Once upon a time I thought cocoa was bad for you. I know many still think that, but I'm not in that camp anymore. However, when I thought cocoa was bad for you, I learned that carob powder works to make a decent replacement for cocoa powder. Well, when I say replacement, I don't mean it tastes exactly like cocoa (and if you're expecting it to, you may be disappointed), but carob has a similar "flavor profile", and can be used similarly, the same way carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash have a similar flavor profile and can be used similarly...
So, back then I would buy carob powder and use it to make an awesome carob cake recipe- using this crazy cake recipe, just with carob in place of the cocoa. It was, hands down, my husband's favorite dessert.
People also use carob to make chocolate chip replacements (I'm sure it would work well in my homemade chocolate), to make ice cream, to make drinks, spreads, in cookies and cakes, and even in mole.
Carob is a decent source of nutrition and are beneficial for you. They are a decent source of polyphenols, which lower cholesterol and are powerful antioxidants. They're rich in calcium, selenium, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, iron, various B vitamins, etc... It is used medicinally to cure diarrhea, as well as to treat coughs and flu symptoms.
How do you identify carob trees? Well, they grow up to 55 feet tall, have oval leaves, and are evergreen. They grow in warm climates and, though native to the Mediterranean basin, are now grown around the world, including warmer areas of the US, India, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, South America, etc....
In the summer, just one tree can give you around one ton of carob pods- so it's super efficient foraging!
The thing is- although their pods are usually ripe around August in my area (you can tell they're ripe when they turn from green to brown and no longer taste chalky), carob is something that you can forage year round, as the pods often stay on the tree and can be shaken down as desired. And yes, shaking down the carob pods (just grab a low hanging branch and shake vigorously) tends to be the ideal way to gather them. No need to climb a tree, but at the same time, you don't necessarily want to be picking up ones from the ground because they're more likely to be moldy and buggy.
In fact, I just left my house now, in the middle of writing this post, and went to forage some carobs. and took these pics of some that I just shook down (My pictures that I took to use with this post got eaten up by my memory card.) Months after they ripened, there's still lots to forage!
So, as I said, foraging year round. It is best to forage these in August or September, however, they will stay on the tree- just note that you will tend to find that more of the pods are buggy or moldy if you wait too long, so you'll get less yield in the winter months than you will in the summer.
Telling Apart From Look AlikesIn my area, carob trees have no look alikes, and therefore it's very easy to find and identify them. However, in places like the US, there are two trees with similar looking pods- black locust and honey locust- that one might say are look alikes... but they're really not. It's very easy to tell them apart, but I feel obligated to describe the differences...
First off- as I mentioned above, carob leaves are oval and large-ish. Black locust and honey locust's leaves are what is called compound leafs (similar to sumac trees and pink peppercorn's), meaning their leaves are one big leaf comprised of a bunch of little leaflets growing off a stem. The leaflets on honey locusts are small, and the leaflets of black locusts are large. Honey locust has really large thorns, black locusts have small thorns. Carob trees are thornless.
Honey locust pods are close to a foot long, black locust pods are a few inches long, and carob pods are between a few inches and a foot long, depending.
See this video on telling black locust and honey locust apart. Black locust pods (and leaves, etc...) are poisonous but their flowers are edible. Honey locust's pods are edible.
What To Make With Carob PodsMy kids and I often forage carob, but we never really knew what to do with it other than eat the pods plain. We do enjoy that- since it's a very simple snack- we often just pick them to eat while out- our "chocolate bars from nature" my husband and I jokingly call them. But I wanted to do more. I knew carob powder was somehow made from things that grew from carob trees somehow, but I really had no idea how.
Just a note- in carobs it's mainly the pods that you eat. The seeds supposedly are edible, but they taste very chalky. And they are also very, very tiny. In fact, they weigh so little that they were used as a weight to measure gold- the word karat comes from the word carob. So its the pods we'll concentrate on.
Homemade Carob Honey/Carob Syrup and Carob FlourI read a local foraging book that talked about various things you could do with carob, and one of the things it described was making carob honey. You de-seed the carob pods by breaking them up entirely, (a lot of work), then boil the pods (minus the seeds) in water for a little bit. The water will become sweet. Strain out the carob pods and save the water. Boil the carob pods in more water, again until the water is sweet, and again strain the pods and keep the water. Keep doing this until the water in which the carob pods were boiled no longer is sweet. You then take this water and boil it down until most of the water boils off, and you're left with a delicious thick syrup, also known as carob honey. This has got to be the tastiest sweetener I've ever eaten- like a cross between chocolate syrup and honey.
It is also the most labor intensive sweetener I've ever made... and I used to make maple syrup with my dad growing up...
I've done this once, it really is that labor intensive.
But it is worth it, if you have time and want to taste something extremely delicious. Note that you'll need a lot of carob pods to make a very little bit of honey.
Ok- we're not done yet.
You take the pods that you boiled, and you put them in a dehydrator (or oven on the lowest setting with the door propped open) until dry, and then you grind it up in a coffee grinder. You now have a gluten free flour to use!
All that pales in comparison to making homemade carob powder.
Truly awesome stuff, now that I finally, finally learned how to do it, thanks to this post that I read!
Homemade Carob Powder Instructions1. Take your carob pods, and wash them well. If they're crumbly at all or have black on them, they're probably either moldy or buggy or both, so break them open to check, and if they are, toss them.
2. Put your carob pods whole into a pot and then let them soak in the water for 6-12 hours.
3. Now that they've soaked, they should be soft, so slice them in half lengthwise, and remove all the seeds. (This is the easiest way to remove the seeds! So much easier than what I did to make my carob honey.)
4. Blend up the softened carob pods in the food processor until it is relatively small. You won't be able to get it super fine- don't worry, that's the next step.
5. Dehydrate the blended up pods in a dehydrator or in the oven on the lowest setting with the door propped open. I found this took only 3-4 hours for them to get 100% dry.
6. Stick the dehydrated carobs in a coffee grinder and grind as fine as you can. You now have a coarser carob powder. However, I like to take this a step (or two) further, since I want something that is exactly like what I can get in the shop, so I can substitute it in recipes that call for carob powder or cocoa powder.
7. Stick your coarse carob powder in a sifter, and sift as much as possible. I put my sifter in a giant bag to catch the powdery carob powder that comes through instead of it flying through the air.
8. I put the coarse carob powder that didn't fit through the sifter holes back into the coffee grinder and grind again.
9. I repeat steps 7 and 8 until I don't have any more energy to sift...
10. Not all the carob powder will get fine enough. That's ok. You'll end up with two different grades of carob powder- super powdery stuff, the same texture as cocoa powder, and a coarser meal, finer than corn meal but coarser than flour.
|Coarser carob powder on the left, fine/powdery carob powder on the right|
11. I used my fine carob powder in baked goods in place of cocoa or in recipes that called for carob powder, such as carob muffins and carob gingersnaps, and I used my coarser carob powder as additions to smoothies, homemade waffles and pancakes, etc...
I am so excited about my homemade carob powder- I hope to make some again soon! Can't wait to experiment even more!
And if you aren't able to forage carob powder, but are able to get your hands on whole carob, also give it a go!
I've never tasted honey locust, but I'm really curious- perhaps every preparation method listed for carob (syrup/honey and flour, and powder) would work with honey locust as well...
Have you ever used carob powder before? Do you have carobs growing near you? Have you ever eaten carob pods? Have you ever made carob powder before? Or did you know how to make it? Does this look like something you'd try out?
Have you foraged honey locust pods before? What do they taste like? Do you think this prep method would work for them as well?