Native to the Mediterranean, carob comes from the pods of the carob tree. When the pods are ripe, the sweet pulp is removed, roasted, and ground into a fine powder. This powder is often a substitute for chocolate in baking recipes.
- Place of Origin: Mediterranean
- Other names: Locust bean, St. John's bread
- Substitute: Cocoa powder
- Found: Health food stores and some larger specialty shops
- Shelf Life: Up to 1 year
What Is Carob?
Carob grows on trees, is a member of the legume family, and is frequently turned into a popular chocolate substitute. It's also known as locust bean or St. John's bread, and has been cultivated since the late 1800s in the Mediterranean and other parts of the world with similar climates. The tree produces brown, leathery pods six to 12 inches long with inedible seeds that turn from green to brown as they ripen. Raw, ripe pods are consumed by humans as a sweetmeat, but more often are used as animal feed due to their high sugar content.
The seeds produce a gum used in food manufacturing as a thickener, food stabilizer, and emulsifying agent for ice cream, candy, salad dressings, and other products. Carob's most familiar preparation, however, is a brown powder made from drying, roasting, and grinding the edible pulp from inside the pod for use as a chocolate substitute in baked goods or beverages. Depending on the recipe, carob powder needs no extra prep and is slightly more expensive than cocoa powder.
Carob vs. Cacao
Carob comes from the pods of a Mediterranean evergreen tree, while cacao beans (also called seeds) come from a tree native to Central and South America. Carob is made from roasting and grinding the edible pulp from inside the pods. Cacao beans are fermented, ground into a paste, and used to create chocolate. Carob is naturally sweet, whereas sweeteners are added to cacao as it's quite bitter in its natural form. Additionally, caffeine and theobromine, stimulants found in chocolate, are absent from carob.
How to Cook With Carob
Carob powder can be used like cocoa powder and in the same ratio in baked goods, though it is naturally sweeter so you may need to reduce the amount of sugar if you’re substituting it. Carob can also be transformed into baking chips (sweetened and unsweetened) and syrup. Carob chips melt differently than their chocolate counterparts. They taste different, too, so some people like to use a mixture of carob and chocolate chips in their cookie and brownie recipes. Due to the natural sweetness of carob, the chips often have no added sugar.
A typical substitution for a one-ounce square of chocolate is three tablespoons carob powder mixed with one tablespoon water. Carob syrup, sometimes called carob molasses, is a reduction of the pulp and water resulting in a chocolaty and fruity flavor. Try it instead of maple syrup on pancakes or use it to make a savory glaze for roasted meats and vegetables.
What Does It Taste Like?
Carob has a similar flavor to chocolate but is sweeter and less bitter. The powder has a toasty flavor and a texture like cocoa powder. It's not eaten on its own, but is added to desserts, drinks, and more.
Carob powder is a good substitute for cocoa powder in baked goods like brownies. If you prefer a DIY beverage alternative, track down some fresh pods to make your own syrup. Or substitute carob for cocoa powder in the flourless chocolate cake, but note you may need to reduce the amount of sugar.
Where to Buy Carob
Once only found in health food stores, most larger grocery stores and specialty shops now carry carob powder and chips in the natural food aisle. They are sold by the bag, container, or in bulk by the ounce and are also readily available online. The powder can be purchased toasted (medium or light) or raw, which is not as sweet.
Unless you live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 9-11, where carob trees grow in Mediterranean-like climates, you'll have to purchase whole pods online.
Store carob powder, chips, and whole dried pods in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to one year.
Nutrition and Benefits
For people with milk allergies or lactose intolerance, carob can be a good substitute for chocolate as it's dairy-free. For people with sensitivities to caffeine or theobromine – stimulants both found in chocolate (albeit in small levels) – carob is a good alternative. Because carob is naturally sweet with less fat content, it came to be seen as a healthier alternative to chocolate in the 1950s. It doesn't, however, contain the antioxidants of dark chocolate.