Carob

Carob, also called locust bean or St.John’s bread (coming from the story that the “locusts” on which John the Baptist fed were carobs), is a tree of the pea family and native to Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The red flowers are followed by leathery pods that contain hard brown seeds in a sweet edible pulp. 
It is interesting that the unit “carat” used for weighing precious metal and stones, derives from an ancient practice of weighing gold and gemstones against the seeds of the carob tree by people in the Middle East. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 gram (which is the weight of one carob seed). 
Most carob trees are dioecious and some are hermaphroditic, so strictly male trees do not produce fruit. In the Mediterranean region the pods ripen end of September and October and whenever I visit those regions in fall, I love foraging for these delicious pods. When they are ripe there is a very special sweet aroma in the air, reminding me of caramel. I love munching on them and taking some with me to later produce carob syrup and dry them for carob powder, which can be used as a substitute for cacao, without containing theobromine or caffeine. 
Carob has a lot of fiber, antioxidants, low amounts of fat and sugar, no caffeine and no gluten, whilst tasting naturally sweet. I love to make bliss balls, carob-nuteella, carob bars and other healthy sweets with carob syrup and powder. 
The process of making the carob powder isn’t the easiest, but its well worth it. The good thing is, one gets some carob syrup as a side product. 
First make sure to forage only very juicy carobs and discard the thin dry ones. Since they’re often lying on the ground, make sure to wash them well. Put the cleaned carob pods in a large pot and cover them with water completely. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes on low heat. Turn the heat of and let the pods soak for 24 hours or at least overnight. 
Do not discard the water in which you have soaked the pods. This is the SYRUP! You can either keep it like this. It is a bit watery and naturally sweet, I like to put a few spoonfuls in my teas. You can keep it in the refrigerator, but it doesn’t keep for more than a few months. If you would like a thicker syrup that last for longer time, cook the water a bit longer and add some sugar to thicken the syrup. Or, if you prefer a healthier version, cook the water so it thickens, let it cool and than add raw honey (1:1). 
To continue with the carob powder procedure: slice the softened pods horizontally down the middle and remove the hard seeds. Dry the split pods either in dehydrator or in the oven on low heat (60 C or 140F) for as long as it takes to make them hard, dry and east to snap in two. If you are using the oven, make sure to keep the door slightly open, so the humidity can evaporate. Once the pods are dry, snap them in smaller pieces and blend them in a blender. Make sure to only do small batches at a time, since the pods are hard on the blender. Continue with small batches and grind them into a powder in a coffee bean grinder. You can leave some larger and use them as carob nibs. Use a fine sifter to separate fine carob powder from granule. You can use the powder for smoother recipes or to dissolve in beverages and the granule in other baked or raw goods. Keep the powder and granule in an airtight container. 
Wherever you would use cacao, now you can use caffeine free version that tastes naturally sweet and delicious. The options are endless: carob butter, carob pudding, raw carob bars, rolls, fudge, cakes, cookies, brownies, smoothies, bliss balls, sauces and many other delicious carob treats.