By Naajiya Nasreen AK, Mohamed Yaseen M B, Mohammed Arshed S, Dr. A. Sangamithra

Have you ever stopped to consider the future of chocolate? With the current El Niño effect (El Niño is a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean) wreaking havoc on cocoa production, that once-easy bite of chocolate may become a luxury in the coming years. Recent studies indicate a huge decline of 11% in the global cocoa market chain. Climate change not only affects the areas where cocoa is grown, but also affects the distribution of pests and diseases affecting this crop. Many pests such as Carmenta theobromae, Conopomorpha cramerella, and Salhbergella singularis also disrupt the cocoa production. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming, changes in rainfall and drought patterns influences the tree’s behavior. Recent studies on the evolution of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, show more difficult transitions between rainy and dry seasons with extreme climatic events which affect crops and soils. Research suggests that the ENSO could cause a decline in cocoa production in Bahia, Brazil’s cocoa agro forests in the coming years. Climate change, alterations in water availability, elevated carbon dioxide levels, and temperature fluctuations can induce changes in tree functioning and physiological traits. These changes may include variations in water use efficiency, gaseous exchange, carbohydrate metabolism, and the translocation of assimilates and nutrients. Global crop production is becoming a hassle and could potentially harm overall food security. The phenomenon is going to disrupt the entire cultivation of products and many others. Although it’s going to interrupt the overall distribution of agricultural output worldwide, this does not only affect food security but is also going to affect impediments to global concerns, inflation, food prices, and conflicts all over the geopolitical world. Frequent climate changes and fluctuating temperatures may result in the decay of cocoa pods and also promote the growth of pests and insects.

Intense change in the climate and the severity of El Niño resulted in the damage to land that is available for cocoa cultivation. This results in the questioning of the life of many farmers, particularly people in West African countries that are most vulnerable to extreme weather changes. The frequent El Niño result will make the land more infertile and result in damage of cocoa cultivation. Many of the farmers from West Africa find it very hard to cultivate, and they are trying to quit the profession due to destitution. Amidst these challenges, Carob emerges as an alternative. While cocoa struggles with uncertainties, Carob, a leguminous pod, stands ready as a potential savior for chocolate lovers around the world.

Cocoa prices are expected to rise due to growing global demand, climate-related challenges, pest outbreaks, and supply chain inefficiencies. These factors, coupled with currency fluctuations and geopolitical tensions, contribute to increased costs for cocoa products. Between 2016 and 2023, the monthly price of cocoa worldwide peaked in October 2023 at about 3,692 U.S. dollars per metric ton. Based on the comparison of earlier years, studies show that the price of cocoa is increasing. Hence, the demand for carob in the market is increasing.

Carob

The carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), is an endemic evergreen tree, belong to the legume family Fabaceae. It is widely grown in the Mediterranean region since ancient times. Carbo is also known as St. John’s bread or locust bean. The carob tree grows in semiarid environments with poor soil. It is best grown at an alkaline or neutral pH. Aside from Cocoa, it only requires 250–500 mm of rainfall per year. The carob tree boasts a remarkable lifespan of 200 years. Carob mainly consists of two constituents: the carob pod and the seeds. About 90 % of the carob pod represents the pulp, which comprises an outer leathery layer, the pericarp, and a softer inner mesocarp. As per FAO, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and Greece are the countries with the largest production of carob. Many value-added products such as carob powder, carob syrup, carob molasses, carob gum are made from Carob.

Nutritional and Health Benefits of Carob

Carob is nature’s hidden gem, which has myriad health benefits, compelling the consumers to seek wholesome alternatives. It promotes hormonal balance within the body and soothing remedy for digestive discomfort. The pod of the carob fruit has long been used as a feed for livestock and human nutrition, including sweets, biscuits, and processed drinks, because of its higher sugar content. It contains 40-50% sugar with sucrose, fructose and glucose and also maltose, raffinose, stachyose and inositols. Carob contains a higher amount of inositols compared to other legumes, which is an arsenal against bacteria, cancer, and cholesterol. It is also rich source of bioactive anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic compounds. Carob contains seven-essential amino acids, making the fruit a good amino acid source. Its gluten-free nature makes it a safe for individuals with celiac disease. Dietary fiber has been shown to have several beneficial physiological effects, such as intestinal function, cholesterol reduction, and increased microbial mass. Carob polyphenols are found mostly in carob pulp, as carob pulp represents ~90% of the carob pod. The most abundant polyphenols in carob pods are phenolic acids. It is also naturally caffeine free and frequently hypoallergenic thus adhering to vegan, lactose free, gluten-free diet among others that people have adopted. Furthermore, it is nutritionally dense, especially in fiber, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Carob offers several advantages over cocoa due to its distinct qualities. Firstly, carob is inherently lack of allergens, rendering it a suitable option for those with cocoa-related sensitivities or allergies. Additionally, carob lacks caffeine, making it a preferable choice for individuals aiming to limit their caffeine consumption or those sensitive to its effects. Moreover, carob boasts a lower fat content compared to cocoa, potentially rendering it a healthier option for those mindful of their fat intake. Additionally, carob is rich in fiber, providing supplementary digestive benefits. Overall, these attributes position carob as a favorable substitute for cocoa, particularly for individuals with dietary restrictions, allergies, or health-conscious inclinations. Other benefits include slimming effect, regulation of glucose and insulin response, satiating effect and improved gut health. The low-fat content of carob consists of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Carob can be an ideal ingredient for the production of low-fat products.

Carob as Cocoa Alternative

Carob is a versatile player in the food industry, having an almost infinite range of applications due to its special flavor, nutritional qualities and functional properties. Carob has a mild sweet taste with some caramel notes which make it highly used as a chocolate alternative in diverse culinary applications such as baking and confectionery. The seeds and pulp from its elongated, dark brown pods are dried and processed into fine powders or transformed into various forms like chips or syrups. Carob powder as a chocolate substitute, finds itself in various products ranging from bars to baked goods that give it natural sweetness and rich color without the caffeine content of cocoa. In cooking, it adds slight sweetness and richness of taste to breads, muffins and brownies. Carob constitutes the confectionery domain, serving as a basis for bars, chips and coated stuff offering healthier alternatives of traditional chocolates with low fat volume and absence of caffeine. Furthermore, carob is seen in some dairy alternatives, like milk chocolate, ice cream or yogurt, acting as their lactose-free alternative. Apart from being just a treat, carob could act as well as nutritional supplement, thus protein powders, meal replacement shakes and energy bars are enriched with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Carob gum derived from the seeds acts as an essential thickening and stabilizing agent used in many types of foods like sauces dressings and dairy items. High dietary fiber content with proteins makes health foods out of carobs; these include such snacks for healthy eaters like energy bars or granola bars appealing to health-conscious consumers seeking nutritious and satisfying options. Carob is such a versatile product that it can be used in different ways in the food industry to add flavor, improve texture and boost nutritional value of many products.

 

COMPONENTS

COCOA BEANS (%)

CAROB PULP (%)

Moisture

2.0 – 6.6

6.0 – 11.0

Protein

10.0 – 16.0

2.0 – 7.6

Fat

36.8 – 57.0

0.4 – 1.3

Fiber

2.1 – 15.0

7.6 – 38.0

Ash

2.6 – 8.7

2.0 – 3.4

Sugars

0.4 – 3.5

40.7 – 54.7

Theobromine

0.8 – 3.8

Trace amount

Caffeine

0.1 – 1.0

Trace amount

Total Polyphenols

4 – 18

1.2 – 7.0

                      Source: Loullis & Pinakoulak, 2018

Conclusion

Over the latter part of the 21st century, there was an increase in demand for chocolate alternatives due to allergy consciousness. Because of the rapidly increasing concerns over sustainability, health, and disruptions in the cocoa supply chain such as El Nino, it is important to consider making other choices. Carob seems like a good option when considering some of the benefits it has over cocoa. Besides, low fat, high dietary fiber, absence of allergens in it makes carob even more appealing. The mild sweetness and adaptable nature to various culinary applications makes carob suitable for those on special diets or looking for caffeine-free options. This led to an influx of carob chocolate into the market, which offered an alternative and tasty option compared to conventional cocoa-based chocolates. carob chocolate has become increasingly popular and attractive to those with allergies or dietary limitations and thus, firmly establishing itself as a cherished alternative to traditional chocolates.

References

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