Rising to prominence as an alternative to chocolate during the health food craze of the 80’s, the modest carob pod is finally getting its due in the culinary world. Well known in Mediterranean regions for centuries, where it can still be found growing wild, this substantial evergreen shrub of the legume family is prolific and drought resistant. Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and minerals such as iron and phosphorus, the powdered version contains 3 times the calcium of milk; due to its high resistance to pests and disease, carob is typically 100% organic and caffeine free (its only downside).
Oddly enough, in ancient times, seeds from carob pods were allegedly used to measure the value of gold. “The word “carat”, a unit of mass for gemstones and a unit of purity for gold alloys, was possibly derived from the Greek word kerátion literally meaning a small horn, and refers to the carob seed as a unit of weight.”
Carob syrup or molasses, sold pure and unadulterated, adds depth to dressings and marinades, forming an intensely piquant base to up your sauce game (watch out Atlanta BBQ Festival). A versatile product, it’s surprisingly good on ice cream, stirred into lattes, and as a replacement for chocolate or caramel syrup in a mocha. Because it’s low on the glycemic index, you can enjoy your indulgent coffee concoction guilt free, knowing you won’t be jonesing for sugar an hour later.
Growing up on a nauseatingly steady diet of carob hot “chocolate” and honey sweetened carob cakes, I would never have imagined I’d fall so hard for its flavor, but then again, the syrup made in Turkey, known locally as keçiboynuzu pekmezi is good stuff. Imagine big, toasty, caramel-malt flavors, mellow hits of molasses and coffee, and a texture like room temperature honey without the cloying sweetness.
While in Kas, a place known for intricate tombs carved out of the mountain face, I noticed a sizable carob tree in the yard of a home I was staying in, laden with hulls begging to be utilized. After rinsing, slicing, and boiling the pods for hours, trying to concentrate the juices, the syrup simply didn’t materialize, stubbornly maintaining its watery state. After doing a little research, I learned the carob husks had probably been suspended on the branches for too long, and were completely desiccated. When ripe and ready for harvesting, which occurs simultaneously with its flowering stage (you have to harvest them carefully to avoid damaging the flowers) the carob pods can be pressed or boiled to extract the juice. The syrup experiment didn’t work out, but I will try roasting and grinding the beans into powder, a hard to find item in Turkey as its not commonly used in the cuisine.