While looking into learning more about cacao (you may know it better as chocolate), you will undoubtedly somewhere along the way run into a discussion about carob and how it is healthier for you than chocolate. 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 or a refresher for those who were tormented with it by well-meaning moms in the 70s and 80s.
Cacao is made from a bean which is 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 more mild and less bitter. It also has a considerably different nutritional profile.
IS CHOCOLATE THE OBVIOUS WINNER?
No, chocolate is not necessarily the 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, chocolate pulls ahead in the contest.
WHY CHOCOLATE 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!
FUN FACTS ABOUT CAROB
- Carob is also known as locust bean or St. John’s Bread, mostly because of biblical legends surrounding what John the Baptist was eating in the wilderness: honey and wild locusts. Try mixing it with raw honey; it’s a DELICIOUS combo!
- It 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 its 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?
WHY CAROB WINS
“Hey, wait!” (you say) “I thought we had a clear winner!” Does cacao, our good friend chocolate, 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
- alkaline, and so does not upset or compound gastric acidity levels
- hypoallergenic, meaning its safe for asthmatics, sufferers of migraines, auto-immunity, or even cancer.
- high in gallic acid, tannin and pectin, leading to balanced peristalsis.
- 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, especially for those dealing with issues of malabsorption due to disease like celiac sprue.
- one factor that may aid in weight loss.
And, medicinally, carob is an expectorant.
So the Winner…
Depends on who you are and your personal nutritional profile.
Carob is not chocolate, and it does not taste like chocolate. Ask any kid whose mom tried to pass this off as a chocolate treat! Also, while some people may develop a taste for carob, it does not process as easily as cacao. Oh, and it’s not addictive.
That, my friends, summarizes why you don’t see carob everywhere.
Carob is a wonderful food all by itself, and it has wonderful health benefits. However, it is best to consider carob as a replacement for cacao if a) you don’t like cacao (or chocolate), or b) have issues with cacao or chocolate for any of your body’s neurological or adaptive stress systems.
After all, while it seems most everyone adores chocolate, it wears some folks out. Carob is a great way to give your body a break, alkalize and try something new. So, why not pick some up the next time you’re at the store and try adding a little to your diet this week?