Carobana is an iconic and longstanding local business, started here in Coffs in 1982 by the Hamey family. FOCUS spoke to Ian Hamey, son of Ed and Em who started the business, about the history of Carobana Confectionery and how they have managed to evolve the family business from banana farming to dried fruit to confectionery.
Hi Ian. What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I was born here in 1944. Carobana was born here in 1982 with the Hamey family and the banana industry.
What’s some of the history behind Carobana Confectionery?
Ed and Em Hamey, newlyweds from Dorrigo, arrived in Coffs in 1936. They worked very hard for two years, saving money to purchase the land here in 1938 and planted bananas. They built a home, and had one child – me.
One year their bananas were attacked by fruit bats, and skin damaged fruit was still edible but not saleable. Some of the fruit was ripened, peeled and dried on trays under the packing shed roof, and became dried bananas. These were introduced into a local health food shop, where sales of the dried fruit took off. And so, the drying factory was built, with six driers going 24/7.
Em did a value add of the dried banana by melting a block of Carob, because she was allergic to Cocoa.
Small pieces of dried banana were dipped in the carob, and Carobana was born!
With a price downturn in growing fresh bananas because of increased output in Queensland, our efforts turned to the dried fruit – contract carob coating at first, but the purchase of a second hand enrobing machine saw us enter the health food market in a much bigger way.
With the coated bananas already established in the shops, it was a simple progression into other coated and cluster lines. We eventually closed the drying business and removed the driers. This gave us space to grow in a different direction. Carobana then opened to the public, with viewing of production and a shop to tempt the taste buds.
What does a typical day hold for you at Carobana?
There is no such thing as a typical day here. Every day and every week is different.
My day starts the night before (if we need to coat) in lighting the boiler fire that heats the melting equipment for production. We work with three varieties of carob and three varieties of chocolate. Both have to be kept separate.
At 6:30am I stoke the fire again and make sure all the equipment is working properly. Then breakfast.
At 7:30 am: collect raw ingredients from the dry store, or start roasting coconut if necessary.
If honeycomb is to be made, kitchen one has to be prepared.
Other staff members arrive and slot in to what has to be done for the day (a full team effort).
About 8:30am the cooling tunnel has to be connected to the coating machine (enrober), and the air conditioner is started to cool the tunnel down to 18°C.
I could spend the best part of the day putting product through the enrober or the cluster machine or the button depositing machine, dropping product onto the belt.
1:30pm to 3:30pm: either back on to production or start cleaning the enrobing room. The cluster machine is taken outside to the wash down area and hosed down with hot water from the boiler.
4pm: I go to the house for a power nap and then I am in the workshop, either repairing or developing new equipment as needed. Most of the equipment and some of the machines are made in the workshop.
6pm: evening meal, then back to the workshop, working on different projects.
9pm to 10pm: bedtime.
How did you learn carob making?
A friend with previous experience in the confectionery industry seemed to appear at the right time. He helped put the machine (1920s model) and cooling tunnel together and knew how it worked. He taught me how to use and repair it.
What has been the hardest part of the process for you to master?
The carob making and machinery repair have been easy compared with honeycomb making. It took me 18 months to two years to get it right!
Kitchen temperature affects the product and some natural ingredients are variable; it is still an ongoing learning experience. The boys are very much aware of the slight differences and adjust each mix as they go to maintain quality products.
How do you come up with new ideas for different recipes?
Customers, retail and wholesale, have often triggered a flurry of excitement in developing new lines.
What are some of the main differences between carob and chocolate?
Chocolate is made from the fermented seeds of a tropical plant.
In cocoa there is caffeine, oxalic acid, and theobromine; it is nicely addictive. The endorphins give an uplifting effect. If you are not allergic to chocolate, you can enjoy both chocolate and carob. More choices.
Carob is made from the crushed empty pod of a large dry climate bean tree.
It contains 60% sugar in four forms: sucrose, glucose, fructose and pinitol, twice the calcium of milk, heaps of fibre, veggie protein, it’s high in pectin, vitamins A, three of the Bs, C and D. Minerals – phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese. It also contains a natural growth hormone and a natural antibiotic.
On the acid/alkaline scale, carob powder is 10.5, so carob powder is alkaline, good for upset tummies and western diets. Can be used the same as chocolate in cooking and drinks.
Do you have a favourite type of Carobana Confectionery?
Honeycomb Nibbles – only in small bites.
Where can people find Carobana Confectionery on the Coffs Coast?
Here at the factory has the biggest choice. Other places are Health & Happiness at Park Beach Plaza; Affordable Wholefoods; The Happy Frog and Harbour Sweets in town; The Big Banana; The Honey Place, Urunga; Nourished Earth, Moonee; Go Vita, Toormina. Come and visit us at 125 James Small Dr, Korora. Check out our site www.carobana.com.au or call us on 6653 6051.