While looking into learning more about cacao (you may know it as chocolate’s purer cousin), you will undoubtedly somewhere along the way run into a discussion about carob and how it is healthier for you. But when you look at the specifics, you will discover that that the real answer is “It depends.”
First, if you don’t know what carob is, let’s start with a quick introduction.
Cacao is made from a bean – literally a cacao fruit (technically, a gourd). On the other hand, carob is grown in a long bean pod (see the picture, above). When ground into powder, cacao and carob appear quite similar, but they smell and taste different. Cacao is much milder and less bitter. It also has a considerably different nutritional profile.
IS CACAO THE OBVIOUS WINNER?
Well, there isn’t an obvious winner. Both carob and cacao provide beneficial dietary fiber that supports digestion, lowers bad cholesterol, and regulates your blood sugar. But, when you start digging a little deeper, cacao pulls ahead in the contest.
WHY CACAO WINS
First, it’s the minerals. Cacao is a better source of iron, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. When you’re looking for a food that ensures proper energy by supplying iron for red blood cell function, or if you’re looking for other essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus for stronger bones, copper to build healthy connective tissue, and chromium for better metabolism, you’re talking cacao! And, you’ll be thrilled to know that there’s cacao in chocolate (the darker the better, although the processing differs significantly).
WHY CAROB WINS
“Hey, wait!” (you say) “I thought we had a clear winner!” Does cacao really win out? Look a little deeper because it depends on your health goals.
For one thing, cacao can be bad for some people because it is loaded with methylxanthines also known as caffeine and theobromine. Both of these are powerful alkaloids which affect the central nervous system and may hinder our ability to absorb calcium. Cacao is a stimulant while carob is not a stimulant.
And there’s more. Carob is:
- rich in protein (versus no protein in cacao)
- alkaline, and so does not upset or compound gastric acidity levels
- hypoallergenic (meaning it’s safe for asthmatics, sufferers of migraines, autoimmunity, or even cancer)
- high in gallic acid, tannin and pectin, leading to balanced peristalsis (digestive movement)
- an inhibitor of pathogenic bacteria like E. coli
- higher in antioxidants than cacao
- used to treat dehydration and diarrhea in children since ancient times
- great for restoring proper digestion in those suffering from issues of malabsorptiondue to disease like celiac sprue
- medicinally, carob is an expectorant.
FUN FACTS ABOUT CAROB
- Carob is also known as locust beanor St. John’s Bread, mostly because of biblical legends surrounding what John the Baptist was eating in the wilderness: honey and wild locusts. First, carob grows natively in the Jordon Valley. Second – just try mixing carob with raw honey; it’s a DELICIOUS combo!
- Carob was eaten in ancient Egypt where it was used as a sweetener.
- The term “carat”, the unit by which diamond weight is measured, alludes to the ancient practice of weighing gold and gemstones against the weight of carob seeds.
Sounds pretty good, right? So, what’s all the complaining about if it’s got all these benefits and may even be better to eat specifically for certain populations with health sensitivities?
Why isn’t carob at least the queen alongside cacao?
So the Winner…
Depends on who you are and your personal nutritional profile.
Carob is not chocolate, and neither is cacao. Neither taste like chocolate (although cacao, while bitter, possesses a similar flavor profile). Ask any kid whose mom tried to pass cacao chews off as a chocolate treat, or who bit into a bar of cacao’s cousin “pure chocolate”!
They each have their own benefits, and each can claim a rightful role in your healthy diet. My suggestion is to try this: when possible, substitute cacao for chocolate in recipes and shakes. And, when you want a change in flavor and nutrition profile, carob is a great way to give your body a break from the downsides of cacao, to alkalize, and to try something new. So, next time you’re at the store (especially a Whole Foods or Central Market), pick some up the and try adding a little to your diet this week!