Carob makes a great substitute for chocoholics


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.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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One Response to Carob makes a great substitute for chocoholics

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Carob is such a pretty tree too. It was popular as a street tree in some of the near desert town of Southern California. The first street trees that we planted Southern magnolias and carrotwoods to replace were carobs in Western Los Angeles. The males really do stink! The females attract parrots that are quite messy! I really wanted one in my own garden though because I wanted the pods.

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