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The tofu of chocolate

By Shefali Kulkarni Staff writer

Don’t be fooled by carob.

The dark chips look like chocolate, smell like chocolate and have the same consistency as chocolate. But one taste and you’ll know it’s certainly not chocolate.

Carob is an overlooked ingredient. Sometimes called Saint John’s bread or locust, it’s known as a chocolate substitute but chocoholics know better than to compare carob to chocolate.

Carob can be a nutritious alternative to the sweets we eat. But in her book, “The Moosewood Cookbook,” vegetarian chef Mollie Katzen recommends that one should appreciate carob for its own unique qualities, rather than as a chocolate substitute. Yet on its own, carob is not the hottest organic ingredient at the grocery store.

Eight years working at Huckleberry’s on South Monroe Street, and bulk foods manager Amy Clark has yet to see the day when her supply of carob powder, chips or candy has run too low because of high demand.

“I haven’t seen the trends change that much. The demand stays pretty steady, but there is a core following,” she says.

Carob is the ‘tofu’ of chocolate, meaning it can be used as a substitute while never coming close to the rich taste of chocolate. Chris Bansemer, owner of Lorien Herbs and Natural Foods on Perry Street, says that carob powder has always been a staple in her store and she’s been open for almost 10 years now.

“It’s a pretty commonly used natural food product. It’s naturally sweet and it’s really good in homemade rye or pumpernickel bread,” she says.

Clark said if she was desperate, she might turn to carob, but in general it’s something she eats entirely separate from chocolate.

“There is such a difference in flavor. If I want chocolate, I’d eat chocolate, but for some people that isn’t an option,” she says. Carob is often used by people who are allergic to chocolate or want a healthy alternative to chocolate. Caffeine-free and low in fat, carob is a legume and it’s also high in fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals and contains iron and calcium. Slightly bitter, the closest thing taste-wise to compare carob to is dark chocolate. Carob powder is just as bitter as unsweetened cocoa powder yet it comes in various roasts like coffee.

Solid carob is often sweetened with grain syrup, but it’s not as sweet as milk chocolate. When her children were younger, Bansemer would make carob balls out of carob powder, peanut butter, nuts and seeds and honey, then roll the balls in shredded coconut and cool them in the fridge.

“They get a nice fudgy consistency,” she says. She liked giving her kids something other than chocolate all the time. It was a refreshing change for her.

There are those who use carob as much as they use chocolate. Modern chefs dabbling in vegan cuisine use carob as a regular ingredient in desserts. Chefs like Matt Amsden, author of the RAWvolution, use carob as part of his completely uncooked gourmet cuisine – which is quite a phenomenon in southern California.

The pod was first introduced in the U.S. by Spanish missionaries in southern California. They brought seeds from the Mediterranean and the trees flourished in the dry hot weather of the south. It was first used to flavor tobacco and dog biscuits.

Here in the Inland Northwest carob is making a meek appearance. Stores like the Super Supplements on North Ruby Street have carob powder. Huckleberry’s carries carob chips, powder and even some carob candy.

Coconut Fudge

Matt Amsden, author of “The RAWvolution”

3 cups raw walnuts

1/2 cup carob powder

2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut

5/8 cup of agave nectar (see note)

Grind the walnuts in a food processor until they have a buttery consistency.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the carob powder and shredded coconut and mix well. Add the ground walnuts and the agave nectar and mix well.

Press the mixture into an 8-inch square glass baking dish, creating a flat, even, layer approximately 3/4-inch thick. Cut into squares and serve. Or cover and freeze until thoroughly chilled for a more solid consistency before cutting and serving.

Note: Agave nectar can be found at many natural food stores or online at www.rawfood.com.

Yield: 9 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.

Iced Carob Brownies

From Mollie Katzen, author of the “Moosewood Cookbook”

Butter or margarine for the pan

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter or margarine

1/4 cup carob powder

2 eggs

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raisins or currants

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Optional: a dash or two of cinnamon and/or allspice

Icing:

1/4 cup carob powder

8 ounce (1 package) of cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan.

Beat together butter, carob, eggs, sugar and vanilla in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the water.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir this into the first mixture along with raisins, nuts and optional spices. Mix just enough to blend thoroughly.

Spread into the prepared pan and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a probe comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

For icing:

Beat everything together until very smooth. Spread on top of the cooled brownies.

Yield: About 8 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate.

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