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Any loyal chocoholic will tell you that the smooth, bittersweet bite of chocolate at the end of a long day is hard to beat, but carob chips are gaining popularity as a chocolate chip alternative. Carob chips are touted by manufacturers as a chocolatelike swap for people who are health conscious or concerned about certain allergies, but can this fruit-based chip really compete with the chocolate we know and love?

Pod to Powder: What Is Carob?

Carob chips are made from the roasted and crushed seedpods that grow on the carob tree, Ceratonia siliqua. A mature carob tree can produce between 220 and 400 pounds of reddish brown, 12-inch seedpods each year. The pods contain seeds, which are usually removed to be processed into bean gum. The husks of the pods are roasted and then ground into a chalky powder. The carob powder, mixed with a variety of other ingredients like sugar or oil, is the primary ingredient in carob chips, which can be used, in some cases, as dairy-free chocolate chips.

Choosing Chocolate or Carob

One of the draws of carob chips is that they can deliver a flavor and texture similar to that of chocolate chips but have different ingredients. For example, an ounce of chocolate chips has the same amount of calories as an ounce of carob chips, but the chocolate has 8.5 grams of fat; carob chips have 6.6 grams. Carob chips also have double the amount of fiber of chocolate chips, just under 4 grams compared with chocolate's 2 grams. Because carob chips have more natural sweetness, unsweetened varieties also have less sugar than chocolate chips. An additional difference is that carob is naturally caffeine free while chocolate has trace amounts of the mild stimulant.

Taste Test

Even the biggest fans of carob chips will admit that they are not identical to the more ubiquitous chocolate variety. The cocoalike flavor of carob chips comes from the roasting process, so the final product is distinctly nutty, toasted or earthy. Even unsweetened carob chips have a natural sweetness and lack that slight bitterness found in most chocolate.

Is Carob Vegan Friendly?

For folks who are vegan, or gluten- or dairy-intolerant, carob chips are a tempting chocolate chip alternative but be label savvy. Carob in its natural state is non-dairy and vegan, but some brands add ingredients that are incompatible with specialty diets. Look out for added sugar, malt-based sweeteners, soy, casein, or dairy if you are avoiding chocolate for dietary reasons.

Tips for Carob Chip Success

In terms of basic measurements, carob chips are an even swap for chocolate chips in your recipes. If you are new to carob chip baking, however, try slowly transitioning; instead of a whole cup of carob chips, substitute a half-cup of carob chips and a half-cup of chocolate chips, for example. Since carob chips are naturally sweet, you may want to add less sugar in your recipes that originally call for chocolate chips; try eliminating one-quarter to one-third of the original amount of added sugar and make further adjustments to taste. And if you are using them to make cookies, keep in mind that they don't have the same melting qualities of chocolate chips and they will remain more firm and crunchy than the traditional chocolate options.