The Health Benefits of Carob

Carob: Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, Storage, and Preparation

Carob

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Carob or Ceratonia siliqua, not to be confused with cacao (from which chocolate is made), is a member of the pea family and native to the eastern Mediterranean region. The fruit of the carob tree are called pods and are brown in color.

Other names for carob include Algarrobo, Caroube, Carouge, Garrotero, Locust Bean, Locust Bean Gum, Locust Pods, Pain de Saint Jean-Baptiste, St. John's Bread, Sugar Pods.

The pods and pulp of carob are edible, naturally sweet, and highly nutritious. Carob often replaces chocolate in recipes, yielding a lower fat, higher fiber product. Carob is also caffeine and gluten-free. It is often used in vegan meal plans. Carob and locust bean gum (an additive derived from carob) can be used as additives in non-food products, such as cosmetics as well as in pet foods.

Health Benefits

Nutrient-Dense and Low in Calories

Carob (unsweetened) is a low-calorie, naturally sweet alternative to chocolate. It is rich in filling fiber and low in fat. Fiber, the indigestible part of carbohydrate, has been linked to a healthier weight, improved blood sugar control, and reduced cholesterol. 

Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian and founder of Real Nutrition, says, “Carob can also help with weight loss since consumption helps to decrease the amount of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) produced in the body and therefore overall appetite.”

Variety of Bioactive Compounds

Carob pods contain bioactive compounds such as dietary fiber, polyphenols, flavonoids, cyclitols, (like d-pinitol) and tannins. These compounds have been associated with a variety of health benefits including, glycemic (blood sugar) control, cholesterol reduction, anticancer effects, and many more.

Rich in Phytochemicals

Carob is rich in phytochemical compounds that have been shown in the literature to have antitumor, antiproliferative, and proapoptotic activity (the disassembly of a cell). One of its phytochemicals, quercetin (which is also found in apples) has been shown to promote the death of leukemic cancer cells.

Additionally, many animal studies suggest the beneficial effects of carob compounds on a variety of different cancers. Keep in mind that these studies are conducted on animals and more research is indicated to determine the anticancer effects of carob on humans.

Good Source of Calcium

Carob is a non-dairy source of calcium. Two tablespoons contain about four percent of the daily value recommended for calcium. Studies show that calcium-rich diets may decrease the risk of osteoporosis and aid in weight management.

Macro and Micronutrients

Carob fruits also contain many micronutrients, which are important minerals including iron, copper, zinc, manganese, nickel, barium, and cobalt. It is also rich in fat-soluble vitamin A. Shapiro notes, “Carob is rich in vitamin A and therefore can assist in eye health and prevent or decrease macular degeneration.”

Treatment of Diarrhea

Carob is rich in pectin and tannins which may be why it has been used in the treatment of diarrhea. In a systematic review published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that the use of carob bean juice was beneficial in the treatment of diarrhea. The researchers also noted that more research is indicated to determine the validity of the results.

May Reduce Regurgitation in Infants

Several studies have shown that when infants are fed formula with locust bean gum (carob), as compared to a control formula they experience fewer episodes of regurgitation. But they did not observe any difference in delayed gastric emptying (which can also cause reflux in infants) when formulas were supplemented with carob.

Contains No Calcium Leaching Oxalates

Unlike chocolate, carob does not contain oxalates. Oxalates are natural compounds found in many foods that bind to calcium and are eliminated in the stool, therefore promoting calcium excretion. A diet high in oxalates can increase your chance of developing kidney stones, especially if you have a history of kidney stones.

Therefore, carob may be a good alternative for chocolate in those people with a history of kidney stones who need to eat a low or modified oxalate diet.

Vegan and Gluten-Free

Most varieties of unsweetened carb are dairy-free. Always read labels, though, because some sweetened carob varieties have added ingredients that can include milk and carob may be processed in a facility that contains milk, soy, wheat, or other ingredients. All natural, unsweetened carob is also gluten-free and can be used in gluten-free baking.

Caffeine-Free

Carob is caffeine free and can be a good chocolate alternative for children or adults who are sensitive to caffeine.

Nutritional Profile: Carob vs. Cacao

Shapiro notes that carob is also lower in sugar and fat than some chocolates (cacao) and contains protein, making it a great choice for those with diabetes.

The nutrition profiles of unsweetened cacao and carob are similar; however, carob contains no fat and slightly more carbohydrates and fiber than cacao. Depending on the brand, and whether or not the cacao or carob has been sweetened, the nutrition profile will differ.

Generally, one tablespoon of unsweetened cacoa contains 35 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 9 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams sugar, 6 grams fiber, 3 grams protein, and 19 milligrams calcium.

Comparatively, unsweetened carob contains roughly, 35 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber (24 percent daily value) 7 g sugar, and 52 mg calcium.

Although carob has more sugar and carbohydrates that cacao, its natural sweetness lends to less added sugar when making recipes that call for cacao.

Cacao is more bitter and when cooking with it, recipes usually need more sugar to counter that flavor.

The nutrition content will also depend on what form the carob is in and whether it is sweetened. For example, two tablespoons of carob nibbles provide 70 calories, 0 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 18 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 2 g protein, and 52 mg calcium.

Two tablespoons of sweetened carob chips contain 80 calories, 4.5 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg sodium, 10 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 0 g protein, and 0 g calcium. Note that the fat content in sweetened carob is almost five times as much as unsweetened carob.

Possible Side Effects

There doesn't appear to be any side effects when taking carob; however, always be sure to discuss use with your medical team, especially if you are taking more than the amounts found in food.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, discuss the use of carob with your physicians to determine its safety. While it's probably okay to use it, it is always best to use caution.

Typically people who are allergic to chocolate, nuts, and tree nuts do not have reactions to carob; however, it is not impossible to be allergic. If you are worried about an allergy, discuss carob ingestion with your doctor before use.

Dosage and Preparation

There is no set dosage for carob, as it is not an essential vitamin, mineral, or supplement. Serving sizes are usually indicated on labels and typical servings are about two tablespoons. If you are using carob as a supplement for your infant or child, always ask your pediatrician for suggested dose and safety.

How to Prepare Carob

You can use carob to make smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal, muffins, breads, or as a replacement for chocolate in granola and nut-mixes. When replacing chocolate in recipes, you can substitute directly 1:1 in any recipe.

If you'd like to experiment with carob, you can give one of these recipes a try.

  • Carob peppermint smoothie: Smoothies are a great breakfast alternative or snack.
  • Carob Nutella: use this spread to top whole grain rice cakes, toast or add a dollop to oatmeal or yogurt for a delicious and nutritious meal:

Storage

Store carob flour, chips, nibbles and pieces in an air-tight container in a cool, dry pantry. If you are using powder and notice that it lumps up, simply sift it before using.

What to Look For

Aim to purchase carob in its natural form. When possible, purchase unsweetened carob powder and carob chips—some carob chips are sweetened with sugar. Carob powder can be raw or roasted and chips can look like chocolate chips or are sold in “nibbles and pieces.”

Always read ingredient lists and watch out for added sweeteners, oils, and emulsifiers. For example, some chips have added ingredients such as sugar, palm kernel and palm oil, non-fat milk powder, and sunflower lecithin (Emulsifier). These additives will increase the calories, fat, and sugar in the product.

Other Questions

How is carob flour made?

Carob flour and carob powder are terms that are used interchangeably. Carob flour is made by grinding ripe carob pods.

Does it taste good?

Taste is always a personal preference and will depend on your pallet. On its own, unsweetened carob pieces aren't always the most appetizing, but they are very satiating and can pair well with mixed nuts.

Additionally, using carob chips in cookies or other baked goods can be a good substitution for chocolate. Lastly, many people enjoy carob powder when added to smoothies, pancakes, breads, muffins, energy and nutrition bars.

Is carob used to make locust bean gum?

Yes. Carob seeds are commonly used to make locust bean gum, which is an ingredient in ice cream.

A Word From Verywell

Carob is a naturally sweet chocolate alternative that can be used as a substitute for chocolate. Carob contains a variety of naturally occurring compounds such as polyphenols, tannins, fiber, phytochemicals, and minerals that have been shown to provide a wealth of health benefits. While it may not taste exceptional on its own, it can be used as an ingredient in many recipes that call for chocolate, yielding a higher fiber, lower fat, and lower sugar product. When purchasing, aim to purchase unsweetened carob and read the ingredient lists.

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Article Sources

  • Anheyer, D. et. al. Herbal medicines for gastrointestinal disorders in children and adolescents: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2017 Jun;139(6). DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-0062.

  • Goulas, V. et. al. The functional components of carob fruit: linking the chemical and biological space. Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Nov; 17(11): 1875. DOI: 10.3390/ijms17111875

  • National Kidney Foundation. Calcium oxalate stones.