Carob Vs. Cacao: SPICEography Showdown

Both carob and cacao are considered healthier alternatives to cocoa powder. They both provide important nutritional advantages over traditional cocoa powder, but how do they compare to each other? Are they interchangeable? What are the best ways to use each of them? We will consider these and other questions in this installment of SPICEography Showdown.

What are the differences between carob and cacao?

Carob and cacao differ in a number of major areas including their source, their health benefits and their flavor. Carob comes from a legume that grows in the Mediterranean. The pulp within the pods is dried and roasted to make carob powder which is a popular chocolate substitute. In fact, it is the most popular cocoa powder substitute. Cacao powder comes from cacao plants that are cultivated in South America and in West Africa. The beans used to make cacao powder are also used to make cocoa powder. When making cacao powder, the beans are heated at a low temperature to separate the cocoa butter and then they are ground to a powder. The important factor that differentiates cacao powder from cocoa powder is the fact that the beans are not roasted for cacao, just lightly heated.

While both carob and cacao are beneficial for health, their benefits come in different ways. Carob is a good source of vitamins B and A along with minerals like iron and potassium. Cacao powder contains a high concentration of flavonoids along with fiber and a significant amount of magnesium. The flavonoids and other nutrients are believed by some to make it valuable for preventing cancer, though the jury is still out on just how bioavailable they are. The fact that cacao is processed at a lower temperature allows it to retain much of its nutritional value.

Carob’s flavor is nutty and sweet while cacao has a somewhat bitter flavor that is closer to that of cocoa powder.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Carob can be used in place of cacao in almost any recipe and should result in a mellower tasting final product in most cases. The dish will look like it contains cacao, but will not taste much like it.

Most recipes that require carob can work with cacao powder in the sense that they should still have the same texture and appearance; however, the taste can be quite intense. That intensity is magnified if you are not accustomed to it. It may be worthwhile to spend a little extra time making a test batch before you make a full recipe.

When should you use carob and when should you use cacao?

There are a number reasons for using one in place of the other. You can use carob as a substitute for cacao in a recipe where you want a deep chocolate color, but without the bitterness that cacao can bring. It can also be a good cacao alternative if you are sensitive to the effects of caffeine as cacao contains a significant amount of it. There is also the fact that carob is cheaper than cacao.

You can use cacao in place of carob if you want to get all the flavonoids that it offers and want to give your dish a deep, chocolate flavor.