Should you choose carob or chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift? These facts may help you decide.
Nutrition in Chocolate
Chocolate has some good news. Its flavinoids, those dark brown water-soluble pigments, serve as antioxidants which may slow the aging process.
There is some evidence that the pure cocoa in chocolate helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, for people of the same weight and physical condition. However, the ideal “dose” may be as little as 20 grams of bittersweet, dark chocolate over three days.
The cocoa beans themselves are about 50% fat, in a mix of saturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids. The bean’s carbohydrates include a lot of fibre and starch. The beans alone might not cause a major spike in blood sugar, but they do pack a serious calorie load against a strict diet.
Several of the chemicals in chocolate can contribute to raising a person’s mood. Caffeine and phenylethylamine are mild stimulants. After consuming chocolate, a person’s serotonin levels often rise: this can counteract mild feelings of depression.
Pet owners should realize that chocolate’s theobromine is dangerous to cats, dogs and several other pets. True chocolate is not a good treat for these animals.
Finally, remember that chocolate by itself is bitter; its sweetness depends on the amount of sugar added to the confection or cake. Milk chocolate, of course, also adds dairy fat and milk sugar to the cocoa.
The bottom line in chocolate nutrition is that 100 grams of chocolate may contain anywhere from 200 to 550 calories. If it has more than 25% fat, it has a lot of calories.
Nutrition in Carob
Only about ten per cent of a carob pod is the seed; the rest is pulp. The pulp contains a combination of sugars, saturated and unsaturated fats, and about 20% fibre. The seeds add protein and antioxidants to the nutritional value of carob.
Although carob pods have been fed to livestock for centuries, this was generally not seen as a way to fatten up the animals for slaughter. People would eat the pods, too, but generally as a small treat. Only in the lean times of famine would people try to survive on carob pods.
Carob has been highly regarded as a healthier substitute for chocolate. In recent years, the most discriminating people have even begun seeking organic raw carob powder.
One medicinal use for carob is to counteract diarrhea; carob’s fibre and tannin may contribute to this effect. If you make carob a regular part of your diet, you should drink extra water to stay regular.
Carob has about two-thirds the calories of chocolate, with more carbohydrate but less fat. This percentage means that 100 grams of carob would count for about 130 to 365 calories.
The Social and Environmental Arguments for Carob and Chocolate
Cocoa, or cacao, trees grow in hot rainy forests. Seedlings are protected by being planted beneath mature trees such as banana or plantain. The cocoa trees require fertilizer to produce optimal yields.
Carob trees grow in warm, dry Mediterranean climates. They do well in poor soil and do not require fertilizer. Carob also shares space in orchards, growing beside almond or olive trees. They can also be planted in vineyards or in barley fields, where they help hold the soil during droughts.
The cocoa tree seems to require more help resisting attacks from insects and fungus. Some interesting research projects are trying to find ways to use beneficial strains of symbiotic fungus to keep the detrimental fungus at bay.
Carob trees are relatively resistant, although they too have insect pests and fungal infections. Part of the resistance may be due to the different climates in which these different trees thrive.
Both trees require significant labour at harvest time. One can argue in favour of this, since farm labourers generally are among the poorest and most desperate people in their regions. It is odd, however, that several nations in western Africa encourage their plantation owners to obtain certificates that they do not use “child labour” or “forced adult labor”.
The Bottom Line
As a once-a-year indulgence, a Valentine’s Day gift is more about the recipient’s taste than clinical or social benefits. However, a gift that looks to the best interests of the recipient should be well received, so long as it is well explained.
- Batlle and Tous, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, PDF “Carob Tree (Ceratonia siliqua L.)“, published 1997, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.
- World Cocoa Foundation, “Growing the Cocoa Bean“, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.
- World Cocoa Foundation, “Pest and Disease Control“, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.
- World Cocoa Foundation, “Addressing Child Labor“, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.
- CacaoWeb, “Nutrition Facts for Cocoa and Chocolate“, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.
- Physical Nutrition, “Carob“, originally published 2004, referenced Jan. 28, 2011.