The Biblical Super Food

Throughout the Mediterranean, the wild carob tree grows from the sea to the mountains. You can find the tree along roadsides, in the middle of farmer’s fields and in wild groves dotting the arid hillsides.

Harvesting the pods in Italy, Spain, Morocco, Majorca, Greece and Turkey is a time-honored tradition. Carob pods are thought to be the “locust” that the Bible says St John fasted on in the desert accompanied by honey.

The carob tree is a member of the legume family. The pod is full of seeds, which actually produce the main income from its harvest. The seeds contain a vegetable gum called locust bean gum that is used in foods from ice cream to yogurt where they act as a thickener and a stabilizer.

The Chocolate Alternative

You might have heard of carob pods being used as a chocolate alternative in brownies, milk and baking flours. When roasted, carob pods have chocolatey flavor notes. However, unlike bitter cocoa powder, carob powder has a subtle sweetness from its natural carbohydrates.

You may not realize that you’ve eaten carob when it is used to replace the more expensive cocoa powder in candies such as malt balls. In baked goods, carob powder can be a substitute for cocoa powder and its sweetness helps to cut down on sugar.

The Nutritious Health Benefits of Carob

Carob pods (Ceratonia siliqua) are highly nutritious containing minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium along with B vitamins such as riboflavin and niacin. With zero fat, carob’s calories come from carbohydrates, but its high fiber content helps slow down their digestion. The fiber in carob can be helpful to prevent constipation.

Carob pods contain a variety of antioxidant polyphenols such as catechins, epicatechins and epigallocatechins, which are also found in tea leaves. Extracts of carob pods are high in the polyphenol called gallic acid, which has been shown to be a prebiotic for the microbiome. Scientific studies are exploring gallic acid’s beneficial immune modulating effect and its protective role in colon health. Extracts of carob pods were shown to be highly effective compared to red wine in protecting cells against free radical damage.

A unique compound in carob called D-pinitol has been shown to help reduce insulin resistance and keep blood sugar stable. The natural energy boost that people experience from drinking Teeccino may have to do with D-pinitol acting like insulin to help cells take in more energy. D-pinitol is also an effective antioxidant and has a protective effect on the liver, kidney and pancreas. Like gallic acid, it has also been shown to beneficially modulate the immune system. Pharmaceutical companies have filed patents for compositions that contain D-pinitol for a number of potential effects including its anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties.

Developing certified organic carob

Farming families in the Mediterranean collect the carob pods when they fall from the trees in the fall. Canvas is spread on the ground underneath the tree’s branches and then it is taken up after the pods have filled it. The pods are broken by machinery to release and separate the seeds for extraction. The remainder is called kibbled carob pods. The kibble is roasted and then ground to create Teeccino’s carob granules.

You would think that it would have been easy to get organic certification for wild trees, but there are many more challenges than you can imagine in certifying trees that can sparsely grow across all kinds of terrain intermixed with cultivated fields.

Results from the testing of conventional carob for pesticides convinced Caroline that she had to develop certified organic carob. Malathion, a commonly used pesticide in agriculture, was found in the lot tested. It wasn’t the carob tree that was being sprayed but its proximity to a conventional field and resulting pesticide drift that caused the carob to accumulate pesticides. This was a wake-up call that wild botanicals aren’t always safe from agricultural chemicals just because they’re ‘wild’.

To begin with, just finding a company to produce the special grind of carob that Teeccino requires was a big hurdle. For a number of years, Caroline worked with a company on the island of Majorca in the middle of the Mediterranean. Sadly, after making a bad investment in almonds, they went bankrupt and left Teeccino scrambling for a new partner.

Fortunately, Caroline found a small carob company on the island of Sicily that worked with her to produce Teeccino’s special grind. After she persisted in her demand for organic, our Sicilian partners were able to get their wild carob trees certified organic under the European Union regulations. But then came the big blow…

It was 2006 and we were poised to launch Teeccino for the first time with organic certification. All of our labels had been printed with “organic” on their front and we were ready to launch. In order to get the USDA national organic program (NOP) certification, the European organic certifiers had to make one more inspection. They delayed too long in getting to Sicily and the pods fell off the trees. Once they had fallen, the regulations would not allow them to be certified.

At the time it seemed so unfair. After all, they were certified EU organic! Nevertheless, it took another year before we could launch Teeccino under the USDA organic regulations. In the meantime, we changed the labels to note on the ingredients panel that our carob was EU organic certified!

While certified organic carob now comes from more places in the Mediterranean than just the island of Sicily, it still is collected in small lots by local people who supplement their income with each year’s harvest. Fortunately, now there is an equivalency arrangement between EU and NOP organic certification. Nevertheless, getting certification for wild trees still remains a significant challenge and at the same time, the demand for organic carob continues to increase.

We are fortunate to have a great partnership with a family-owned, Spanish company that reliably roasts and grinds organic carob for Teeccino. It is our partnerships with people around the world that fills us with gratitude for their efforts to supply us with the highest quality herbs possible!