Carob, known as “carrua” in Sicilian dialect, is the fruit of the carob (Ceratonia siliqua L.), an evergreen tree that is native to the Mediterranean. Cultivation is concentrated in the province of Ragusa, in the territory between the Dirillo and Anapo valleys. Its most common varieties are the “Latinissima”, the “Racemosa”, the “Morescona”, the “Saccarata” and the “Falcata”.
Carob is a 10 to 20 centimetre long flattened pod in the shape of a horn, with a leathery and shiny skin. They are green during ripening phase and dark brown in the summer months, until they become totally dark when they are completely ripened. On the surface it is a hard and compact fruit, whereas the internal pulp is fleshy and sugary. It contains dark and round seeds called “carats”, which was used in the past as a unit of measurement for gold. They are harvested between late August and early September, when the tree already bears the flowers of the next seasons fruits. Once the fruits have fallen to the ground, they are collected by hand in containers called “cannisscia” in Sicilian.
Carob has a taste similar to cocoa with hints of honey and caramel, so much so that in ancient times in Sicily it was considered the “poor persons chocolate”. The fruit can be eaten whole, it can be chewed on its own or toasted, or broken and boiled in a saucepan. The “carcao” is obtained from the toasted and powdered pulp, it is a flour that is used to prepare bread, pasta and desserts.
The carob is also called a “survival plant” thanks to its resistance to drought, and its cultivation has represented an important economic resource on the island for centuries. The tree, which majestically opens its branches in the centre of the fields, was an outdoor stable that would provide shade for 15 to 20 cows would rest under.
The majesty of the foliage, the fruits with many uses and the longevity of the tree, have given rise to many legends and beliefs about the plant. It is said that witches and fairies live under its branches, that a “truvatura” (a treasure) is hidden among its roots and that Judas Iscariot, after having betrayed Christ, hanged himself from a carob branch.
In the last twenty years, the demand for carob has gone from a product which was intended exclusively for animal feed and widespread culinary traditions to a sought-after product, thanks to local companies that have been able to work and to pass on the traditions related to the processing of carob.