Discover fascinating facts about the fruit of one of the most famous Algarve trees

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016


No need to water

  • Weirdly shaped, the carob bean, alfarroba in Portuguese, hangs from the tree like a pea. It’s also sometimes called a pod. Inside, you’ll find many small beans as well as a semi-sweet pulp (which is used to make locust bean gum, a well-known thickener).
  • Carob trees, also known as St John’s-bread, locust bean or alfarrobeiras (Latin name: Ceratonia silique) are native to the Mediterranean. They can live up to 200 years and because of their deep roots, they hardly need any water.


Their weight in gold

  • Since the seeds of the carob tree are pretty similar in size and mass, a long time ago people in the Middle East used them to measure the weight of gold and gemstones. Eventually, they found out that not all seeds were the same and standardised the system: one carat now equals 0.2grams.
  • Some people believe that the word ‘carat’, which is still used by jewellers all over the world, is indeed derived from the word ‘carob’. Unfortunately, carob beans aren’t really worth their weight in gold; more like a few euros per kilo.


Knock ’em out!

  • In August, it’s time to harvest the carob beans. This is easiest done by taking a long wooden rod and knocking the branches so the alfarrobas fall down. Then, they can be picked up and collected. When harvesting like this, take care not to damage the flowers, next year’s crop, while hitting the tree.
  • Portugal is in the world’s top three of carob-producing countries, with an average of 23,000 tonnes a year. A 25 year old tree can produce around 125 kilos of beans. The sacks that are used to harvest alfarrobas weigh about 15 kilos when full with pods. You do the math.


Chocolate, but healthier

  • After drying, alfarroba pods are ground to make carob powder, which is used as a substitute for cocoa powder. It doesn’t taste the same, but has the same colour, about one-third of the calories and less caffeine than chocolate. It’s also almost fat-free and non-allergenic. Hence why it’s healthier.
  • Devoted chocoholic and not convinced yet? Try a shot of carob liquor or a slice of bolo de alfarroba, Algarvian carob cake, and you might change your mind.


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2016

Posted in Food, Typical Portugal.