Ingredient of the month 4: Carob Powder

Carob hemp chewy bars: the carob gives them their dark coloration and adds to the sweetness
I've used this ingredient so many times already in this blog that I thought it warranted a slot of it's own! Carob is sooo much more than a chocolate substitute, with its own distinctive flavour and a very long tradition of use in Mediterranean and North African countries.
Carob, native to the Mediterranean and North Africa, is otherwise known as "locust bean" or "St John's bread", and it is said that John the Baptist survived on it in the desert. (Not on real locusts, as was often thought!) The pods are what is used for food; dried, ground and roasted. Carob syrup is also made in the Middle East and Turkey - it's an ingredient along with fruit juice concentrate in the sucrose substitute "Sweet Freedom" available here in the UK. Traditionally a drink made of carob would be taken during Ramadan. I have picked the hard ripe pods off a tree in Spain and powdered (and nibbled on them!) them myself.

Two teaspoons of carob powder contain 48 calories. Carob powder does not have any fat and has 1g of protein per 2 tsp serving. A 2 tsp. serving of carob powder also has 11 g of carbohydrates with 2 g of fibre. carob also contains small amounts of calcium and iron.

Health Benefits:
Unlike chocolate, carob is caffeine free and is not as allergenic as chocolate. It also contains polyphenols and flavonols which are antioxidants (these fight the disease-causing free radicals in the body).

Cooking with Carob:
Carob can be substituted for chocolate in cake recipes, though you may want to use less than for cocoa powder as it is so much darker. (See my post "Carob Party Cake" for ideas.) I tend to use it in baking or natural sweets mostly, and I have a friend who melts a mint-flavoured carob bar on top of a thick layer of  flapjack for a different and yummy snack. If you have any other ideas, especially experiments with carob in savoury dishes, I'd love to know- please tell me all about them in a comment.

A Very Happy 2012 to you all :)


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