Carob, the new saffron: from livestock feed to superfood that has multiplied its value by five | Valencian Community

 Carob, the new saffron: from livestock feed to superfood that has multiplied its value by five |  Valencian Community

Carob, now considered a superfood, was not long ago a humble feed for livestock. But its usefulness as a natural food thickener or ingredient for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry has made it fashionable and its price is sky high. This fruit, widespread especially in the Mediterranean, has become a kind of jewel from the dry land of Spain, the main producing country, and attracts more and more “friends of foreigners” due to its great profitability. In the middle of the collection campaign, the Civil Guard redoubles controls in the field and in warehouses to prevent the sale of the stolen product. It has more than 50 tons seized.

The carob harvest is scarcer than normal this year and is paid at good prices. But agrarian organizations from Catalonia and the Valencian Community, two large producing areas, warned at the beginning of August of their fear that thefts in the field would multiply. “This year is going well. A kilo of this legume was paid three or four years ago at 20 or 30 cents and now it is paid at 1.10 euros,” says Eduardo Celda, a farmer and collector from Catadau (Valencia), an area that produces this dark brown fruit. and sweet taste. From the vegetable, which was traditionally used as fodder for livestock, sugar, natural food thickeners, or flour to make cocoa or chocolate, among other uses, are extracted. Everything is used from the pod and the seeds inside and its flour is widely used by vegans.

Spain, main producer

It does not have high operating costs because it is not irrigated, since it only receives water when it rains, it does not usually receive chemical treatments and it is only necessary to monitor its pruning to facilitate harvesting, in September. Spain is the world’s leading producer and the Valencian Community is one of the regions with the largest harvest. “As soon as they are good, you have to pick them up, if you don’t run out of them,” Celda warns about thefts. The normal thing is to collect it from the ground, because it falls when it is ripe, but some producers “have modernized a bit” and with awnings on the ground, carefully shake the tree so as not to destroy the shoots that will be the next harvest.

A carob tree takes a decade to be productive, at least in dry farms. But when they are ripe, about 250 kilos of fruit can be harvested, a good pinch for the pocket, since the best ones can be paid up to 2.50 euros. Pricing is based on performance, not weight. The locust bean or seed is surrounded by a hard shell and if it is green and does not finish ripening on the tree, its yield and price is lower.

Agent Zarzuela, from the Roca Group (Thefts in the Countryside) of the Civil Guard in the Valencia Command, walks along with colleagues from the Sueca and Llíria production demarcations, the public forest of the municipality of Catadau. They are more concerned with detecting the stolen merchandise upon its arrival at the warehouses and following its trail than with guarding the fields; a task that is taken care of by citizen security patrols. They are in the middle of a harvest campaign and, they explain, “the job is to inspect warehouses where the vegetable is unloaded and sold.”

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Agents of the ROCA Group of the Civil Guard, specialized in thefts in the field, next to carob trees planted in the municipality of Catadau (Valencia).
Agents of the ROCA Group of the Civil Guard, specialized in thefts in the field, next to carob trees planted in the municipality of Catadau (Valencia).Monica Torres

On their way through the warehouses, they thresh the documentation that the producers or collectors must provide, some sheets that guarantee the origin and traceability of the product. This year there has not been much production and indeed thefts have dropped a little, because it has been harvested earlier to avoid theft. It’s not easy to catch in fragrant to thieves in the field.

Complaints are important for the agents, since they help them to know the problem and the casuistry in depth. When a commodity is blocked because its origin cannot be guaranteed, it is destroyed. “It cannot be sold if there is no traceability because its destination is human consumption,” adds the civil guard of this specialized group. The group —in collaboration with the Autonomous Police— has seized this year alone in the province of Valencia more than 50,000 kilos of carob from theft. More than 80 crimes against property have been clarified, with 18 arrested and another 55 investigated.

If the taste of the carob is sweet, the dozens of sacks stacked in one of the warehouses give off the characteristic strong smell of the carob tree. “This business was started by my grandfather when he was young and I am now 29 years old, so we have been dedicating ourselves to this for many years,” explains Lourdes Pons, manager of a family store in the Valencian municipality of Alfarp. “I remember that my grandfather charged 10 or 12 cents at his time for a kilo of carob beans, and this year it is 1.10 plus VAT. You can see that people are more interested in picking it up, ”she explains as a private individual arrives at her door with 100 kilos in his van. Sometimes they have rejected a shipment because they were not clear about its origin and they have come across people who have tried to certify the collection with a request to a town hall (owner of the trees in public forest), without a municipal stamp or signature. Tricks.

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