|Carob trees in Albufeira, Portugal.|
Carob is a bean, which grows in pods on a tree or shrub. These trees grow wild in the Mediterranean, which, in my most- exciting world travels, I encountered wild in the Algarve of Portugal. When I was there, it was mid-March, and the beans weren't quite ripe on the trees. Even though I couldn't try any fresh, I was determined to sample some local carob cuisine. I had heard that little carob cakes were common to the area, and asked every single bakery that I encountered if they carried any.
There was one problem though-- I didn't speak Portuguese, and the bakers didn't speak Spanish, or English. And the word for "carob" in Portuguese is... nothing like "carob" in English. But of course I couldn't remember what it was. With a combination of Spanglish and hand gestures, "Es como chocolate... a powder, like chocolate... se crece en los arobles aqui... grows in bean pods...???" No use.
Another feature of Portugal: restaurant "advertisers" linger in populated areas outside of their joints to lure in customers. To nab the most tourists, most of these gems of salesmen seemed to be multilingual. After a bad experience being lured into a restaurant that served the grossest fish ever plus charged a euro for each slice of bread eaten plus a euro for each tiny packet of butter/cream/cheese/anchovy condiments used or opened, I figured the restauranteers owed me one.
So, we chatted one up, and then slipped in "HEY what's the Portuguese word for Carob?" --"Carob, what's Carob?" ... and, the usual half-coherent description ensued- but at least this time it could be in all English. After asking at least three other people, our restaurant guy finally found an old bearded man who got it-- and gave us the magic word. ALFARROBAS!
Alfarrobas!? No wonder I didn't associate that with "carob!" Not only did said bearded an give us the word, but he also supplied directions to the only bakery in town that he claimed carried them. So, off we went, on a 20 minute walk uphill to the magic bakery!!
And there it was. And, full of little carob-fig treats that were... well, really pretty anticlimactic, overly sweet, and not too wonderful. But, I had fulfilled my Portuguese carob fantasy. (#WINNING :) )
SO: The moral of this story (or long-winded tangent) is that I will be whipping up some much-yummier Portuguese confections, using the wonderful carob. Be prepared, it's going to be GREAT. As in, I already translated purely authentic Portuguese recipes, which I will be posting complete with vocab lists.
But that is all to come.
In the meantime, I would like to share my top three Carob picks for store bought items. For anyone who can't eat chocolate, these will truly be a lifesaver to hold over your cravings. This is a count-down, so BE SURE to scroll all the way down to #1-- it's probably one of the awesomest products I've eaten ever, and truly a rare find.
#3: Sunspire Vegan Carob Chips
Downsides: They really don't melt, and thus are... in reality not so great for baking substitutes. Not as good as the real deal (chocolate chips) but certainly better than nothing at all. When you eat mouthful after mounthful of these straight (have I ever done that? never... --hey, I was stressed out in a dorm room with nothing but Carob to ease the pain!) they taste rather rubbery-- or, it feels like your mouth is kind of coated in tar. Okay what am I talking about, no one in their right mind should do that anyway.
The verdict is that the consistency in baking and excessive eating is not great, but the overall look, feel, and taste is satisfactory.
---> * * * / 5 rating
#2: Rice Dream Mint Carob Chip Ice Cream
What is lacking in this product lies in the ice cream department. Rice dream just never has tasted all that great to me, and although the mint flavor is a step up from the vanilla (which has nothing else to hide it's slight off-flavor), it still just has something... funny about it. Come on, Rice Dream, step it up and bake your stuff taste betterrrrr! Because you know the season of ice cream craving is only just beginning.....
---> *** / 5
And the Grand Winner!
#1: Goldie's Carob Bars
The only problem: these are elusive, too! I have encountered them in only one location: Whole Earth Center in Princeton, NJ. The company website? Equally archaic, with no sales information, and just a link to "Contact Us." These bars are for sale on Amazon, but for $36.42 for a box of 12 bars, they're no steal.
When I visit Princeton, (17 hours, 15 minutes 'til Reunions!) I purchase two treats for my ride home:
1. Rice Cream Mint Chocolate Frozen Pie
2. A Goldie's Carob Bar.
And I eat them in that order on the way home... all of them. And it is AWESOME!! (bi-winning.)
---> ****** / 5 stars. Yes, they're just that great.
Also: please, please, let me know if you find these bars elsewhere! Particularly... in the Northern VA area! <3
In summary: Carob is great.
Let's face it, though-- when you need a chocolate fix, you just need the real deal. Without that caffeine and theobromine, that serotonin boost is just lacking with carob. The taste is different, the caffeine-high is lacking, but replacing chocolate with carob can benefit your body, and, even taste-wise, is a respectable substitute. (Remember: seventeen times less fat!!)
Sunspire's website sums it up best:
" Carob is a tree-grown fruit with its own natural sugars that impart subtle sweetness and a mellow taste. According to renowned vegetarian chef, Mollie Katzen, carob has its own flavor characteristics. Referring to it as alternative to chocolate sets up an unrealistic taste expectation instead of enjoying carob for the uniquely sweet treat that it is. "But, enjoying Carob for Carob itself, in all its Carob-y glory? Spectacular.
More information on Carob and health? Check out http://www.gilead.net/health/carob.html !