Chocolatiering DIY Chocolate Making

What’s Carob? An introduction to our favourite fake chocolate


What’s carob, why use it, and what does it taste like? In this complete guide, Chocolatiering producer Ayla Marika introduces us to carob – our favourite fake chocolate – from growing, processing to eating, and explains why you should give it a second chance.

You’ve probably heard of carob, and if you’re like me, your memory of it probably isn’t entirely positive. In fact, I’ll bet you remember it as a disappointing substitute for chocolate.

If you were a school kid in the 90’s like me, you might have even had it in your school canteen. My experience of it back then was a really bad, dry, imitation chocolate… you know, something healthy trying hard to disguise itself as chocolate but just embarrassing itself.

On the other hand, maybe you have already come to love carob, and have come here to learn more about it. If so, welcome! While I hated carob as a school kid and didn’t touch it for most of my life thereafter, these past few years I have been giving it another try.

And… wow! When it comes to carob, I must say food technology has seriously improved in leaps and bounds. Some carob sweets you can buy today are even quite difficult to distinguish from ‘real’ chocolate, my current favourite being Banjo coconut carob bears available in Australia.

Aside from the taste, there is so much to love about carob. It is supposedly healthier than chocolate, carob production is potentially more environmentally sustainable than cacao production (no deforestation required!), and carob sidesteps the huge sociocultural issues prevalent in the cocoa industry.

What’s Carob? Plant Profile

Like chocolate which comes from the cacao plant, carob too comes from a plant. The carob that we consume comes from the carob tree (Ceratonia Siliqua), which is a legume. The edible part of the carob tree are the pods, and unlike other legumes it is not the bean which is eaten but rather the dark, leathery pod which encases the bean.

By contrast, cacao is very bitter straight from the tree, and must be fermented and processed to make it palatable. Carob however can be eaten fresh straight from the tree, if you are lucky enough to have access to fresh pods, although roasting improves the flavour. After harvesting, carob can be processed into a few different forms including dried powder, pieces (kibble) and carob syrup.

Growth habit and cultivation

Carob Tree Profile

  • Botanical name: Ceratonia siliqua
  • Native region: Mediterranean (Spain, Italy, Greece)
  • Tree Size: 12-15m
  • Climate: Hot, Dry, Mediterranean
  • Edible Part: Outer Pods
  • Time to Reach Maturity: 6-7 years, up to 20 years

The carob tree is a native plant of Mediterranean Europe, in particular Spain, Greece and Italy. In these regions carob was traditionally used as a food source, as well as for medicinal purposes.

The tree itself is very large, growing 12-15 metres in height and 8 metres wide. It has dark green leaves that form a thick canopy, making it a great shade tree which is purportedly fire-resistant too. While humans enjoy the carob pods, so do livestock, making them good fodder trees. Not to mention, the trees thrive in hot dry climates and poor soil, making carobs a good choice for arid regions.

I am planning to plant a stand of carob trees on my hobby farm for these reasons, as we live in a drought-prone and fire-prone region of country Australia. They are a highly desirable permaculture tree, and the idea of having carob trees that triple as food, fodder and fire break, is very appealing. There are drawbacks to growing carob trees at home, however, which I became aware of last year while speaking with staff at Carobana, a carob processing facility in Coffs Harbour, Australia.

Unlike cacao which takes about 5 years to mature and produce fruit (pods), it takes carob trees 20 years to reach maturity and produce good-tasting pods. The Carobana staff member I spoke to explained that it is possible to harvest from carob trees sooner, but to develop a good flavour the trees need to be around 20 years old.

In addition, carobs need both female and male trees to produce pods. Considering the size of the trees, you would need a very large yard or a farm to feasibly grow carob. Unfortunately, this makes growing carob for food purposes more of a long-term investment, rather than something you might throw into your repertoire of backyard fruit trees.

What does carob look like?

Carobs are very large trees, growing up to 15 metres. In the right season, the trees produce very dark, glossy brown-red carob pods, which are up to 30cm (1ft) long. When the pods are split open, you will find a fibrous interior and a line of carob seeds, just like how you would find peas in a pod.

Unlike other legumes such as peas and beans, the seeds are not the part which is eaten. Rather, it is the fibrous pod which is dried, processed and consumed as carob.

Carob trees are large (<15m), with glossy green leaves and a dense canopy. They are adapted to hot dry climates, including arid desert-like regions.
Carob pods form on trees in autumn/fall. Shown here is the dried outside pod, the seeds, and a bowl of ground carob pod. Unlike other legumes, the pod is consumed, not the seeds.

What’s Carob Used For?

Carob is most famously known for being a healthy chocolate substitute, and this is also part of the reason for its poor reputation. When processed in certain ways carob can mimic the taste and texture of chocolate quite well, however, carob flavor is inherently different in many regards too.

Aside from the carob chocolate treats you might find in your local grocery store or health store, carob is most commonly found in the form of powder. Carob powder is used in a similar way to cocoa powder in baking (eg cakes, biscuits) and beverages (eg milkshakes, hot carob similar to hot cocoa).

It is possible to substitute carob for cocoa in baking, and you can learn more about how to use carob as a substitute for cocoa in this article. Just be mindful that it is not as straightforward as a 1:1 swap, we explain it all in that article so head there if you’re interested.

What does carob taste like? Carob flavor and texture

Carob pods have a sweet, aromatic flavour that is somewhat comparable to chocolate, but not as strong or bitter. As discussed in our article on chocolate vs carob, it also has a different flavour profile being earthier, nuttier, sweeter and much less intense than chocolate. Some people also describe carob flavor as having a hint of coffee and caramel.

What does carob taste like, to me? As someone who has been eating carob for awhile now, I personally don’t get the coffee-caramel flavour, but I do agree with it being nuttier and earthier in flavour, and certainly milder than chocolate. Without wishing to put anyone off, I would almost say carob is dirtier in flavour and texture to chocolate.

While I enjoy the earthy taste of carob, the texture is something that I have not completely adjusted to yet. Carob does not have the same melt-in-the-mouth feel as chocolate, tending to have a more gritty, starchy texture. A few times I’ve tried to melt it in my mouth like chocolate, and I started coughing because of the carob particles in my throat.

In saying that, I have also had carob ‘chocolates’ recently that do have a very refined melt-in-the-mouth feel, so perhaps this coarse texture is more to do with processing technology. For example, in Chef Prish’s article on how to make chocolate from cacao beans she discusses the micron size of cacao particles leading to the difference between lusciously smooth and gritty chocolate. I wouldn’t be surprised if this applies to carob too. This is a topic I intend to research and experiment with, and share articles on in the future. Watch this space.

What’s in carob? Ingredients and processing

Carob powder is a very simple product, comprising of dried, roasted and ground carob pods. To show what a simple product carob powder is, here is a quick overview of the carob processing steps:

  1. Carob tree.
  2. Pods harvested from carob tree.
  3. Pods dried in sun or dehydrator (until it is only 10-12% moisture).
  4. Seeds removed from the pod/pulp. Pods/pulp kept for carob (seeds are not used).
  5. Carob pulp roasted
  6. Carob pulp ground into powder.
  7. Carob powder done.

In addition to carob powder, carob ‘chocolates’ and sweets have additional ingredients, similar to chocolate, which varies by manufacturer. These extra ingredients could include:

  • Milk powder
  • Sugar
  • Emulsifier (eg soy lecithin)
  • Vegetable fat/oil (eg palm oil, coconut oil)
  • Flavours (eg vanilla, mint)

My Final Thoughts: What’s Carob Good For?

Carob is most famous for being a healthy chocolate substitute, and many promotional materials for carob products will say just that. However, carob is much more than just second-fiddle to chocolate, and is a unique plant product to be enjoyed and appreciated in its own right.

While carob is often touted as a healthier alternative to chocolate, it is also important to be wary of such claims. How healthy one thing is compared to another usually comes down to processing, and when you consider the other ingredients that go into making carob chocolates or cacao chocolates, it is certainly possible to get carob sweets that are quite unhealthy. I am moving towards eating carob not because it is healthier, but because it is more sustainable than cacao.

I personally enjoy carob for its sustainability and its adaptability to a warming climate, an alternative to cacao that is hardier and more suited to arid climates and degraded soils, which has the potential to thrive on land that is not suited to many other crops. Carob is a long-lived tree with very low water requirements that grows in a wide range of climates and soil types, and does not require the deforestation of fertile land in wet tropical regions like cacao does, all while continuing to fulfil our desire for decadent sweet treats.

Cacao is in high demand and sooner or later we need to face the reality that the Earth cannot support our demand for cacao-based chocolate forever, especially when you consider the strict growing requirements for cacao trees (that is, lots of water and high fertile soil). I love cacao, but my instinct tells me that we had better enjoy cacao now while it lasts, because it won’t be long before we experience cacao shortages and see chocolate become a much more expensive luxury.

That is personally why I love carob. I love it because I feel that if we want to continue enjoying chocolate into the future, embracing carob is our only way forward.

Article Author

  • Ayla Marika

    Ayla Marika is the founder and manager of the Chocolatiering website. She is a website producer, visual artist and graphic designer based in Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) from Curtin University of Technology and an Advanced Diploma of Public Relations from Canberra Institute of Technology. Her interests include permaculture, implementing self-sufficiency strategies on her small hobby farm, music, cooking, brewing, plant medicine and food activism. She is the author and illustrator of the critically acclaimed Amazon bestseller book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced, and manager of Forssa Light Publishing.

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