What is Carob?
The word "carob" can be used to describe a specific type of tree or the ground powder made from the pod and seeds of the plant. The tree grows in the Mediterranean and is scientifically called Ceratonia siliqua. It is a member of the legume family and produces pods that are long and leathery. Within these pods are hard seeds and pulp. The pulp is edible and has a sweet flavor.
The carob tree gets quite tall, reaching heights of up to about 55 feet (16.7 meters). Its trunk gets very wide, boasting a circumference of up to about 33 inches (83.82 centimeters) by the time it is 18 years of age. The tree has evergreen leaves that are dark green and leathery, and it blooms with tiny red flowers. The pod is brown, in shades varying from light to dark, and flattened or slightly curved. The hard seeds rattle when the pod is ripened and dry.
In terms of hardiness, the plant is considered just a bit stronger than the sweet orange. Frost can cause damage to vulnerable, young trees, but mature ones can often stand up to temperatures that drop as low as 20°F (-6.67°C). If frost sets in during the blooming period, however, fruit production may be reduced. The tree is most suited to a Mediterranean climate that features winters that are cool, but not cold, and summers that have little rain.
The seeds are often referred to as St. John's bread or locust bean. They are often chewed and enjoyed for their sweet flavor. The pods are also processed into a powder that has a consistency similar to that of cocoa. This powdery substance is combined with flour for use in bread and pancakes. Seeded and beaten pods can be made into a powder that is used in breakfast foods.
A finer carob flour is used in creating candy, including candy bars, and it is often used as a substitute for chocolate. The pods are also ground and boiled, creating a thick syrup. The seeds produce a gum, commercially called tragasol, that is used to thicken baked goods, mustard, cheese, ice cream, and some lunch meats. The substance that is left over from gum extraction can be used in making flour for individuals suffering from diabetes.
When I was a kid I was allergic to chocolate (no longer, thank God) and I usually ate carob instead. I agree with a lot of the other posters that it is not a perfect substitute. But when you are a kid and you will eat just about anything that is remotely sweet I thought it tasted pretty good. That being said, I have probably not had a single taste of carob in 20 years. Clearly I don't miss it.
@sunnySkys - Carob dog treats sound like a really good idea. Dogs aren't supposed to have chocolate, but a lot of dogs try really hard to eat it anyway. I don't know why dogs are so attracted to chocolate when it's so bad for them, but carob sounds like a great way for a dog to get their chocolate fix without any health problems.
Anyway, I had no idea carob gum was used as a thickening agent in so many foods! Looking at the list of foods carob gum is used in, it sounds like I probably eat some form of carob gum almost every day.
I've never had carob, but I have a good friend who buys carob dog treats for her two dogs. Apparently the dogs really love them! Dogs can't have chocolate, but apparently carob is perfectly safe for them.
@Ted41 - Carob cocoa isn't a substitute for chocolate, I agree. I've had carob candy bars before too, and I thought they tasted all right, but they don't taste anything like chocolate.
Carob is definitely less sweet than chocolate, so yes, you will be disappointed if you want to use carob as a substitute for chocolate. However, I think carob tastes fine on it's own, as long as you're not expecting it to taste exactly like chocolate. If you want chocolate, just eat actual chocolate!
When I was younger, my mom was very into eating healthy. She would get us organic carob candy instead of chocolate, and I have to say, it was quite disgusting. Especially when what you really wanted was actual chocolate! I've never eaten carob as an adult, and I don't plan to.
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