Culture
6 reasons the old carob tree is part of Maltese culture
These are just some of the reasons behind why the carob tree - il-Harruba - is an integral part of Maltese culture.

Melanie Drury

A post shared by Ina Cutajar (@inacutajar) on

The carob tree (il-Harruba) is so iconic in the Maltese Islands that even many locals mistake it for the national tree, which is actually the Sandarac Gum Tree (Sigra tal-Gharghar). So why is the carob tree so tied in with Maltese culture? Here are a few reasons.

1. Child's play

The carob tree is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean and quite common on the Maltese Islands. It's easy-to-climb, low-spreading branches create a characteristic canopy that is part and parcel of the local rural landscape. Every Maltese child has probably become fascinated by a carob tree, climbed its branches and made a make-shift treehouse at some point while growing up; it's the 'perfect' tree for child play. 

2. Quo Vadis by Ruzar Briffa

The carob tree is one of the Mediterranean’s oldest trees. It has been here long before we came and will be here long after we're gone. This is the theme of a well-known poem by Ruzar Briffa, a famous Maltese poet who contemplates the pace of human life from its perspective. Children study this poem at school, making it an important symbol in Maltese culture.

3. 1,000-year-old tree in Xemxija

Most Maltese people know about the single most famous tree in Malta, which is well, a carob tree. It is deemed to be around 1,000 years old and stands solitary, as carob trees do, on the path of the Old Roman Road, just past the Roman Apiary. Its gnarled branches give away its ancient origins. Can you imagine what this tree might have witnessed over a thousand years?

4. Horse treats

While carob pods are big in Europe as a health food and especially as a cacao replacement, in Malta, most carob pods return to nature. Ironic, when carob pods are so expensive at European food markets and are one of the abundant free foods available in the Maltese countryside. The pods were previously used as fodder, and children may have fed some as a treat to a horse or cow at a farm. Carob pods are rich in calcium, sucrose and protein, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. 

5. Karamelli (carob sweets)

In Malta, carob sweets, known as karamelli, are traditional sweets that are allowed during Lent. Carob is naturally sweet, and the Maltese have adopted the old Sicilian recipe for Caramelle Di Carrube, that makes a caramel from equal amounts of carob pods and honey. The sweets are also considered to have medicinal properties. 

6. Gulepp (carob syrup)

Gulepp is a popular household item that's essentially a carob syrup that resembles honey in consistency. It can be served with desserts or, more traditionally, drunk with hot water. The latter is considered a traditional medicine to soothe sore throats and ease a cold. The drink is tasty and sweet, and also makes a nice hot beverage.

Do you have any other ideas as to why the carob tree is so well-loved in Malta? Leave a comment below and let us know!

10th May 2018


Melanie Drury
Written by
Melanie Drury
Melanie was born and raised in Malta and has spent a large chunk of her life travelling solo around the world. Back on the island with a new outlook, she realised just how much wealth her little island home possesses.

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