Whether it’s chocolate bars, cookies, cake or chips, most people love, or at least like, chocolate. Unfortunately, most of the chocolate consumed today is the highly processed and nutritionally void milk chocolate variety.
And while a piece here and there won’t kill you, for those who seemingly can’t get enough of all things chocolate, the excess sugar, fat and caffeine can lead to a variety of health problems, including added pounds.
For the self-proclaimed “chocaholic,” carob is a healthy alternative that can be used to replace chocolate in a number of sweet treats. Carob is actually a legume that grows on the carob tree.
The tree, though technically a shrub, is native to the Mediterranean area but fares well in the warmer regions of the United States. This drought-resistant, hardy shrub is most commonly cultivated in Florida and the Southwestern states as it handles direct sunlight well.
A carob tree will begin bearing fruit when it reaches six to eight years old. These carob pods are a reddish brown color and can grow up to a foot long. A young tree will produce around 100 pounds of pods annually and when it fully matures can average up to 250 pounds of pods annually. A typical carob tree can live for approximately 100 years.
Once the pods are harvested, they’re roasted to bring out their natural chocolate-like flavor. The roasted pods are then formed into chips or ground into a powder that can be incorporated into multiple dishes.
Unlike chocolate, carob contains no caffeine. This fine, naturally sweet powder is a powerhouse of nutrition, containing more vitamin B1 than asparagus, more niacin than lima beans, lentils or peas, more vitamin A than eggplant or beets and boasts three times the calcium content than that of chocolate. For chocolate-lovers looking to manage their weight, carob powder contains a third less calories and 17 times less fat than its chocolate counterpart.
So how do you use carob? While chocolate-like, it isn’t exactly the same but comes close, providing a similar mouthfeel and texture with a sweet and mild flavor. You can use carob chips in place of chocolate chips in cookies, brownies, cakes or other sweet treats.
Carob powder can also replace cocoa powder one-for-one in recipes, and three tablespoons of carob powder combined with non-dairy milk serves as a vegan replacement for baker’s chocolate.
When incorporating carob into baked goods, keep the oven about 25 degrees F lower, as carob can burn easily. You can also try some of these fun ideas to incorporate this super food into your diet:
- Stir carob powder into your favorite organic ice creams, yogurts and puddings.
- Combine carob powder or chips with your favorite organic nut butter, raw honey and cinnamon and spread over apple and banana slices.
- Add carob powder to your morning smoothie or shake.
- Make a trail mix combining organic dried fruits, nuts and carob chips.
- Incorporate carob into pancake or waffle batter (we always recommend gluten-free varieties) or stir into oatmeal for a nutritionally boosted chocolatey breakfast.
-The Alternative Daily