A spate of carob bean thefts has hit Alicante Province farms with 23 tons destined for the black market stored in two warehouses in Altea and Silla.

17 people- mainly from Alicante City- are being investigated for being part of unrelated groups of up to three members who stole beans from farms in the Altea, Benigembia, Gata de Gorgos and Xalo areas.

Carob beans are naturally sweet and taste of honey- similar to sweetened cocoa.

They have many uses including as a chocolate substitute and a food product stabiliser like in making ice cream.

Farmers complained to the Guardia Civil about a big rise in carbo bean thefts over the last two months.

Most of the crimes were committed in the early afternoon as workers took a break.

The thieves either picked the carob themselves from trees for loading into their vehicles, or they even helped themselves to sacks of the beans that had already been harvest.

Some of the vans used were hired from rental companies.

Around 300 kilos of beans have been returned to their rightful owners.

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