(Note: there are numerous edible species in this family, including all the commonly eaten beans and peas. Here I am focusing on trees in this family which produce edible pods or seeds)
Ceratonia siliqua, carob
Carob trees, sometimes known as Saint John’s Bread, make the closest thing I know to a candy bar that grows on a tree. The long, dark pods are sweet, chewy, and flavorful. I think they are best enjoyed in their whole, raw form, as pods eaten right out of hand. The carob powder widely available in stores is made from roasted, ground carob pods, and to me it tastes good, but not nearly as good as the whole, raw pods. Use caution in eating carob pods – there is a row of seeds down the middle of the pod, and they are as hard as little round rocks. Biting into them too hard is unpleasant, and risks cracking a tooth. You’ll want to spit the seeds out, but otherwise you eat the entire pod (Except the little woody stem, if there is one).
Carob trees are native to the Mediterranean area, and they grow and fruit best in similar climates with warm, dry summers. They can grow in Florida, but don’t make pods as well here as in drier climates. I once got to eat a Florida grown carob pod, and it was good, but not as good as the ones I’ve eaten from drier climates.
Carob trees come in male and female, and you need to have a male nearby in order for the female trees to make pods. In commercial carob groves, farmers sometimes graft one male branch onto each female tree.
-Dipteryx alata, baru nut
Baru nut is a tree from the cerrado savannah region of Brazil, south of the rain forest areas of the Amazon. The tree makes fruits which each contain a nut, which when roasted tastes like a cross between cashew and peanut. The nuts must be eaten cooked, as they contain an anti-nutritive factor which is inactivated by cooking.
I’ve only eaten the nuts of this species, which are available from online vendors. In at least some forms of baru, the pulp of the fruit is also eaten.
I posted about this species on Instagram, and received a wide range of comments from people in South America about the edibility of the fruit pulp of this species. The best report said that the fruit pulp is “delicious, very sweet, with a chocolatey flavor” and a texture “like a frozen hardy jam”. The worst report said the fruit flesh is “inedible, hard as a rock”.
Other species of Dipteryx grow in South and Central America. Reportedly Dipteryx panamensis nuts are used by at least one chocolate maker as nuts in their premium chocolates.
-Hymenaea courbaril, jatoba
Jatoba is from the Caribbean, and makes hard shelled pods that you have to crack open with a hammer. Inside is a dry, sweet pulp surrounding the hard seeds. The pulp has kind of a strong scent, which to me is pleasant, reminding me of the aroma of ripping open a packet of dry vanilla pudding mix. And the eating experience reminds me of that, also – this is a very dry, powdery, sweet food.
Different people have different reactions to the aroma of this food. I once cracked one open and had a couple of friends smell it and describe the aroma, As I said, to me it smelled of instant vanilla pudding mix. Another person described it as smelling like a fine Parmasan cheese, and the third person thought it smelled like sweaty socks. Because other people share that last opinion, one of the common names of this fruit in some areas is stinking toe. Personally, I try to stay away from using that name, for two reasons: to me it smells good, not like stinky feet at all, and I think calling it that will condition people smelling it for the first time to focus on that aspect of the aroma.
Jatoba is widespread in the Caribbean. It’s pretty uncommon in Florida, but I have heard of trees growing and fruiting in the warmer southern parts of the state.
Other tree-crop species in the Fabaceae:
-Archidendron pauciflorum, jenkol
-Dialium indum, velvet tamarind
-Dipteryx alata, baru nut, barukas
-Ebenopsis (Pithecelloboum) ebano, Texas ebony
-Erythrina edulis, chachafruto
-Inga spp, ice cream bean
-Inocarpus fagifer, Tahitian chestnut
-Olneya tesota, desert ironwood, Sonoran desert
-Parkia biglobosa, African locust bean
-Parkia speciosa, SE Asia, petai, stink beans
-Pentaclethra macrophylla, African oil bean
-Prosopis spp., mesquites
-Tamarindus indica, tamarind