Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Carob or Keçiboynuzu

In Turkish keçiboynuzu translates most picturesquely into 'goat's horn'.

it's actually very apt

But the point is, what do you know about carob? Sometimes I reflect on how unobservant I can be as  I have noticed these strange black pods out of the corner of my eye when I am out and about but I think I probably thought they were some sort of relative of vanilla pods!

I have never seen carob pods being sold in such vast quantities as when we visited Saklıkent Gorge last week on our recent boat trip down south. After sitting at the floating teahouse and having a çay and before retracing our steps to the minibus, we saw an inviting row of  stalls with interesting-looking baskets and sacks of locally made  nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses), dried herbs, nuts and THESE. Oh what a magnet for me and my English friends....

selling carob pods at Saklıkent

Now I am back home and doing some reading about this rather strange pod. Here are some of the facts I have gleaned so far:
  • The carob tree, a native of the Mediterranean, is also called St John's Bread because John the Baptist ate the pods while he was in the wilderness.
  •  It can bear fruit for 100 years!
  •  It had its heyday during the 70s as a healthy hippy substitute for chocolate because it contains no caffeine or theobromine, another mild stimulant. 
  • Compared to chocolate, it's three times richer in calcium, has one third less calories, and 17 times less fat.
  • Apparently carob powder is also used to make chocolate-flavoured treats for dogs (and cats) because real chocolate is bad for them.

extraordinary shapes

Not only is it nutritious, it's therapeutic. Just remember to take some carob powder with you when you go on your next trip as it's a natural remedy for serious diarrhoea in both adults and infants. Animals too. Use 1 tbsp in a cup of liquid or make a paste. Hmm.

The long knobbly black pods are typically dried or roasted, then ground to a powder which can be used for baking. The proportions are: 3 tbsp carob powder + 1 tbsp water for every ounce of unsweetened choc. Abroad, it can be bought as non-chocolate carob chips which would be great for cookies. It is naturally sweet so remember to reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe. I don't think it is used like this here in Turkey. As far as I know, the people here nibble round the pod itself as a kind of healthy treat! At Saklıkent, we all duly tried this but the taste leaves a lot to be desired (in my opinion). It's not bad but it's certainly not a patch on a bar of real choc!

TT says the pods are also made into pekmez, a  natural kind of syrup, sometimes called harnup pekmezi instead of keçiboynuzu pekmezi. I imagine this is spread on bread and given to children for breakfast as all the other syrups (mainly dut and üzüm/ black mulberry and grape) like this are eaten in this way. Pekmez is considered extremely healthy and children are often given a spoonful at breakfast especially in winter to start their day!

There is another biblical reference: remember the story of the Prodigal Son? He squandered his inheritance and wished he could also partake in the pigs' diet of carob pods!

And one final piece of very interesting information: the word 'carat' which is used to measure gold, comes from the Arabic name for the carob seeds because of their uniformity in weight! Eventually the system was standardized and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.

Abroad, carob is available from health food shops and upmarket supermarkets while here in Istanbul, it is found in districts like Eminönü or Kadıköy.

Have any of you have ever cooked with carob powder? I would love to know....