If you are new to cooking with whole foods and just beginning a journey towards healthier eating, you may sometimes come across a recipe that calls for an ingredient you've never heard of. If I use something that you may think is strange, I'm going to try to write a "word of the day" post to help you out. Whenever you learn a new skill or study a new subject, you've got to learn the vocabulary! :)
So we'll start here, with this mysterious powder that some call a chocolate substitute: carob.
But first, let's get one thing straight: carob does not taste like chocolate. If you are looking for something that tastes like chocolate, just eat chocolate. More on that later.
According to Wikipedia, carob comes from the Ceratonia Siliqua tree, a flowering evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The pods are either dried or roasted and then ground into a powder that looks much like cocoa powder.
Now why would we ever want to eat this stuff, if it doesn't taste like chocolate, instead of chocolate??
There is much debate over whether or not chocolate is good for you. It's high in antioxidants, yes, but it also contains two potentially harmful substances: caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine, though some believe it to be beneficial or harmless, has some risks. (Read a few of them here.) Theobromine is very similar to caffeine - it's composition is exactly the same except for one atom - and it causes many of the same problems.
Now, I try to stay balanced here at Plus Other Good Stuff. And I love dark chocolate. But I don't eat gobs of it every day. It's an occasional treat. I'll add a handful of dark chocolate chips to my banana muffins, but I won't pack them full of it. And when I eat plain dark chocolate, I savor a square or two, instead of downing the whole bar. (I also love coffee...but I very rarely have more than a cup a day, if that.)
In addition to NOT containing caffeine and theobromine, carob DOES contain a few things that are beneficial to your health. These include significant amounts of B1, B2, niacin, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and many trace minerals. It contains much more protein and fiber than chocolate. (source)
An additional benefit is that Carob is naturally sweet, so anything made with carob requires less sweetener than something made with chocolate. And any way to cut down on sugar in your life is a good thing!
You can use carob powder in place of cocoa in any recipe, but keep in mind that it will change the flavor, and that you should cut back the sweetener. I love it in my carob-coconut bites, and I plan to try replacing the cocoa in a few other recipes, at least some of the time. :) It really does have a nice flavor, but you can't trick a chocolate lover.
Now where do you find it?? Like many real food ingredients, you can't find it at a typical grocery store. Try your local health food store. (Are you afraid of the health food store? I was at first. Find a friend who knows the ropes to go with you!) I order it from Country Life Natural Foods in a 5 lb bag. Actually, I only did that once, and we're still working on it. :)
What do you think? Should we eat chocolate? Have you tried carob? Did you like it?