Carob as a Cultural Product and Its Heritage Significance

Theme: Documentation of Intangible Rural Traditions and Practices

by Ms. Reema Islam
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Dhaka, Bangladesh
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
M.A. in Heritage Management, Kent University (UK) and Athens University of Economics and Business

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Abstract

The carob bean trade was one of the most sought products around the Mediterranean.It derived from the author’s M.A. dissertation that was outlining basically a required framework for submitting a Carob UNESCO ICH application. The unfolding of a better image for the carob took place over a course of a few months as the regional media campaign, which helped encourage local participation towards salvaging the carob and heritage, was floated in order to help with UNESCO application. This paper will look at this slight skewing in the value that was earlier given to the carob as opposed to the new-found interest which hints at a positive future for the cultural promotion of the carob.

Introduction

Fig.1: Dried Carobs

What is the difference between a bar of gold and an ancient bean pod, consumed from the time of the Ancient Egyptians?

The Ceratonia Siliqua or carob bean, weighs precisely 200 milligrams which made it the ideal substance for weighing gemstones.[1] The nomenclature of carat thus derived from its scientific name of Ceratonia and the carob bean forever, carved a tiny niche in the annals of history. The carob or Kharoupi in Greek, is a leguminous tree, endemic to the Mediterranean region [2] where produces a bean pod which is considered a super-food for its many health benefits.

In recent times, however, Carob’s image has been greatly suffered as it oscillates between the statuses of an inferior product and a high end super-food, especially in Greece. On the island of Crete where it is most abundant, the carob endures a debased image as it reminds the locals of the hardships of World War II when it was one of the few foods available.[3] It is still sold in some upscale markets, but otherwise, mostly as livestock fodder. Only one local company, the Creta Carob Company (“Αρχική | Creta Carob” 2019)[4] makes a diverse range of export quality products.

This paper will use the case study of Carob as ICH representation, using the generated information in the author’s M.A. dissertation. As a result of a dissertation, a coalition with the local organisations led to its initial nomination as ICH product, at the National Greek ICH Inventory under the Directorate of Modern Cultural Heritage, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, leading onto further insertion into UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, by ICH Directorate under the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.

In more national level though, this initiative of nominating Carob as ICH expression gained much publicity and contributed raising awareness about the need to recognize the carob’s value as an intangible heritage product. The plan was to look at how to make the carob, having high value as ICH product, elevating it to the level where it could be eligible for inscription in UNESCO ICH list. The methods were used is to interview the local farmers and tap into the memories of the older generations that have grown up with the carob, trying to establish its presence in the culinary and cultural heritage of Crete and larger Greece.

Fig. 2: Carob Tree

History of the Carob:

The carob in Greece, especially Crete is still consumed but, in most cases, it is associated with a negative connotation. It is common for people as the “chocolate of the poor”, a favorite childhood snack and a food that later provided sustenance to a multitude of Cretans during World War II. It has been refereed to that a majority of people could not see the point of making it a product of cultural heritage value and the challenge was to pique their interests.

The research methodology here was simply to gather information related to the way people perceived the carob. Despite of their initial apprehension, slices of information slipped out which showed how a carob infiltrated the Cretans daily life. It understated a presence in their kitchens, either in the shape of carob syrup or cookies or feeding it to their livestock, somehow weaved its significance into their life.

The next step, after gathering the information, was to build a solid case which could help the local organisations formulating a justifiable application to be submitted for inclusion in UNESCO ICH List. UNESCO’s framework and salient features has been noted with food products were closely perused in order to get an understanding of what was required.

Fig. 3: Kharoupi Psomi or Carob Bread

The inscribing entails a product to be of vivid heritage (UNESCO ICH – Mediterranean Diet, 2019)[5]. Carob is still an integral part of the Cretan culture, as innovative products that are coming up regularly, keeping it survived and ever-changing. The research started off by looking into the concepts of food and heritage that could be linked to promote the carob, not in Crete only but also in all over Greece. Yet, in fact, the product would need to be dynamic and viable and something not to be simply salvaged, required closer inspection of Carob.

After interviewing the locals and visiting the sole factory that produces the carob products using the local amounts of carob, there is a number of details that emerged strengthening the carob as a product of cultural heritage value. A session was held with the farmers at the venue of the local organization, Epimenides’s initiative had been converted an old carob factory into a modern day exhibition center, on November 12, 2017.[6] The idea was to inform the local farmers about the upcoming task of preparing the UNESCO dossier and some key issues came up which had not been mentioned earlier in some of the interviews. These were duly noted and used as background information to prepare the content of this report.

One of the major issues was the people believes toward keeping carob as a healthy crop, leading to a connection of their dependency and innate trust upon it. Issues – e.g. gastro-intestinal remedies, erectile dysfunctions, fighting against colds and coughs but most importantly, as a way to lower blood [7] sugar levels – along with the carob’s many health uses were well known to locals [8]. Their inherent trust upon this endemic tree could be considered an aspect of its dynamism and viability.

However, a lack of any known cultural activities in its harvesting practices was a major deterrent in its inclusion as ICH product value but further contributed to its overall, undermined image. In recent times, however, the only event that celebrated the cultural aspects of the carob was the Carob Festival at Elounda, Crete where the painstaking task of making the carob syrup was part of a daylong festival with song and dance, a Cretan staple.[9] Other popular uses included export of its seeds for extracting locust bean gum (LBG) [10] which had been happening for many years now.

The third strand pursued was that of economics and the benefits of cultivating carobs. In the recent past, farmers have been either given subsidies or they paid taxes according to acreage and not level of productivity.[11] The researcher had assessed through preliminary observations in Crete that carob didn’t heavily influence the local economy, so it was important to identify the real reason for its low economic performance or even explore what could work for the locals.

Linking with the Past:

One of the considered features understands the carob’s influence on the social make-up of the region, considering the past events that link the carob to memories and a sense of identity. The carob was very much a part of people’s lifestyle especially around World War II era and this aspect was something that made carob a popular product which people could identify with and relate to. This further brought in the concepts of sensory heritage or synesthesia (Sutton, 2010)[12] which delves into the issue of the senses. In the case of carob, it evoked certain memories and in some cases a certain version to its taste as people related it to a time of hardship and scarcity.

The synesthesia issue helps to understand the possible reasons for the carob losing a place on the kitchen shelves, as it was viewed in a negative light. The synesthesia notion (Sutton, 2010) was evident as a carob was ever presented in the Cretans’ life and its role in the events like World War II and currently as one of Crete’s harvested products, that were embedded it into the natural settings of the Cretan lifestyle. As the respondents shared their experiences and unraveled their memories, the carob’s significance was seemed to grow on them and the concept of the sensory marketing and tourism which promoted local food seemed all the more suitable.

The researcher observed that as the respondents warmed up to these ideas, they began offering encouragingly their own suggestions which showed their resourcefulness and initiative. The linkage between the carob as a food source and the community was found being very strong as it has not only played a significant role during the World War II era but it was continued being a present in the local cuisine as a syrup, bread, and so on.

The process of making the syrup is a tedious one but women in villages still continue it, as dynamic factor, that it is very important in terms of UNESCO guidelines for inscribing ICH items. Although, the innovations have been done on an industrial level where the West Crete Company Creta Carob produces a range of modern carob items, the traditional ways of preparing with carob still go on at homes. This also shows a continuity to an old way of living and keeping up the heritage of old recipes, a factor of intangibility that is key to this research.

Subsequently, a media campaign was rolled out to draw in people’s stories and their perspective of how to save a carob. Many responses arrived as the local newspapers, under the team instructions preparing UNESCO dossier, to share their ideas or stories of saving a carob. These responses were used as content for preparing the dossier, but it also showed the clear intentions of a representative segment of the population that were willing to help towards the makeover of the carob’s image.

Benefits:

According to the health experts, a carob comes back as a super-food which implies its revival.[13] A carob was experiencing a revival and a potential make-over. The subject of making a carob ICH product gained momentum because the Epimenides Association sent it for inclusion in the nominating list to ICH Directorate at the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. A carob was shortlisted among a group of other 22 ICH items and the 2nd phase involved collecting information from people to document its ICH presence in the Cretan people lifestyle. [14] This leads to the countrywide campaign being launched by the association, and involving the local media to enhance the idea and invite people to share their stories. Many contacted the Epimenides association and shared their stories, but regardless of whether, these were worthy of being included.

The exercise showed the carob’s importance and value still had for many. A conference was later organized on June 9, 2018 [15] to include some of these stories, preceding the final submission of UNESCO ICH nomination form. The final submission ultimately didn’t proceed to any further nominations and it has still not been included in the National Inventory. Yet all of this was taken positively as the buzz created by this topic around Crete and Greece and this year, a conference was held discussing the possible advances in the realm of the scientific work with a carob, in Panormou, Crete (Epimenides, 2019). [16]

Conclusions:

A carob was experiencing a rising trend in the healthy and super-food segments of markets, with the potential of replacing many conventional foods. Its numerous health benefits can be cashed upon and its medicinal properties highlighted because people are increasingly turning towards herbal remedies. The niche shops or high-end suppliers sell carob in Greek cities but this has still not reached a stage where it is commonly bought. Innovative products and a carob’s proper marketing and its health benefits should be highlighted all over Greece.

Furthermore, the emphatic nature of supporting the carob gradually garnered through the course of this research among the respondents and later through UNESCO ICH nomination process, was a small, yet significant sample of its potential prospects as a product of heritage value. As it turned out, according to the views gathered during this research, a carob actually never lost its place on the kitchen shelves or the hearts of the Cretans; it just lost its market value. Yet, it has all the makings of a comeback, slowly but surely as a product of significant cultural value to the heritage of food in Greece.

[1, 2] The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia: The Columbia University Press.

[3] Jeromin, D. (2017). Metamorphosen Talking about – silken threads interwoven in the war crimes of the German “Wehrmacht”.

[4] Creta Carob. (2019). Creta Carob. [online] Available at: https://cretacarob.com/en/ [Accessed 23 Jul. 2019].

[5] Ich.unesco.org. (2019). UNESCO ICH- Mediterranean Diet. [online] Available at: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/mediterranean-diet-00884 [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].

[6] Korina Miliaraki (Director, Epimenides Cultural Association of Panormo, Crete) in discussion with author, November 12, 2017

[7] “The 5 Best Things About Carob”. 2019. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/5-best-things-about-carob#uses3.

[8] “Crete Campaigns For The Neglected, Miraculous Carob, Lina Giannarou | Kathimerini”. 2019. Available at: www.ekathimerini.com/231625/article/ekathimerini/community/crete-campaigns-for-the-neglected-miraculous-carob.

[9] LBG Sicilia Ingredients”. 2019. Lbg.It. www.lbg.it/index.html.

[10]Georganas, S. (2017). Greek Agriculture And The EU – Inconvenient Truths. Ekathimerini. [online] Available at: www.ekathimerini.com/206308/article/ekathimerini/comment/greek-agriculture-and-the-eu–inconvenient-truths. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2019].

[11] Sutton, D. (2010). Food and the Senses. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39(1), pp.209-223.

[12] South China Morning Post, (2019). [online] Available at: www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health/article/1445385/carob-enjoys-resurgence-popularity-superfood. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2019].

[13] Ayla. (2018). Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece. [online] Available at: https://ayla.culture.gr. [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].

[14] Epimenides.gr. (2019). Carob Mill Arts & Cultural Centre – Epimenides. [online] Available at: www.epimenides.gr/galleries/carob-mill-arts-cultural-centre-epimenides/ [Accessed 21 Jul. 2019].

[15] Epimenides. (2019). First Mediterranean Scientific Congress. [online] Available at: www.epimenides.gr/el/events [Accessed 23 Jul. 2019].

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