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Alfarroba - About Chocolate, Gold And Cola

Posted by Marianne Hoesen on Sunday, August 28, 2011 Under: food and recipes

The carob tree or St. John´s bread tree, is typical for the Algarve.  In Portuguese the tree is called Alfarrobeira and the fruit of this tree is called Alfarroba (al-harruba in Arabic).
The carob tree is a member of the legume (pea) family. It is a large tree and grows to 15m in 50 years. It produces no fruit for the first 15 years of its life, but will fruit well into its old age. A large tree can produce one ton of beans in one harvest.  Contrary to the orange trees, carob trees do not need much water.
The carob tree flowers in September and October. The flowers on female carob trees must be pollinated by pollen from the male trees. Developing carob pods have the appearance of green broad beans but they turn a dark glossy brown with maturity. It takes a full year for the pods to develop and ripen. Carob seeds and pods are edible. The ground seeds are used as a substitute for cocoa and as a food (also known as algarroba, St. John's bread, and locust bean gum). The pods are commonly used as cattle feed. Carob powder is also used as a food stabilizer and as a darkening agent.

In the Algarve carob powder is used in baking as an alternative to chocolate and is also known by the name cacao do Algarve.   Carob is free from the stimulants caffeine and theobromine found in chocolate. It is also naturally sweet, so carob products will generally contain substantially less sugar than their chocolate counterparts.  Have a look at Traditional Food for a nice recipe of Bolo de Alfarroba e Amendôes.

Since the seeds of the carob tree all weigh the same, they were used to weigh diamonds, silver and gold in the Middle East.  The word "carat" refers to the official name of the carob tree: Ceratonia Siliqua. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.

In late Roman and early Byzantine times, the pure gold coin known as the solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24-carat gold means 100% pure, 12-carat gold means the alloy contains 50% gold, etc.         

The seed is used to produce LBG ( Locust Been Gum) food group no E410, a polysaccharide with very high water binding capacity. This function puts Carob bean gum (LBG) into the food industry with its role as diverse as to be a binding agent in dog food, thickening agent in jams, sauces and to a crystallization inhibitor in ice cream and beverages. Along with food LBG is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chemicals and explosives to name a few.          

Another interesting detail is that rumour says that alfarroba is one of the secret ingredients of Coca Cola.

Portugal produces around 40.000 tons of alfarroba per year, most of which is exported.  This is a 32 million euro business. Only Marokko produces more, but the Portuguese claim to have the best quality.


In : food and recipes 

Tags: alfarroba  carob  alfarrobeira  carat  bolo 
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