Touted by health food stores and companies as an alternative to sugar-laden chocolate, carob chips have gained traction as a baking staple in recent years. Separating the hype from the fact requires an examination of the differences between carob and chocolate chips. While carob may offer a substitution for chocolate, it will never exactly mimic the bittersweet flavor of chocolate. Deciding whether to swap chocolate for carob should be based on your own health and taste needs.
The Mediterranean carob tree produces pods which are dried, roasted, and ground to create carob powder. This powder may then be used as is for baking and flavoring or turned into carob chips. Because carob possesses a natural sweetness, little or no added sugar is required to make the chips edible. Chocolate chips are made with significant added sugar, as the cacao bean is intensely bitter and astringent. The cacao beans are fermented, roasted, then ground with sugar to produce palatable chocolate.
Qualities and Characteristics
Carob chips do not taste exactly like chocolate. However, their sweetness and roasted, earthy flavor combine to offer a substitute that mimics the roasted qualities of cocoa. When used alongside chocolate chips, this earthiness deepens the flavor of the chocolate. Carob chips sweetened with barley malt instead of sugar add a slightly nutty flavor. Unsweetened carob chips sometimes contain milk powder to enhance the natural sweetness of the chips and adds a bit of richness from the dairy.
Unlike chocolate chips, carob chips naturally contain no caffeine or theobromine, a stimulant that affects the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems. For anyone such as a migraine sufferer who responds negatively to stimulants, substituting with carob chips provides an easy alternative to giving up chocolate chip treats. Because carob is naturally sweet, the lower amounts of added sugar in the chips make them a good alternative for those watching their sugar intake. Carob chips are also high in fiber and, generally, low in fat. However, make sure to read ingredient labels when choosing carob chips for health purposes, as some brands add significant amounts of fat to the chips in the form of dairy to more closely approximate the chocolate taste.
When substituting carob chips for chocolate chips, use a one-to-one ratio. Reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe by a quarter, as you do not need to compensate for the bitterness of chocolate. Transition to carob chips slowly by substituting an increasing portion of the chocolate chips with each batch to allow yourself the opportunity to acclimate to the taste. You may find that a partial substitution offers you the health benefits you seek without compromising the chocolate taste.
Recipes such as chocolate mousse and dense chocolate cheesecake that rely on the bitterness of chocolate for their primary flavor profile are unlikely to work well with carob chips. Savory baked goods, such as hearty muffins and granola bars, benefit from the earthiness of carob chips.
Melting Carob Chips
If your recipe calls for melted chocolate chips, you cannot simply melt carob chips, or they will break down and become dry and crumbly. Over a double-boiler, heat 2 teaspoons of coconut or canola oil to 8 ounces of carob chips, stirring until melted and smooth. Alternatively, heat 4 ounces of milk until it is warm and slowly add carob chips to the liquid. Stir until the chips are incorporated and the mixture is smooth. If a paste forms, add a little more milk.
- Scientific American: Carob versus Chocolate
- The Kitchn: The Other Chocolate Chip - Carob Chips
- Bon Appetit: Carob Chips
- Los Angeles Times: Chocolate vs.Carob - Too Close to Call
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
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