used in the manufacture of food stuffs, especially confectionery. It be used as a stabiliser, emulsifier, thickener or to to prevent sugar crystallisation. The other major food source derived from Carob is from the ground up pod itself, which forms a high protein powder that is an effective substitute for Cocoa powder.

Carob powder has a number of advantages over Cocoa powder and as such is often used to make what has come to be known as 'healthy chocolate' .

Carob powder is free of the allergenic and addictive effects of caffeine and the bromine present in Cocoa. It also contains less fat and more sugar than Cocoa. Cocoa has around 23% fat and 5% sugar while Carob contains approximately 7% fat and 42-48% sugar. Carob powder is often used as a substitute for cocoa at rates of up to 50%.

Used in this manner Carob has become a popular chocolate substitute used in a huge variety of confectionery products and drinks as well as a general sweetener. Carob is also used to make flour, molasses, alcohol and a substitute for coffee and eggs.

Carob and Health

Apart from the health benefits obtained by substituting Carob for Cocoa and synthetic sweeteners in our diet, Carob also has excellent nutritional value. Along with up to 80% protein, it contains Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium Manganese, Barium, Copper, Nickel and the vitamins A, B, B2, B3, and D. It also has medicinal uses including the treatment of coughs and diahhroea

Other Products and Uses 

While food production is a very important characteristic of this species it is by no means the only benefit that can be obtained from growing Carob. These include: Tannin is obtained from the bark of Carob.
Cosmetic face-packs are made from a flour made from the seed pods.
The wood is hard and highly sought after by wood turners.
The wood is also used for fire wood.
Provides shade and shelter and fodder for stock. 
It is a nitrogen fixing species, providing improvements to soil fertility.

Growing Carob Trees

Grows well on low rainfall marginal land and is used for land amelioration. Prior to planting Carob, pre-soak the seed in warm water for approximately 24hrs. This species prefers sandy loams, medium loam and clay loam soils but can tolerate poorer soil conditions including rocky areas. Good drainage and full to semi-sun is also preferred if the species is to grow well. Carob will tolerate pH in the range 6.2 to 8.6.

This species is extremely drought resistant and irrigation is not required. It is also free of many pests and diseases, however it is susceptible to Texas Root Rot. After the plant has established itself it requires little maintenance except form pruning to encourage a single stem if required.


The pods are collected when brown, they are broken open and the hard seeds removed. The empty pods are then washed, dry roasted to inactivate enzymes that would break the product down and then milled like wheat to a very fine brown powder which is naturally sweet. This fine powder can be used the same as you would use cocoa and you will need less sugar.

To make the powder into its No Added Sugar chocolate form, it is basically mixed with skim milk powder, a vegetable oil, and soy lecithin. This makes the solid carob.

Carob is caffeine free, oxalic acid free and no the bromine, then nylthylamine and tyramine, these last 3 can trigger headaches and migraines in some people.

Carob Seeds

The seeds have a history of their own. The seed looks very much like a large watermelon seed. There about eight seeds to a pod. The gum they contain was used and is still used today by the Egyptians for binding their mummies. (Why change something that works?).

The Italians use the seed to make rosary beads. In Israel they have an annual Carob Festival. This seed was also used as a weight measure for gold and gems because seeds are very even in weight.

That use has come down through the centuries as the 'caret weight' (should be carob weight) and 0. 5 carob seeds equals one gram. A caret weight .02 of a gram.

The uses of the gum today are in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, industrial oils and food thickening. It is called the locus bean gum. The timber of the carob tree makes beautiful furniture.

The Carob Tree

The carob tree is a Mediterranean plant. It has existed for over 4000 years.

It is a legume, evergreen and a beautiful shade tree and takes 20 years to reach its full height, which is 50ft (over 15mts) high and 50ft (over 15mts). wide, with a tap root to 125ft (38mts). In places like Egypt, where the water is mainly underground, that long tap root has allowed the carob trees to survive.

The surface root system never goes beyond the leaf canopy.

The tree takes up to 8 years to produce a crop of pods, 15 years to produce a commercial size crop, but by 20 years can produce up to a tonne in one season. It will continue to produce for up to 200 years and only the female trees in the wild, produce pods.

In commercial cultivation the trees are grafted male and female together so every tree produces a crop. Bees do the pollination as the masses of small cluster flowers offer large amounts of nectar as incentive.

Australia's Carob History!

Yes, Carob does have a history, even if it is only about 190 years old.

During the inland exploration of our vast country, camels and their drivers were imported to help and they brought the carobs with them. If you are fortunate when visiting our inland areas you will see the odd large carob tree that has survived.

Soldier settlers returning from conflict in the Middle East were very impressed with the carob trees growing in such a harsh dry environment, that some of the men asked the Government of the time for carob tree seedlings, all began well. But due to the lack of written information on cultivation of the trees the project failed to proceed.

Carob trees are grown for shade in the streets of Burra, Adelaide and Murray Bridge.

Andrew Gebhardt will be producing Carob Syrup, which is used as a food flavouring. He also exports the seed for its gum.

In 1996 the plantation had 4500, 15 year old trees.

There are now 8500 trees as Andrew planted 4000 more in March 1997.

He also runs sheep and cattle.

There are four more plantations in Australia but as at 1997 they were only 5 years old.

So we will have to wait many years for them to become productive. We are hopeful that at least two of these plantations will produce carob powder.

The tree produces green pods. When the pods turn brown they are harvested by a shaking machine and taken to the processing shed.

Currently all carob powder used in Australia has to be imported from Spain or Portugal. This we hope will change in the future.

Acknowledgment: The main content for this page was originally resourced from: http://sres.anu.edu.au/associated/fpt/nwfp/carob/carob.html. (This link has since been closed).