By Dina Eliash Robinson
Sentencing a chocoholic to give up chocolate is a cruel and unusual punishment, usually meted out for medical reasons, such as allergies or caffeine sensitivity. Fortunately, both the addiction and taste buds can be cheated by substituting the similarly flavored carob for cocoa products.
Carob helped Lester kick his addiction for dark chocolate, cold turkey, when his inherited glitch-prone cardiovascular genes became sensitive to caffeine
and brought on recurring bouts of Atrial Fibrillation. On his cardiologist’s stern advice, Lester banished all caffeine from his otherwise optimally heart-healthy diet. Fortunately, this single, firmly stuck-to sacrifice stopped Lester’s A-Fib cold; and has kept him free of it and other stress-related cardiac symptoms for years now— without any prescription drugs.
As in all life choices and events, even this simple substitution of carob for chocolate meant certain tradeoffs—in this case, of nutritional benefits. Giving up his favorite health food—the super-caffeinated, dark, organic chocolate—Lester lost such benefits as cocoa’s antioxidant flavanols, the blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering properties of caffeine and theobromine, stimulants with diuretic and blood vessel dilator properties. But he won in their place carob’s many valuable benefits.
Also known as “St. John’s Bread” and “Locust Bean,” the carob is a long, dark brown pod, with 15 hard seeds surrounded by a sweet pulp. It is rich in B-vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D and E, protein, pectin, nutritional minerals (such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium manganese, barium, copper, nickel and selenium) and various types of natural sugars. Since it is practically fat-free, carob is much lower in calories than chocolate, in spite of its high (about 50%) sugar content. The latter is used as a healthy, natural sweetener. Other carob ingredients lend themselves to compounds for treating such ailments as coughs, flu, anemia (Vit. E, zinc), osteoporosis (phosphorus and calcium), diarrhea and certain digestive problems (soluble fiber) and for helping to maintain healthy thyroid function and DNA production (selenium).
An ancient tree-fruit (albeit biologically categorized as a legume related to peas), which has been uninterruptedly cultivated for thousands of years around the Mediterranean (Greece, Spain, Italy), in the Middle East (Egypt, Israel) and later in other warm climates to which it was brought by merchants and travelers—such as South America, Mexico, South Africa, Australia and, in the 19th century, to California, USA—where it still thrives.
- Since the carob seeds tend to be of an almost uniform size and weight, they are said to have been used in ancient
times by jewelers as the original
“carat” with which they gauged precious stones and metals.
- According to some sources, the carob pods grow on an “evergreen flowering shrub,” although other botanical sources depict and call it a tree.
- The sweet pulp of the (dried, often roasted) carob pod is a traditional addition to Jewish holiday feasts. Probably because in Jewish Biblical lore, it is associated with the “manna” that fed the Hebrew tribes during their 40 years of desert wanderings, in search of the Promised Land.
- Opera singers and other singing professionals have for centuries been chewing the un-husked pulp of carob pods to help clear their throats and voices before performances.
- Because of its versatility as an emulsifier, wood-substitute, antioxidant and more, carob is used not only in foods, but in various industrial and beauty products.
- Substitute carob powder for chocolate recipes such as baked desserts for lower calories and less need for added sugar.
- Smoothies made with carob chips, almond or cashew milk (or fruit juice), cinnamon or vanilla, satisfy and nourish those with gluten and lactose sensitivity.
- Sprinkle carob chips on cereal, fruit bowl or non-dairy frozen dessert for added treat.
- Carob is an excellent substitute for chocolate in a hot drink made with a small amount of boiling water to dissolve the carob chips or carob flour/powder and almond milk. Adding cinnamon or vanilla to this “fake hot chocolate” can make this drink taste even more exotic.
- Add carob chips to homemade Trail Mix.
- Make pancakes by substituting carob flour for regular flour, without sugar but with added olive oil or butter. Fresh fruit topping adds an extra healthy and flavorful kick.
- Carob Balls need no baking and tend to be kids favorite ‘cooking’ experiments for kids. Create your own recipe with carob powder or flour, almond butter and instant oatmeal made dense (with little water), blended, rolled in crushed nuts and cooled.
Carob Bars Recipe:
- 4 cups quick cook oats
- 1/3 avocado oil (canola or sesame oil work, too)
- ½ teaspoon liquid vanilla extract
- 1 cup carob chips
- ½ cup finely chopped nuts (almond, walnuts, etc.)
- Add small amounts of almond milk if or as needed when it’s time to blend the ingredients.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix ingredients well. Oil or butter a baking sheet of appropriate size. Spread the mix on the sheet, pressing down hard to compact it. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and of the consistency you desire. Cool completely, then cut into bars.
Nutritional Information: When cut into 4” x 2” bars, each would contain approximately 250 calories, with less than half from fat; 0 cholesterol (unless butter is used); negligible sodium; 35 grams of carbohydrates (of which 3 grams are dietary fiber and 14 grams are the carob’s natural sugar); and 4 grams of protein. This healthy dessert is also dairy-free and vegan (without the butter). This is one of the best healthy dessert recipes using carob which is sugar-free, vegan and dairy free.