The humble carob
Published on 14th March, 2019 by Natalia Martins
The Algarve – derived from the Arabic name Al-Gharb – The West - is home to a huge variety of delicious local food, including fresh seafood, oranges, figs, almonds and carob. For those of you unfamiliar with carob (Alfarroba), it’s the dark and mysterious looking, pea-shaped seed pod that comes from the Alfarrobeira (carob tree). Once it had little value, being mainly used to feed horses, but now due to its natural sweetness and healthier properties, it is the source of several sumptuous desserts here – added to cocoa to produce chocolate, flour for cakes and much more.
Portugal is one of the top producers of carob worldwide, thanks to the hot, dry Algarvian climate. Requiring very little water to survive, the region is ideal to nurture these hearty trees, which can live for up to 200 years.
Before the invention of money and the creation of the SI measuring system, the Moors would trade their camels and horses, (if they were not receiving goods in return), so they had to weigh the gold nuggets that they always carried with them as their payment method.
Since the seeds of the carob tree are pretty similar in size and mass, they used them to measure the weight of gold. Eventually, they found out that not all seeds were the same and standardised the system: one carat now equals 0.2grams and is used for the weight of diamonds.
Some people believe that the word ‘carat’, which is still used by jewellers all over the world, is indeed derived from the word ‘carob’. But the word ‘carat’ refers to the official name of the carob tree: Ceratonia Siliqua.