Just in the nick of time before Valentine’s Day, I wrote about the history, nutritional makeup, and benefits of making your own delicious chocolate treats with raw cacao, sometimes referred to as the “food for the gods.” Since then several of you have contacted me directly or through email or social medial and said that your own experiments with raw chocolate were a big hit. Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate the feedback, and feel happy that more people are finding yet another path to more fresh, whole, raw foods.
In that last piece, I said that I would follow up with a little more about carob, which has a similar, yet different flavor from chocolate, but sometimes makes a good substitute for it, and also works well blended with raw cacao in creating smooth, creamy chocolatey treats. So, to continue the conversation as we near the end of the “chocolate month,” the first question is
What is Carob?
Carob comes from the pod of a tree that grows along the Mediterranean Sea. The pod contains a sweet, edible pulp. Once dried, the pulp is ground into a powder called carob flour (more commonly referred to as “carob powder”). It is similar to cacao powder, and can be substituted one-for-one in recipes, but carob is unique with its own special flavor and texture. It is naturally sweeter than cacao, mild, and packed with pectin, a soluble fiber. Traditionally it was used to soothe an upset stomach.
How does Carob compare with Cacao or Cocoa?
- Sugar – Chocolate in its native form is naturally very bitter, so is mostly eaten with lots of added sugars. Carob has a lot of natural sweetness, so doesn’t’ need as much added sugar. That’s a plus.
- Fat – Cacao (chocolate) has some fat naturally from its cocoa butter but often, when processed, has more fat added. Carob has almost no fat so it is often made with hydrogenated plant oils for solid chips and bars. The oils in either case may become rancid in the heating process, which then necessitates the addition of more sugars to cover the bitterness of the rancid oils. In addition to having a more nutrition-dense food, this is a good reason to work with the raw varieties of both chocolate (cacao) and carob.
- Taste – Chocolate tastes distinctively like chocolate, no question. Carob has a different flavor, and is also delicious. In most recipes, I like to combine some of each of them. The carob lightens up what I think of as the “denseness” of cacao and helps to sweeten it
- Caffeine – Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which are stimulants and are linked to migraines, acne, and jitteriness. Carob has neither. The proportion of caffeine in cacao is about the same as it is in green tea.
- Nutrients – Cacao is rich in magnesium and iron, but also contains some oxalic acid which can inhibit mineral absorption. It also contains more fat than carob. On the other hand, carob contains a great more carbohydrate grams and sugar grams per ounce than chocolate. I do not list them because, depending on how they are processed and/or heat treated each is, the numbers will vary. Do check the labels. In general, cacao is higher in fat, carob is higher in carbohydrates, but, again, doesn’t require the same level of added sweeteners. Both carob and chocolate contain a variety of B vitamins. Carob has more of these essential nutrients, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and folate. Neither is a good source of vitamin B12.
So, what’s the verdict?
I still like them both, and often combine them in recipes calling for one or the other, so I get the taste and texture benefits and nutrients of both of them The amount of sugar present in prepared brands of either can be a problem, which is why I recommend buying both cacao and carob in their raw forms in bulk. Doing that gives you the control over the sugar factor. Chocolaty-tasting treats are a wonderful thing to have, because, unlike any packaged snack, they are better for you and much more satisfying in the taste and feel departments. Play with recipes calling for either cacao or carob so that you get some blends that you love, and enjoy – Valentine’s Day month, and all year!
Some recipes on this blog which you might enjoy are