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I first encountered carob when I was a kid. We were given long, dried fruit from the carob tree to chew during the Jewish festival Tu 'b Shevat. This is celebrated, usually around this time of year, as the New Year for Trees. I thought carob tasted a little sweet but it was the texture I enjoyed, something like fruit leather. A little carob seemed to last a long time.

It was only as I got older that I realized this is an important food. Rich in sugar, several vitamins and minerals carob has been cultivated as a crop for over 5000 years.

The carob tree is a large evergreen. It has thick leathery pods with a sweet pulp to suck on that surrounds the seeds. Carob, dates, figs and grapes are all syrupy fruits when they are ripe and they are all common to the Middle-East. Since bee-keeping isn't mentioned in the bible, the rich syrupy paste made from these fruits were likely the honey referred to in "a land that floweth with milk and honey." Carob may also have been the food that John the Baptist ate in the wilderness. Many still call this fruit St. John's bread.

The carob most of us know, is roasted and ground into powder or small pellets. It looks likes chocolate and is often recommended as a chocolate substitute because it has no almost fat. Dried carob does taste faintly of mocha and chocolate. But if it's chocolate flavour you want, try mixing carob 50-50 with cocoa powder.

If it's carob flavour that you want, consider using carob molasses. This is a common ingredient in Lebanese and Syrian cooking. Many Middle Eastern stores, such as Marché Al-Challal carry it. This supermarket has two branches: at 475 Côte-Vertu (747-4953) and 8500 Taschereau (450-923-8568).

Use carob molasses as you would any syrup—over yogurt, in custards, baking, even spread on toast.

It's easy to incorporate carob into regular recipes; but here is one, just for dogs. Chocolate makes many dogs quite ill so carob canine cookies can be ideal treats.

This one is from www.beaglebuddies.com. If you want, substitute 1/3 cup of carob molasses for the melted chips and regular molasses in this recipe.

3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/8 cup peanut oil
1/8 cup corn oil margarine
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 oz. Carob chips melted
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup water
1/2 cup powdered milk

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix until blended. The dough will be stiff. Chill. Preheat oven to 300F. Roll dough on a greased cookie pan and cut into squares 1/2 inch thick. Bake at 300 F for 1 hour. Makes 2 to 3 dozen.

© Barry Lazar 2001 Email Flavourguy

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