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Chocolate vs Carob: How Do They Compare?

Wondering what the difference between chocolate vs carob is? Can you substitute carob for cacao? Chocolate expert Simon Knott compares chocolate and carob, with a focus on flavour profiles, processing, ingredients, nutrition and how to use carob powder as a substitute for cocoa effectively.

Carob rose in popularity during the 70s touted as a low-fat, chocolate substitute, which provoked extensive discussion. However, the chocolate vs carob comparison eventually swung back in chocolate’s favour because carob couldn’t mimic the unique chocolate qualities we all love.

This article is an in-depth comparison of carob and chocolate. Discussing the similarities and differences between the two, as well as their uses and their nutritional benefits.

Chocolate vs Carob Comparison Table

Chocolate, CocoaCarob
Plant OriginAmazonMediterranean
Main ProducersWest Africa
Ivory Coast
Plant ClimateTropical (hot, wet)Mediterranean (hot, dry)
Edible Plant PartSeeds, beansOuter pods
Flavour ProfileCreamy, vanilla, fruity, bitter, caramel.
Varies by style.
Flavour IntensityStrong
More Intense than Carob
Less Intense than Cacao
SweetnessLess Sweet than CarobMore Sweet than Cacao
Processing DifficultyDifficultRelatively Easy

Pros & Cons

Carob PowderSimilar price to cocoa
Caffeine free
High fibre
Good range of minerals
High in antioxidants
Low fat
Free of all main allergens
Less flavour than cocoa/chocolate
Chocolate / Cocoa PowderUnique flavour
Versatile in recipes
High in antioxidants
Good range of minerals
May have cardiac and cholesterol benefits
Gluten free
Chocolate is more expensive
Contains theobromine – harmless to humans but toxic to dogs and other animals
Contains soya as lecithin (potential allergen)

Cultivation & Growth of Cacao vs Carob

Cacao Plants

The cacao tree is native to the Amazon basin in South America. It was first grown here before cultivation spread to Central America and the Caribbean. Trade routes furthered its horizons into West Africa and the countries of The Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana, where 70% of the world’s crops are now centred.

The tropical cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), forms cocoa beans in pods, which are the starting point for the complex production processes which creates chocolate and cocoa. Historically, chocolate consumption traces back 5000 years, while 3000 years ago Mayan and Aztec civilisations left evidence demonstrating chocolate was an integral part of their culture.

Carob Plants

The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) is native to the eastern Mediterranean. Portugal is the largest producer, followed by Spain and Italy, while Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and Cyprus are also significant growers.

Part of the legume family, the trees grow to 15 m (50 feet) with thick glossy, evergreen leaves. In autumn, the trees produce either all-male or all-female flowers, which are red with a green tint. Their musky aroma attracts insects, encouraging pollination, although just the female trees produce pods.

After flowering, the seed pods grow to 12 in (30 cm) forming light to dark brown wrinkled, leathery pods. Inside, there are 5-15 hard brown seeds, which are set in a sweet edible pulp. The seeds, after processing, produce locust bean gum, which is used extensively in food technology for its gelling properties.

Mesopotamian civilisations cultivated Carob trees, using the valued pods in recipes and the seeds in craft items. The fruit of the carob is also called the locust bean or St John’s bread. In the Bible, observers saw John the Baptist eating what looked like locusts but which were much more likely to be carob pods.

Carob syrup is a traditional cough medicine in Malta and Cyprus. Islanders use the same syrup as a sweetener and flavour in local recipes. Macerating roasted carob pods with water creates a light syrup. Dissolving an equal quantity of sugar into the syrup creates the final rich carob syrup.

For an overview of carob processing, have a look at the video on Harvesting & Processing Carob Pods Into Chocolate Powder by Beyond Gold & Silver (YouTube) below:

Does Carob Taste Like Chocolate? Flavour Profile

Chocolate has been a popular flavouring in desserts and drinks for centuries. The combination of the complex flavour of cocoa and the enjoyable mouth feel of cocoa butter makes it an enduring choice. Desserts and drinks, including cakes, puddings, biscuits, brownies, mousses, and cocoa, are popular favourites.

In recipes, it’s often suggested that carob powder is a good substitute for chocolate or cocoa. This leads many to believe mistakenly that carob and chocolate are similar, but this simply isn’t the case. It’s possible to use carob powder in recipes as a replacement for chocolate or cocoa, but the finished recipe won’t taste of chocolate, just the nutty, caramel sweetness of carob.

Chocolate & Cocoa Flavour Profile

The processing of cocoa beans is complex, including stages of fermentation, drying, roasting, and grinding as explained in our articles on how to make chocolate from cacao beans and the industrial process of making chocolate.

The process creates two components: cocoa butter, a white, smooth, solid fat and chocolate liquor, the remaining solids after grinding ground, and roasted cocoa beans.

Different proportions of these ingredients, combined with sugar and other ingredients, such as milk, create the three most popular types of chocolate – milk, dark and white. In addition, cacao can be processed into cocoa powder and baking chocolate.

  • Milk chocolate: dairy flavour (butter and milk), vanilla, cocoa, sweetness.
  • Dark chocolate: bitterness, roasted, fruity, cocoa, astringent.
  • White chocolate: dairy; milk & butter, vanilla, caramel. Only contains cocoa butter.
  • Cocoa powder: has a rich sweet chocolate flavour. Fat content varies and adds an enjoyable richness to the flavour.
  • Baking chocolate: a commercial product, which contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter but no sugar. Hence, it’s very bitter and relies on sweetening from other ingredients.

Carob Flavour Profile

Compared with chocolate and cacao, processing carob pods is straightforward to carry out in a domestic kitchen. The whole carob pods are rinsed, soaked in water overnight, split lengthways, and the brown seeds removed. Using a low oven or a dehydrator, the pods dry out until all the moisture has evaporated, then ground to a fine powder in a food processor.

Carob powder is similar in appearance to cocoa powder but, although slightly lighter brown. It is nutty and mildly sweet, with a caramel flavour, but it isn’t comparable to chocolate.

Fresh ground carob can be bitter, although roasting significantly lessens this. Consequently, roasted carob powder is more frequently used in recipes than the raw version.

  • Carob powder: Sweet, nutty, caramel flavour.

Can you substitute carob for cocoa/chocolate?

Carob and chocolate both have distinct taste and flavour profiles, but they are not similar in taste. Carob powder or carob chips are suitable as a substitute for chocolate or cocoa in many recipes. However, it’s not possible to use carob interchangeably.

There are differences between the two products in terms of sweetness and flavour and so it’s necessary to make some adjustments. As an ingredient, carob is sweeter than chocolate and so the level of sugar in the recipe needs to be reduced.

How to Substitute Cocoa Powder with Carob Powder in Baking

While it’s possible to substitute carob powder in recipes requiring cocoa powder, such as cakes, puddings, and biscuits, it is not as simple as replacing cocoa with carob.

Cocoa and chocolate are powerful flavours, which need to be used sparingly in cooking. The flavour profile of chocolate is strong enough that it can easily mask the flavours. Meanwhile, the flavour of carob is milder than the intensity of cocoa or chocolate.

Therefore, it’s necessary to use more carob powder to create a similar strength of flavour. Ideally, replace 10g of cocoa powder with 25g of carob powder to boost the flavour. That is, you would need to increase the quantity of cocoa powder by 2.5x carob powder.

If you are new to carob, it’s suggested that instead of a 1:1 substitution, you use 50% chocolate or cocoa and 50% carob.

Chocolate and cocoa are powerful flavours and even with a 50% reduction, the flavour will be stronger than a 100% substitution with carob.

Experimenting with different ratios of carob and cocoa/chocolate is a useful compromise if you want to lower the sugar content of your baking and also introduce an interesting nutty component from the carob. There are no hard and fast rules about substitution, so trying out different ratios is the best way to find the ideal.

To replace cocoa powder with carob powder in baking, try the following:
  • Option 1: Replace cocoa powder with 2.5x (150%) quantity of carob powder. Reduce quantity of sugar to taste.
  • Option 2: Replace cocoa with 50% carob powder and 50% cocoa powder.

How to Substitute Chocolate Chips with Carob Chips

By blending roasted carob powder with an equal quantity of melted cocoa butter, you can create carob chips. Pour the mixture onto parchment, allow to set, and finally chop into chips, which can be added to cake or biscuit recipes. Carob has a sweeter profile, so it may be necessary to reduce the added sugar.

Nutrition of Cacao/Chocolate vs Carob

Nutrition Profile of Cacao vs Carob

 100g Carob Powder100g Cocoa Powder
Protein6.67 g21.4 g
Total fat0g21.4 g
Carbohydrate86.7g57.1 g
Fibre40g57.1 g
Sugars46.7g0 g
Calcium347 mg0 mg
Iron2.67 mg0 mg
Potassium827 mg0 mg
Sodium33 mg0 mg

Nutritional Benefits of Chocolate & Cacao

People have long regarded chocolate as a product with curative properties. Research shows it is a significant source of polyphenols, with their potent antioxidant properties. It is a good source of B and E vitamins and minerals, including calcium, sulphur, zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, and potassium. Studies indicate that chocolate may reduce the incidence of heart disease and inflammation, but this needs to be viewed in the context of its higher fat and calorie content.

Nutritional Benefits of Carob

The nutritional analysis of carob powder shows it to be a rich source of vitamins A, E, D, C, B2, B3, B12, B6, and niacin, as well as minerals, including calcium, potassium, and sodium. The valuable fatty acids, oleic, linoleic, palmitic, and stearic are also present in the oil component of the seed pod.

Peer-reviewed research also suggests carob demonstrates anti-cancer properties, as well as an ability to improve the symptoms of high cholesterol and diabetes.

Final Thoughts on Chocolate vs Carob

Sometimes marketed as a chocolate substitute, cooks express disappointment when the taste and flavour of their carob recipe doesn’t match their expectations of chocolate. Carob products need to be enjoyed for their individuality, with their own taste and flavour, rather than as a substitute for chocolate.

Although carob has a flavour profile quite different from cocoa and chocolate, it is still worth experimenting with carob in baking and other cooking. Just be mindful of the main differences in flavour between cocoa and carob, that is:

Carob is less intense in flavour than cocoa, therefore you will need to use more carob to achieve a comparable intensity of flavour.

Carob is more sweet than cocoa, therefore you may need to reduce the quantity of sugar or other sweetener in the recipe.

Rather than a complete swap of carob for cocoa in a recipe, try replacing part of the cocoa, so you can enjoy the qualities of both. Try a 50/50 quantity of each to start, and then experiment from there.

Happy chocolatiering (and carobing)!

Article Author

  • Simon Knott

    Simon Knott studied a BSc Hons in Catering Management, Food Science, and Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and started writing in 2006, specialising in food and drink. He worked as Food & Drink Editor for two county magazines, interviewing chefs and local food producers. In 2010 Simon started a company making traditional fudges and chocolate products. The company quickly grew, supplying local outlets and Simon was awarded five Gold Great Taste Awards for his products. Simon recently completed a Diploma in Copywriting, and continues to write about food and drink, business and skiing.

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