The word "carob" can be used to describe a specific type of tree or the ground powder made from the pod and seeds of the plant. The tree grows in the Mediterranean and is scientifically called Ceratonia siliqua. It is a member of the legume family and produces pods that are long and leathery. Within these pods are hard seeds and pulp. The pulp is edible and has a sweet flavor.
The carob tree gets quite tall, reaching heights of up to about 55 feet (16.7 meters). Its trunk gets very wide, boasting a circumference of up to about 33 inches (83.82 centimeters) by the time it is 18 years of age. The tree has evergreen leaves that are dark green and leathery, and it blooms with tiny red flowers. The pod is brown, in shades varying from light to dark, and flattened or slightly curved. The hard seeds rattle when the pod is ripened and dry.
In terms of hardiness, the plant is considered just a bit stronger than the sweet orange. Frost can cause damage to vulnerable, young trees, but mature ones can often stand up to temperatures that drop as low as 20°F (-6.67°C). If frost sets in during the blooming period, however, fruit production may be reduced. The tree is most suited to a Mediterranean climate that features winters that are cool, but not cold, and summers that have little rain.
The seeds are often referred to as St. John's bread or locust bean. They are often chewed and enjoyed for their sweet flavor. The pods are also processed into a powder that has a consistency similar to that of cocoa. This powdery substance is combined with flour for use in bread and pancakes. Seeded and beaten pods can be made into a powder that is used in breakfast foods.
A finer carob flour is used in creating candy, including candy bars, and it is often used as a substitute for chocolate. The pods are also ground and boiled, creating a thick syrup. The seeds produce a gum, commercially called tragasol, that is used to thicken baked goods, mustard, cheese, ice cream, and some lunch meats. The substance that is left over from gum extraction can be used in making flour for individuals suffering from diabetes.