Carob, a wonderful alternative to chocolate is an edible pod that grows in the carob tree, (Ceratonia siliqua). The carob tree, also known as St John’s-bread is an evergreen flowering shrub that belongs to the pea family (Fabaceae). Inside the pod is the pulp that is edible and has a sweet taste. When the pod becomes ripe, it is plucked, dried and the pulp is ground into a fine powder. This powder is often used as an alternative to cocoa powder. Carob comes from the Mediterranean regions which include Northern Africa, southern Europe and the larger Mediterranean islands. In addition to the powder form, carob is also available as chips and as a flavoring agent. It is also known by other names like – Algarrobo, Locust Bean / pods, Caroube, Carouge, Figuier d’Égypte, Garrofero or Sugar Pods
How are carob processed: After plucking the pods, clean them thoroughly. In order to get the seeds out, boil the pods for about 20 minutes. Once boiled, the carob pods become soft enough to be split open. Deseed the pods and dry them. You can dry the pods either by keeping then in the oven at a low temperature or by using a dehydrator. After the pods are dried, they can be ground into a fine powder using a blender.
Carob – Nutritional facts
When compared to nutritional facts of cocoa powder, carob is high in sugars and carbohydrates, and low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. It is rich in nutrients with a significant amount of minerals like calcium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins like riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, niacin and choline. Carob is also an excellent source of dietary fiber. This nutritional profile offers various health benefits of carob.
Health benefits of carob
Carob is not just a chocolate substitute. It is good source of many nutrients that provide your body with immense health benefits when eaten regularly. Some carob health benefits are provided below:
Carob lowers cholesterol
Carob is a rich source of insoluble dietary fiber that has the ability to reduce the level of bad cholesterol. It also contains antioxidants like lignin and polyphenols that can bind with cholesterol and eliminate it from your body. A study published in the Plant Foods for Human Nutrition journal suggests that the intake of carob fiber caused a significant reduction in the total and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.
Carob is healthy for heart
It has been found that carob is very heart healthy and hence making it a part of your daily diet is helpful in reducing your risks of heart diseases. The high content of insoluble fiber in carob helps in lowering your LDL or bad cholesterol levels. Lowering the level of bad cholesterol is very important in preventing serious conditions like heart attacks, atherosclerosis, and strokes.
Carob helps to regulate blood sugar levels
Carob has been found to be effective in regulating the blood glucose levels. This effect is attributed to the high fiber content in carob. The insoluble fiber in carob helps to regulate the blood sugar levels by binding the water in the intestine, thereby improving digestion. Carob can prevent spikes in blood sugar levels and hence is a safe food to be included in the diet of a diabetic patient.
Carob for digestive health
The high fiber content in carob along with the presence of tannins helps in keeping your digestive system healthy. A tablespoon of carob powder can provide you with 2 grams of fiber. The advantage of fiber is that it is not digested by your body. It helps add volume to your stools, eases the process of digestion, and promotes regularity of bowel movements. Fiber is important for your body as it helps to prevent constipation and other digestive problems like diarrhea, heart burn. It helps in complete absorption of nutrients in our intestine.
Carob and weight loss
A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2006 shows that consuming carob fiber is beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight. Carob is low in calories, low in fat and rich in fiber content. The fiber content in carob keeps you feeling fuller for a long period of time, thus helping to control your appetite and prevent overeating.
Carob for treatment of cancer
Oxidation of cells is a main factor that can lead to many types of cancer. Research suggests that carob contains flavonoids and polyphenols, which are powerful anti-oxidants that can prevent the oxidation of cells caused by free radicals. According to researchers, the high content of fiber and phenolic antioxidant substances in carob may give it the ability to prevent cancer.
Carob improves bone health
Carob is rich in calcium and phosphorus, which are needed for the healthy growth of your bones and teeth. It also helps in preventing ailments like osteoporosis. Because of the high amount of calcium and gallic acid in carob, it is often recommended for treating polio in children as well as preventing it.
Carob has antimicrobial properties
Carob is a good source of tannin and gallic acid, both of which have strong anti-viral and antibiotic properties. A study showed that carob powder was successful in treating diarrhea caused by bacteria or virus in babies. The insoluble fiber in carob prevents diarrhea by absorbing the liquids and thus reducing the amount of loose stool.
Anti-allergic properties of Carob
It also has anti-allergic properties and is hence used in treating asthma and other allergy induced problems. Moreover, the high content of vitamin E, phytonutrients and antioxidants help in the treatment of coughs, anemia, colds and influenza.
Carob benefits for skin and hair
Carob is a rich source of vitamin E that is known to improve the health of your skin and hair. This power antioxidant can speed up the process of tissue generation and prevent damages to your skin. By including carob in your diet, you can obtain stronger and beautiful hair and glowing skin. It works as moisturizer for your skin and scalp.
Is carob better than chocolate?
Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine that can have serious effects on your body. These substances are found to worsen conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stomach disturbances, depression, and allergies. They have also been associated with lowering your immune response and causing diseases like cancer. A few other side effects of caffeine and theobromine include fatigue, sleep disturbances, rapid heart rate, obesity, anxiety, dizziness, acne and loss of balance. Carob on the other hand does not contain caffeine or theobromine and hence is a healthy substitute for chocolate.
Another fact is that chocolate in its natural form is quite bitter in taste. So in order to make it tasty, large quantities of sugar is added. Also to make it into a soft and velvety texture, plenty of fat and other additives are added. All these can have a negative impact on your health. Carob is low in fat and calories. It is naturally very sweet and hence doesn’t need too much of added sugar. So Carob is a wonderful alternative to chocolate with a great taste and without the health risks caused by stimulants and additives.
Other uses of carob
Carob pods are used to make carob powder, chips, flour, extract, and syrups. The seeds of carob are used to make carob bean gum, which is also known as locust bean gum. This gum finds use as a food thickening agent as well as a stabilizer or emulsifier in many products such as ice cream, jelly, cheese, salad dressings, candy, beverages and many more. Theobromine contained in chocolate is harmful to certain animals and since carob does not contain this substance, it is often used to make chocolate-flavored and stimulant-free treats for dogs. Carob contains high levels of natural sugar and hence was used as a sweetening agent and source of sugar in those times when sugar beet and sugar cane weren’t so popular. In some countries, they make syrup out of the carob pods, which is used as an effective medicine for sore throat and coughs.
Healthy recipes using carob powder
Carob brownies – Combine 2 cups of Wheat flour, 2 tsp of baking powder and 1/3 cup of carob powder in a mixing bowl. Mix in another bowl 1/3 cup of honey with 1 tsp of Vanilla extract, ½ cup of Apple sauce and 1 cup water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly. Butter a baking dish and pour the batter into the dish. Bake it for approximately 35 minutes at a temperature of 175 degree Celsius.
Carob banana smoothie – Add in ¾ cup of milk, 3 chopped bananas, 1 ½ cup of carob powder and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Add this to blender and blend until you get a smooth consistency.
Chocolate is very important and unavoidable, especially during festivals and important occasions. Too much of chocolate can cause health problems and so a healthy solution for this is to use carob. The most important advantage of carob is that it is great substitute for chocolate. Although carob doesn’t taste exactly like chocolate, it has a distinct and unique taste which is delicious and appetizing. Unlike chocolate, carob is low in calories and contains no caffeine. The next time you feel like eating chocolate, give carob a try. Not only is it delicious, it is also highly nutritious, devoid of all the negative effects of chocolate and full of health benefits.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Seminsky, Wikimedia - Roger Culos