Since I started this blog I have been on a simply massive learning curve, which has included coming to grips – and I mean really coming to grips – with social media. In the last 12 months or so, and with the significant help of some friends, I have become a bit of a dab hand at it and am sometimes now the kind of person my husband deplores as I check in to various places on my Facebook account and tweet out any interesting bits of foodie information that comes my way. It’s clear to me that social media is changing the way we do lots of things and I find it helps to expose me to a great deal of engaging and relevant people and businesses. Some weeks back my attention was drawn to the advent of a new South Australian food company in the Twitterverse, The Australian Carob Co., or @AustCarobCo as they are known on Twitter. I was mildly interested and glanced their way, but having had less-than-delicious brushes with carob in the past I was quickly distracted – probably by something chocolate. A few weeks later Katharine Lindh, she of the brilliant Pangkarra Pasta previously written about here, emailed me and suggested I take a closer look at The Australian Carob Company. She pointed out that things in the world of carob might have changed a little since my last experiences of it when it was often presented as a chocolate substitute and offered to slip some in the post to me.
A native to the Mediterranean region, the Carob is a large, very attractive flowering shrub which has been cultivated both for its looks and its edible beans for thousands of years. Cultivation of this particular plant is a natural fit for South Australia with its long, dry summers perfect for drying out the pods, and that is exactly what gardener Michael Jolley thought when he moved back to Burra after living in Adelaide for some years. He and his wife have 76 acres of land planted with 6,000 trees which he began planting in 2000 and, given that the trees take nine years to mature and bear usable fruit, they are really hitting their straps now. Apparently undaunted by the fact that both he and his wife have full-time jobs, Michael then decided that he needed some infrastructure and went about building a huge shed, acquiring a carob kibbler from Spain and a large roasting oven, thus setting himself up to maintain control of the entire processing procedure and ensure the level of quality he desires.
Carob is naturally quite sweet and was used as a source of sugar before sugar cane and sugar beets became widely available. It was used by the ancient Egyptians as an anthelmintic (to destroy parasitic worms) and also as a digestive, but is known now to have other digestive advantages. It is high in un-absorbable fibre making it helpful in treating diarrhoea and this same property, combined with its natural pleasant flavour, makes it useful in the fight against obesity. It is caffeine-free, rich in phosphorus and calcium, high in protein, low in fat and also contains a substance, Gallic Acid, which is a natural analgesic and anti-bacterial.
Which is all very well, but of no real use to me unless modern processing methods have significantly improved the quality of flavour – and it appears they have done just that! Michael currently produces a carob syrup, roasted carob powder and carob kibble for snacks, with a raw powder to be available soon. The carob syrup is dark and surprisingly sweet, but has absolutely no additives. The powder is slowly roasted bringing about a rich, mellow flavour, again with some sweetness, but not to the same degree as the syrup. I have very happily used the syrup over ice-cream and as a dessert topping and yesterday used the powder to bake a delightful cake (if I do say so myself) which went down very well with the troops. Being the confirmed chocolate addict that I am, I couldn’t really consider it as a chocolate substitute and I wonder if it is not doing the product a disservice to attempt this. The deep, smooth, well rounded flavour that Michael has brought about with his very slow roasting techniques gives this product a distinct, stand-alone quality that I am happy to enjoy for what it is. All the health-giving properties are simply extra icing on the carob cake as far as I’m concerned!
A list of Australian Carob stockists can be found here.