Carob versus Chocolate – Is the Former Better than the Latter?
Carob is often considered to be a chocolate or cocoa substitute and is defined as “A powder or fine flour ground from the carob pod or locust bean. It is naturally sweet, low in fat and has no caffeine. It has a dark brown flavor and substitutes for chocolate, but lacks the characteristic bitterness of chocolate.” The question of whether carob is a better food choice than chocolate is a highly debatable one. Let’s take a closer look …
A Look at the Origins of the Carob Plant
Carob trees (Ceratonia siliqua) are very attractive looking evergreen trees that have compound leaves, which means that they consist of two to six pairs of oval leaflets. These trees, which originate from the eastern Mediterranean (the Middle East) and have been grown for over 4000 years, can grow as tall as ten to fifteen meters. Carob is now grown in abundance throughout the world (in places such as Cyprus, Sicily, Malta, Italy along the Adriatic Sea, Spain, southern Sardinia and in lesser amounts, in southern California) and it is used as a food crop and is sometimes used to feed livestock when other food sources are scarce. The carob plant was commonly grown in Greece and Italy and was favored by the ancient Greek civilization. Carob is also referred to as St. John’s bread or locust bean due to the fact that it was believed that back in biblical times, St. John the Baptist ate the pods of the carob bean, which comprise the locust of the plant (Mark 1.6). Carob grows well in dry climates but it requires rainfall in excess of more than thirty centimeters. That is why the Mediterranean is a perfect area for the carob plant to grow in.
The taste of the flesh of the carob pods is very similar to that of sweetened cocoa. Unlike chocolate, carob doesn’t contain any caffeine whatsoever nor is it composed of any other addictive substance. The carob pods are sometimes made into candies, and carob bars much like chocolate bars. Carob candy is dark brown in color and “chocolate-like” in its appeal. In order for it to be turned into a candy treat, the carob is combined with saturated fats (such as palm oil or butter fat). Carob has also been used in many instances as a drug free substitute that is hypoallergenic in nature. Before sugarcane and sugar beets became popular, carob pods were the most important source of sugar across the world. The name “carob tree” comes from the Greek word keras which means “horn” and the Latin word siliqua, which has to do with the carob pod’s shape and hardness. Today the seeds of the carob plant are used for three main purposes- in the cosmetics industry, for manufacturing paper and paper products and for curing tobacco.
Is Carob a Healthier Choice or Not?
There are mixed views on whether or not carob is a healthier choice than chocolate. Carob that is made into candy bars and other confectionary is most often sold in health food stores leading many people to believe that it is indeed healthier than chocolate. One thing that is known for sure is that carob is caffeine free and contains lesser amounts of sugar. Chocolate on the other hand does contain caffeine and plenty of sugar. Carob may or may not be lower in fat content depending on what ingredients it is mixed with to make a tasty treat. Most of the time a carob candy bar and a chocolate bar will contain almost equal quantities of fat and calories. To give an example, a 100 gram carob candy bar contains approximately 440 calories and its fat content is around fifty-two percent. Although the fat in chocolate which is cocoa butter, is classed as one of the “bad” fats, that of saturated fat, a number of studies have led researchers to believe that it does not play a role in raising serum cholesterol levels.
Chocolate and the Heart Connection
Carob is considered to be both delicious and a healthy chocolate substitute by some while others would just as soon eat the real thing. In recent years studies have borne out the theory that chocolate may actually be a heart-healthy food due to the antioxidants called polyphenols it contains. Up until this point the only foods that were known to contain these heart-healthy antioxidants included fruits and vegetables, tea and red wine. The results of test-tube experiments performed at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania discovered that a single milk chocolate bar contains a quantity of polyphenols that were equal to five servings of either vegetables and fruits or a glass of red wine. The researchers also experimented with dark chocolate and discovered that an ounce and a half of it had twice as many polyphenols. Research in this area is ongoing but the initial findings are promising as they point to a connection between chocolate and a lowered incidence of heart disease. No research to date has been done in the same area concerning carob.
A Nutritional Comparison of Carob and Powder Cocoa
As previously mentioned, the form both carob and chocolate is made into plays a big role in how much fat it will contain. If we were to consider the chart from the Food and Nutrition Encyclopedia Volume 1 and make a comparison between the nutritional value of carob per 100-gram portions to powder cocoa of the same amount this is how it would look:
Fat content- 0.2 g
Protein- 3.8 g
Carbohydrates- 90.6 g
Calcium- 290 mg
Phosphorus- 81 mg
Potassium- 800 mg
Sodium- 10 mg
Fat content- 23.7 g
Protein- 16.8 g
Carbohydrates- 45.4 g
Calcium- 133 mg
Phosphorus- 648 mg
Sodium- 717 mg
Advantages of Carob over Chocolate
Regardless of which treat you choose to partake in, it is important to always eat either carob or chocolate sparingly. Have it as an occasional treat but don’t make it a regular part of your diet. Besides candy bars and cookies, carob can also be purchased as cake mixes, icing for cakes and a variety of other mouthwatering desserts.
If you have a concern over consuming chocolate then consider the advantages of eating carob. Carob contains a sufficient quantity of B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. As previously noted, carob is one hundred percent free of caffeine and it is also free of theobromine. Both of these ingredients are to be found in chocolate and serve to stimulate the central nervous system thereby causing problems such as depression, irritability and headaches. Finally, carob, unlike chocolate does not consist of any oxalic acid, which works to block the proper absorption of calcium in the system.