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In Defense of Carob: The Chocolate Queen Weighs in

Poor carob! Most of us think of it as a yucky (if supposedly more healthy) substitute for chocolate. Jonathan Kauffman's recent piece in The New Yorker brought back memories of the year I was pronounced “allergic to chocolate” (and a bazillion other things) and fed carob bars by chocolate-loving parents. This was in the '50s, a generation before the hippie era. I went on to become an omnivore and to make an entire career out of chocolate.

Kauffman's relationship with carob seems to have survived childhood food trauma as well (his new book, Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Have Changed the Way We Eat explores the origins of this uniquely American cuisine). But for a second, he did arouse my old disdain for carob. But then I wanted to say, "Hey there, we’re grown-ups (and food professionals) now—and there’s some fun to be had here!"

What would I make of carob with a fresh and open mind?

How Does Alice Medrich, Dessert Cookbook Powerhouse, Eat to Feel Her Best? by Alice Medrich

Amelia Saltsman’s compelling Carob Ice Cream—with hints of caramel and stout—from her superb book, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, had piqued my curiosity even before Kauffman pushed me into action. Why not consider carob in its own right, for what it is rather than what it isn’t? (And, really people—what food could possibly stand up in comparison to chocolate anyway?). I would not make the fatal mistake of revisiting unappetizing recipes from the '70s (ugh) or the '50s either!

Based on Amelia’s ice cream, I decided to “rediscover” carob with carob molasses—saving powdered carob and carob flour for another time. Carob molasses is made from soaking and cooking the pods of the locust bean tree into a thick sweet and flavorful syrup. Before hitting “send” on my online order, I discovered that local Middle Eastern groceries carry it. I love cruising those markets, so off I went to acquire a jar (Zarrin Organic Carob Molasses, in case you're wondering) and stocked up on good tahini and halvah.

I tasted with an open mind, and with no thought of how like or unlike chocolate it might be. Carob molasses is a dark, slightly gelled syrup. It has an almost pungent, roasted, sweet-ish aroma with intense caramely, jammy dried fruit flavors, perhaps pruney or raisiny, with a note of burnt toast, a nuance of chocolate, and some bitterness. Okay—it’s not something you eat straight from the jar (although I might be getting there!), and perhaps, like many unfamiliar things, it might be an acquired taste.

My First Tasting Notes & Thoughts Milk—dairy and non-dairy

Dissolved in warm almond milk (and frothed!), it was a delicious comforting before-bed treat. (I used about 2 teaspoons of carob molasses for 8 ounces of milk.)

Warmed and frothed in dairy milk, I picked up a nuance of the old “chocolate substitute” carob—definite cocoa notes, but with a pronounced aroma and background flavor best described as sweet, almost cloying (possibly fermenting), dried fruit. The latter might be a trigger for haters or people with carob in their past, but I liked it. One of my tasters who loved the warm frothy almond milk did not like the warm frothy dairy milk.

If you like it in milk, it will be good in cream. That means it should make a nice panna cotta. Even if the effect and aroma in warm milk was not appealing, it may play differently in a cold dessert….

Amelia’s carob ice cream proved that egg-based custards work well with carob: This makes me think about making a carob crème caramel or crème anglaise.

Flans with Muscovado Sauce Flans with Muscovado Sauce by Alice Medrich Crème Anglaise Crème Anglaise by Erin McDowell Fresh Cheeses and Cultured Milks

I went on to taste carob molasses drizzled—as one might drizzle honey or date syrup—over a variety of fresh (and one brined) cheeses and cultured dairy products:

Feta: Not awful, but not worth repeating. The salt is the problem here, I think. Nonfat yogurt: Lovely (alone or with accompanying drizzle of tahini)! Even better and more decadent over whole milk yogurt. Sour cream: Excellent! Cottage cheese: So good, I wanted to keep eating it. Great snack. I have no doubt it will be delicious over ricotta. I plan to taste it on fromage blanc. I think farmer’s cheese will not be as successful (based on feta experience). Vanilla ice cream: Very nice, alone or with a drizzle of tahini. Strange But Good: Are You in the #CottageCheeseClub? Strange But Good: Are You in the #CottageCheeseClub? by Caroline Lange Alice's Vanilla Ice Cream 2.0 Alice's Vanilla Ice Cream 2.0 by Alice Medrich Fruits and Nuts Banana: Not bad, but not especially good. Strawberry: Fair—not as good as I’d hoped. Oranges: No! Walnuts: Meh. Almonds: Not special (I wondered if it would be better with toasted almonds). Almond butter: Good partner! Toasted almonds in the butter made the difference, thus toasted almonds will be good partners, too. Peanut butter: Also good! Tahini: Terrific. And finally… A shot of bourbon: Very tasty and definitely food for further thought! Conclusions

Think of carob molasses as very flavorful sweetener, like honey, date syrup, molasses, pomegranate molasses, etc. It is slightly gelled in the jar and must be warmed slightly in order to mix into other ingredients or to drizzle over a dessert. Dissolving it into dairy or non-dairy beverages or an ice cream base brings out its subtler flavor notes—even if you don’t care for it in dairy milk, try almond milk. You can also use it undiluted, more intense, as a drizzle.

Based on my first tastes above, I can imagine an ice cream sundae of vanilla ice cream (or Amelia Saltsman’s Carob Ice cream) drizzled with both tahini and carob molasses, and topped with toasted almonds. I can imagine it used in place of the honey drizzle for my Yogurt Tart 2.0 or as a drizzle over the Labneh Tart it was based on. I would definitely eat toast with almond or peanut butters or tahini drizzled with carob. Ditto a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese as a snack. I will definitely explore making a carob simple syrup for cocktails, and I plan to make a carob-sicle next summer, based on my recipe for fudgesicles.

Keep an open mind—try carob again for the first time!

Yogurt Tart 2.0 Yogurt Tart 2.0 by Alice Medrich Alice Medrich's Labneh (Lebni, Labni) Tart Alice Medrich's Labneh (Lebni, Labni) Tart by Nicholas Day

How do you enjoy carob? Let us know your experiences with this specialty ingredient below.

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