Carob, a legume with a chocolate-like flavour, is a good alternative to chocolate and cocoa powder. The Baker explores carob’s applications and whether or not it could become more popular – Thea Fox

Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) is native to and cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. The seeds are inedible, but the pod contains a sweet, edible pulp. The pulp is dried, roasted and ground into a powder that resembles cocoa powder, but does not have the same flavour and texture of chocolate.

Cocoa powder and chocolate also come from a pod, but it is the cacao beans in the pods that are processed to make cocoa powder and chocolate.

According to a local online platform for fruit growers, Inno Fruit, both carob powder and syrup can be used as flavouring in drinks, confectionery, cakes and biscuits, while the seed is used for the production of carob gum, a galactomannan, which is used as a high-quality thickener in food products such as ice cream, desserts and soups. (Tous, J. 1995 and Fletcher, 1996).

One tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder contains 12 calories, 1g of fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and 3g of carbohydrates, whereas one tablespoon of unsweetened carob powder has 25 calories, no fat, no saturated fat, no cholesterol, and 6g of carbohydrates.

It stands to reason, then, that gram for gram, a candy bar made with carob has about the same amount of fat and calories as a chocolate bar. However, unlike cocoa powder and chocolate, carob is caffeine-free and contains three times more calcium that cocoa powder.

Carob is also considered healthier than chocolate as, being less bitter in taste, less dairy and sugar are added to disguise the bitterness of chocolate. However, while unsweetened carob powder is naturally sweeter than chocolate and cocoa powder, carob is not as flavourful.

Louise Tremblay, a molecular and cellular biologist from Ontario, Canada, has written a number of articles on science, health, wellness and fitness. In an article on Livestrong.com, weighing up carob against cacao, Tremblay wrote: “Carob powder lacks the rich, chocolaty flavour of cacao, and using it in your recipes in place of cacao powder is likely to yield less flavourful results. Instead, use carob when you seek a subtle chocolate taste.”

Carob chips can easily be substituted for chocolate chips in recipes. To substitute carob powder for cocoa powder, one part cocoa is replaced with 21/2 parts carob powder by weight.

The Australian Carob Co, on its website www.australiancarobs.com, states that the plant contains many health benefits, which, depending on how the plant is prepared, can be used as a natural remedy for health issues.

According to The Australian Carob Co, gluten-free carob has a high protein content and contains a number of elements in copious amounts, making it a healthy alternative to most snack foods:

* tannins are rich in gallic acid, which provides anti-allergic, antiseptic and anti-bacterial benefits;

* insoluble fibre;

* vitamins A, B, B2, D2 and E;

* potassium and magnesium;

* antioxidants and phytonutrients.

Good  news for bakers, apart from using carob in baked goods to satisfy the ever-increasing health-conscious market, is that it is cheaper than cacao and chocolate. But bakers pulling their purse strings tighter are well advised to remember that while carob is sweeter than cacao and chocolate, it is also much more subdued in aroma and taste, which means that the type of baked item will have a bearing on its use.

Sources:

www.australiancarobs.com
www.howstuffworks.com – food