Carob is best known as an alternative to products made with cocoa. It is easily the most popular natural substitute for products from the Theobroma cacao tree, which is the tree from which cocoa beans are harvested. Carob powder is made from pods from the Ceratonia siliqua tree, which is not related to Theobroma cacao. While you should be able to find carob powder in some well-stocked grocery stores, it may not always be available or budget-friendly. If you need an emergency carob powder substitute, consider one of the easier-to-find options below.
Your best bet: Cocoa powder
Just as carob powder is often used in place of cocoa powder, cocoa powder can be used in place of carob as long as you keep a couple factors in mind. One is that while the two have similar appearances, carob powder does not have cocoa powder’s distinctive and intense flavor. This means that if when you use cocoa powder as a carob substitute, you will be giving your dish the unmistakable flavor of chocolate. In most cases, this will be a good thing; however, it may be undesirable in others.
Another thing to note is that in addition to its flavor, cocoa powder contains both caffeine and theobromine. Theobromine and caffeine are stimulants and mood enhancers, which may be why many consider products flavored with cocoa powder to be addictive. While most people may not have a problem with these effects, the stimulant properties can cause insomnia and anxiety for some.
You can use cocoa powder as a 1:1 substitute for carob in your recipes, but note that the chocolate flavor may be on the strong side at that ratio. Consider using half the amount of cocoa powder that your recipe requires for carob powder and increasing the amount to taste.
A decent second choice: Unsweetened dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is another way to use products derived from the cocoa bean as a substitute for carob powder. Chocolate is cocoa powder that has had some of the cocoa solids mixed back in. In some cases, a certain amount of milk and vanilla will also be added. Like cocoa powder, dark chocolate will provide the deep brown color that you want from a carob substitute. Note that the inclusion of cocoa butter (and possibly milk) means that dark chocolate can significantly increase the calories in a dish.
Use one ounce of unsweetened dark chocolate in place of every 3 tablespoons of carob powder that your recipe requires. Adjust the amounts of any other fats in the recipe to compensate for the addition of cocoa butter.
In a pinch: Instant coffee or espresso powder
Instant coffee and espresso powder can both be used in recipes that require carob or cocoa powder. Instant coffee may not provide the same deep, rich brown color that you associate with carob and cocoa powders, but it can still provide a strong flavor with a hint of bitterness.
When using instant coffee or espresso powder in place of carob powder, start with half the amount that your recipe requires for carob powder and increase to taste.
Note that instant coffee powder liquefies, which means that it may not be a good substitute in baked goods where carob powder makes up a significant portion of the dry ingredients.
Cupuacu is a Brazilian fruit that belongs to the cacao family and its flavor has many of the same flavor notes as carob powder. It is processed much like cacao beans and has a similar earthy taste that should make it an excellent stand-in for carob powder.