Nearly 40 years ago I began experimenting with carob. My reasoning wasn’t that it might be more nutritious. I didn’t even care that it contained no fat or caffeine. It was cheaper and I didn’t waste money.
I’ve always liked to cook. It’s sort of a self-sufficiency thing. As for carob, I don’t even remember who turned me on to it.
Carob and chocolate have slightly different flavors and I don’t consider them entirely interchangeable. For fudge or frosting there’s no comparison as far as I’m concerned. However, when blended in equal amounts I must admit it’s hard to distinguish from straight cocoa in most recipes.
When eaten separately, carob has a milder, sweeter flavor. Recipes require less sugar and do taste a little different than those made with cocoa. Chocolate cake is darker and richer than a carob cake using otherwise the same recipe.
Since carob has naturally sweeter flavor, cakes, cookies and brownies require less sugar. Using the same amount will make them too sweet. If calories are your thing, carob is the better option, but remember that the flavor is not identical. It’s similar to chocolate but not an exact match. Also, foods contain so many other ingredients so neither chocolate nor carob are primary calorie sources.
Both carob and cocoa contain fiber that is important for proper digestion. Carob has much more.
Chocolate has caffeine and a chemical called theobromine. Some people are sensitive to these. Theobromine is a compound that is highly toxic to dogs because it is a strong heart stimulant. Carob doesn’t have any caffeine or theobromine, so it’s safe if your dog gets into the brownies.
In people, theobromine is not always bad. It dilates blood vessels and that can lower blood pressure. I wouldn’t use that tidbit as an excuse to go on a chocolate binge. If you are on any blood pressure medications always check with your medical professional before trying any weird diets.
So where does carob come from? It’s made from ground seeds of a tree in the pea family that grows naturally in parts of Africa and the Mediterranean. Trees are hardy only to zone 9, so we could not grow them here.
In the southwestern US some people have used carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua) for landscaping. They tolerate dry conditions and grow well there. The problem is that male flowers produce a musky bitter smell far stronger than American chestnuts or Bradford pears. Female trees don’t have that problem, but fruits can’t be produced without both types. A small percentage of trees also contain both types of flowers.
These carob trees are also called locust bean or St. John’s bread trees. In fact, many sources claim it is the beans from the tree that provided sustenance for John the Baptist in the wilderness, not grasshoppers. Grasshoppers were a common food source during that time and place however. Who knows, both could be true.
Both chocolate and carob have benefits. Both contain antioxidants. Both contain essential minerals like iron, but that’s not the reason we consume them. We eat them because they taste good. Still, we also shouldn’t overdo it.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.