When it comes to using carob as a substitute for chocolate, there are at least three camps: yes, no and "why bother?" Yes, it is possible to use it to create food products vaguely resembling real chocolate. No, carob and chocolate cannot be used interchangeably in recipes without modifications. Finally, why bother using an inferior chocolate substitute when the real thing is so much tastier and just as healthy in moderation?
Carob is derived from the seeds and pulp of a Mediterranean evergreen known as the carob tree or St. John's bread, in honor of John the Baptist. The pulp of the tree is also used to create locust bean gum, a thickening agent often found in commercial ice cream and other products. The seeds are naturally sweet, and contain none of the bitterness associated with the cacao bean from which real chocolate is derived. Recipes generally require less sugar than recipes using cocoa powder or natural chocolate. This is one reason why carob cannot be used as a one-to-one substitute for unsweetened chocolate.
It can be used as a substitute for chocolate in the creation of "chocolate flavored" treats for animals, however. Real chocolate contains theobromine, which is actually a mild psychotropic drug. Dogs and cats cannot process large amounts of theobromine, which is why real chocolate can be so dangerous for them to consume. Treats made from carob do not contain theobromine, so animals should not face any health problems after eating them.
Those who are allergic to the ingredients found in real chocolate might also consider a carob alternative. Many health food stores carry toasted soybeans and raisins covered in it, as well as pure carob bars. It is not chocolate, however, so the texture and flavor may be noticeably different. Carob can be a hard sell for many consumers who have become accustomed to the bittersweet essence of real chocolate. Before investing too heavily in it as a chocolate substitute, it might be wise to try a sample of the product first.
There is a misconception that carob is significantly healthier than real chocolate, which is one reason many health-conscious people make the switch. In reality, the two are about the same when it comes to healthiness, and dark chocolate is actually better than carob in some respects.
Carob gained popularity in the 1970s, when the buzzword among dieters was fat. Chocolate was viewed as an unhealthy fatty food, while carob was seen as the healthier low-fat alternative. While the resemblance to real chocolate was negligible at best, carob became one of the star players in the health food craze of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In reality, the type of saturated fat found in real chocolate, primarily cocoa butter, is not the same as the artery-clogging saturated fats found in animal meats. Real chocolate must contain cocoa butter, but carob can be reinforced with other saturated oils which are much more hazardous to a consumer's health. This alternative also does not contain significant levels of flavonoids, but real chocolate contains these important antioxidants. Carob is also more expensive than most brands of chocolate, and many people can easily distinguish real chocolate from a substitute. You could use carob as a chocolate substitute if you have allergies or plan on feeding leftovers to your dog or cat, but otherwise you may just be better off using the real thing in moderation.