Carob may be a healthier alternative to chocolate with beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol. It contains no caffeine, and it’s rich in fiber and antioxidants. However, some people say it falls short when it comes to taste. Read on to learn the health benefits of carob, nutrition facts, and interesting ways to add it to your diet.
Carob is the fruit of the Ceratonia siliqua L. tree, which belongs to the legume family. The tree is native to the Mediterranean region but is also grown in the US and other countries. The fruits are pods, around 10-30cm long, with a wrinkled and leathery surface. The inside of the fruit contains the pulp and seeds [1, 2, 3].
- Rich in fiber and antioxidants
- Improves gut health
- Helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol
- May support fat burning
- Possible allergies in people with peanut or legume allergies
- Chocolate/cocoa tastes better for many
- Like cocoa, it’s usually mixed with vegetable oils and sweeteners
100 g of carob flour provides :
- 222 calories
- 4.6 g protein
- 0.7 g fat
- 89 g carbohydrates
- 40 g fiber
- 348 mg calcium (~35% RDA)
- 827 mg potassium (~50% RDA)
The fruit is ~50% sugar (sucrose, glucose, and fructose), 3-5% protein, and low in fat (up to 1%). It contains all seven essential amino acids (threonine, methionine, valine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine and lysine) [2, 1].
The glycemic index of carob is around 40, making it a low glycemic index food .
Carob may have some advantages over chocolate. For one, carob does not contain any caffeine or theobromine. These stimulants can cause side effects in sensitive people. Carob is also free from the oxalic acid found in cocoa, a major cause of kidney stones [7, 3].
Carob provides better blood sugar control. Two clinical trials compared the effects of a pre-meal snack (cookies) with either carob or chocolate on blood sugar levels and food intake. People given the carob snack had lower blood sugar levels, reported feeling more full, and ate less food at the following meal .
Compared with semi-sweet chocolate, carob contains less than half the calories, almost zero fat and six times the amount of fiber. It packs ten times as much calcium and more than double the amount of potassium and folate [9, 5]
Chocolate might still have some advantages over carob. For example, cocoa flavonoids may improve cognitive function and enhance mood. But too much cocoa may trigger migraines and acne, while many of its antioxidants are lost during chocolate manufacturing [10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15].
Bottom line? Carob may be a healthy alternative to chocolate, especially for those avoiding caffeine. But it may not please everyone’s taste buds. Many people presented with carob as a chocolate substitute are thoroughly disappointed. Try it as a unique alternative, but don’t expect the same taste .
Carob is a major source of dietary fiber. The pods and pulp contain mainly insoluble fibers and the seeds pack soluble fiber. Its soluble fiber is made of polysaccharides or long sugar chains (of mannose and galactose). Carob seed extract is also known as bean gum .
- Phenolic acids (such as gallic acid)
- Flavonoids (mainly quercetin and myricetin)
- Tannins (mostly proanthocyanidins)
Being a member of the legume family, carob contains some antinutrients such as phytic acid and lectins. Since these are mainly found in the seeds, you can minimize their intake by avoiding the seeds. Heating also helps to destroy antinutrients. Thus, roasted carob powder will be more tolerable than raw carob for those with sensitivities .
The good news is that carob does not seem to reduce the absorption of nutrients from food. In one study, carob gum did not change mineral balance given before a meal. Instead, it acted as a stool-bulking compound without blocking mineral absorption from food .
Carob bean gum helps gastroesophageal reflux in babies. Gastroesophageal reflux is the technical term for burping up food. In 14 babies, carob bean gum added to formulas reduced both the frequency and amount of regurgitations .
Another clinical trial with 39 babies had similar results: formula with added carob gum reduced regurgitations. Regular intake also slowed stomach emptying .
Carob may improve diarrhea. In a clinical trial, 41 babies (3-21 months old) were given either carob powder or placebo. Carob cut the duration of diarrhea in half. The powder contained 40% tannins, 21% polyphenols, and 26% fiber .
Similarly, carob juice reduced diarrhea in a trial of 80 babies (4-48 months) given with an oral hydration solution. Compared with the hydration solution alone, carob juice reduced the duration of diarrhea by 45%. It also protected against high sodium levels (hypernatremia) .
In a trial of 12 men, carob bean gum (0.75 g fiber per 100 calories food), lowered total and LDL cholesterol after 4 weeks. It also increased the HDL to LDL ratio, which is linked with heart-protective effects .
Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol levels. In 18 people with the condition, carob bean gum lowered total and LDL cholesterol while increasing the HDL to LDL ratio .
In a clinical trial of 19 healthy people, carob fiber lowered several markers associated with weight gain after a meal. Among others, it powerfully reduced acylated ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Plus, it lowered triglycerides and fatty acids, pointing to carob’s fat-burning action .
In a trial of 40 healthy people, inositol from carob lowered blood sugar and insulin after meals. It also lowered markers of insulin resistance, which points to its value for people with type 2 diabetes .
In another study, 20g of carob fiber along with a sugar drink kept blood sugar and insulin levels in check. But lower doses (5g or 10g) couldn’t prevent sugar and insulin spikes in 20 healthy people. Also, at least 10g are needed to decrease the hunger hormone ghrelin .
In a trial of 40 people with prediabetes, inositol from carob lowered blood sugar and insulin levels. All people experienced the benefit, but the effect was stronger in non-obese people .
The studies mentioned above used various forms of carob, most of which are commercially available. You’ll be able to find all of the following:
- Carob powder (go for pure, natural, roasted powder)
- Bean gum
- Carob chocolate and syrup
Try out different products to find the taste you enjoy most – whether you’re seeking a cocoa alternative or simply want to try carob out. But always check the label to make sure the carob you’re getting doesn’t contain added sugars.
Carob powder is usually made from the pods (without seeds). It contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. You can add it to smoothies, shakes, or use in baking. The seeds contain the highest amounts of antinutrients, making carob powder a better option .
Carob chocolate is typically made using around 60% carob powder, which is mixed with vegetable or cocoa butter and sometimes carob syrup. Carob syrup is made from ground pods that are boiled for thicker consistency .
Carob bean gum is a soluble extract made from the seeds. Bean gum is mainly used as a thickening agent and for feeding livestock. It can also be used as a stool-bulking agent for reducing diarrhea .
Carob is great for digestion, helps keep blood sugar and fat in check, and gives a fair amount of antioxidant polyphenols and other nutrients.
Chocolate-lovers can’t decide whether they love or hate carob; try it out for yourself and decide. When it comes to the health effects, carob has important advantages over chocolate; it’s caffeine-free, naturally sweet, and high in fiber. And unlike chocolate, carob is safe for dogs and cats.