The role of carob flour in circular economy in Crete

by | May 16, 2023 | MOVING

Author: Giorgos Gavalas (Researcher/Agronomist, stakeholder in the Greek MOVING Regional MAP)

Editor: Miranda García (AEIDL)

The Greek MOVING team participated recently in a research conducted by the Forum Origin, Diversity et Territories, and had the opportunity to reflect more on the role of carob in the circular economy.

Carob and its main by-products such as carob powder and locust bean gum, has been an essential plant for Greece and especially for Crete, as they provided food security and financial resources necessary for family’s subsistence, and they are closely linked to the sustainable development of the country.

In fact, in the past carob has been a critical source of food for humans and animals. Its ability to grow without systematic agriculture saved the local population from food shortages during turbulent times such as the Second World War. Carob flour was used to make bread and other products that allowed locals to survive. The fruits of some varieties could be eaten fresh or after processing, making them a valuable source of nutrition.

Carob and its by-products were also used as animal feed, allowing for the maintenance of a small but crucial livestock population that contributed to the local economy. Carob also provided food for wild fauna, which was a source of food and income through hunting, as the sale of preys was legal in the past. In addition, carobs that were not consumed locally were exported to Thessaloniki, Alexandria, Constantinople and other regions, helping the local population and generating important income for the family’s livelihood.

As a result of such an important role, carob trees were never cut down, except when they dried out, and even after their death, their wood was used for heating or charcoal production.

In the process of producing carob and its main by-products, there is not a formal circular economy plan. However, there are some cases that incorporate circular economy principles in the traditional practices.  These include:

  • Shredding of branches removed during pruning and returning them to the soil as organic matter to reduce weed growth. On many occasions, the sacks the businesses receive from suppliers often contain animal manure, wood and leaves that are cleaned and turned into a natural fertilizer to eliminate waste.
  • Reuse of pulp and other residues after carob syrup and carob flour production as compost and animal feed. 
  • Sheep, goats, and horses, which can survive in most areas where carob trees grow, feed on the carobs that fall before harvesting and the grasses in the area, clearing the area of weeds and fertilising it with their manure. It is bioactive fodder. Recent studies in Crete indicate that carob has antiparasitic properties, which is beneficial, as parasites found in the animal’s intestine can contaminate pastures and then the rest of the animals.

It is worth noticing that Greece’s carob industry primarily produces carob flour, carob honey, and locust bean gum, which generate minimal waste. Any unused parts of the fruit are repurposed as animal feed and compost. However, the production of clarified carob gum requires chemical and water processing that, if not executed properly, can be harmful to the environment.  Unfortunately, no code or protocol of good practice in the carob value chain has so far been formally described or established.