I, fortunately, was not one of those traumatized ’70s kids force-fed an ultra-natural foods diet. We ate more white bread than white beans and drank red and blue Kool-Aid sweetened with white, processed sugar. And while the bag of chocolate chips in the pantry didn’t always sport a name brand, the morsels in it – and subsequently the ones in our cookies – were chocolate, not carob, and therefore melted as they were supposed to do.

But since learning that carob is an ancient waste-not, want-not ingredient, it’s piqued my curiosity. That’s right, every part of the dark, elongated pods, the fruit (also called locust bean and St. John’s bread) of these leguminous evergreen shrubs, can be consumed by humans and their pets in some form.

Native to the Middle East, where they have been cultivated for over 4,000 years, dome-shaped carob trees and bushes are drought resistant, enjoy dry, rocky sites, grow in any soil except heavy clay and are very tolerant of salt. Carob’s value was recognized by the ancient Greeks, who brought it from the Middle East to Greece and Italy, and by the Arabs, who disseminated it along the North African coast and north into Spain and Portugal. Carob groves have also taken root in Australia. In these countries, carob trees’ root systems help fix nitrogen into the soil and provide a revenue stream for rural farmers.

The seeds are removed from the carob pods as a primary step of commercial processing. They are processed into locust bean gum, a thickening agent, emulsifier and stabilizer widely used in beverages, candy, desserts, ice cream, salad dressings, cheeses, jelly and baked goods. It’s also used in pet foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The pods’ pulp and their outer casings are roasted and then either ground into a powder or long boiled to make syrups. The powder, also called carob flour, can be used as a naturally sweet, low-calorie, no-fat, caffeine-free substitute for cocoa powder. Widely tapped as a chocolate substitute in the modern American health food market in everything from bars to protein shakes, the value of the carob powder market in the U.S. could rise from $50 million last year to $70 million in 2026, according to San Francisco-based Grand View Research.

To substitute carob powder in existing recipes that call for chocolate, replace one part cocoa powder with one to two parts carob powder by weight. To substitute for chocolate squares in your baking, use 3 tablespoons carob powder and 1 tablespoon water, vegetable oil, milk or non-dairy milk in place of each 1-ounce square of chocolate required by the recipe. Because carob powder is naturally sweet, many bakers also cut down on the amount of sugar. Adjust your sugar content according to your own taste.

Using carob molasses as an additive for savory cooking tempts me more, and I’ve played with it in everything from baked beans to salad dressings. As I work toward a more plant-forward diet, carob molasses not only adds umami-like depth of flavor I am used to getting from animal protein products, bio-chemically, it also offers hydroxyproline, an amino acid not found in many plants but necessary for the human body’s production of collagen.

Carob molasses is a thick syrup made by soaking milled carob pods in water and reducing the extracted liquid. Think of it as an only vaguely chocolatey counterpoint to sweet and sour pomegranate molasses. Before substituting it on a one-to-one basis with the sugar-based molasses you know, taste it by drizzling just a bit over a sharp cheddar. The combination will help you understand how its sweetness sets off the savory elements of the cheese. Even if you were one of those ’70s kids force-fed an ultra-natural foods diet, I’m willing to bet it won’t be a traumatizing experience.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

A jar of carob molasses. The radishes go into a salad that’s a nice accompaniment to the Carob Molasses Baked Beans. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Carob Molasses Baked Beans

These are an umami bomb, so I serve them with a crunchy shaved radish salad dressed with a dressing that has equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, and sweetened to taste with a bit of carob molasses. You can find carob molasses in local health food stores or online.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut in medium dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups tomato puree
1½ cups vegetable stock or water
½ cup carob molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound dried white beans, soaked overnight
2 bay leaves
1 piece smoked dulse seaweed

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over low heat. Add the onion and cook onion is tender and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato puree, stock or water, carob molasses, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, mustard and paprika. Stir to combine. Add the soaked beans, bay leaves and dulse. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the preheated oven. Continue to cook until the beans are tender, 2 to 2½ hours.

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