When I started eating more healthfully, I was introduced to carob as being a caffeine-free, high-fiber, nutrient-rich alternative to chocolate. In truth, it is all of those things, but um, sorry…it’s nothing like chocolate. So for years, I scorned carob as the unsexy imposter that seemed to lurk in vegan baked goods pretending to be something it so clearly was not.
Years later, I decided to wipe the slate clean and give carob another shot. After baking with it, making warming winter beverages, and adding it to smoothies, I had a breakthrough: carob is carob. And in its own special way, it is delicious. Malty, earthy, sweet and caramel-y, carob can be many things, just not chocolate. And how it ever got peer-pressured into being something other than what it is, is beyond me. Once I started appreciating carob just for being its amazing and tasty self, well everything changed.
While I was in Ibiza last week leading a (fabulous) detoxification retreat, one thing that struck me about the island was the pervasive sweet smell in the air. It was incredible! After a little reconnaissance work, I learned that it was in fact the carob trees, their ripe pods drying in the scorching, late summer sun. It’s funny those light bulb moments when you make a connect: I had never really thought about what carob looks like in its natural state, as I have only ever seen it in a jar on the health food store shelf, so I was quite delighted to get up close and personal. It was literally hanging from almost every tree in sight. So exciting!
Carob, in the pulverized form most of us are familiar with, actually comes from a seedpod that grows on a shrubby tree native to the Mediterranean. Belonging to the legume family, ripe carob pods are dark brown, glossy and give off a warm, sweet caramel-like scent. The part that we eat is in fact the pod itself and not the seeds, and I enjoyed munching on the chewy outer skins as a detox-appropriate treat between meals. The seeds, also known as locust beans, are used to make locust bean gum, a thickener in many processed foods.
The health benefits of carob are numerous. Firstly, the pod is high in insoluble fiber, which acts like a broom in the digestive tract, sweeping the colon clean and speeding the passage of waste through the gut. It is rich in antioxidants, which help defend your body against free radical damage. Carob is also high in calcium and iron so it’s a great food for mamas-to-be, but just about everybody can use more of those minerals, so eat up!
As I mentioned, you can find carob in its ground form, but it’s also available as carob syrup which is a lovely liquid sweetener, and carob chips – similar to chocolate chips, but again, with a very different flavour and property. Chocolate of course has ability to melt, which carob does not. If you can get over the idea that carob is a chocolate replacement, you’ll enjoy it much more, I promise.
When purchasing carob products, make sure to read the label to guarantee that what you are buying is pure. Carob chips are notoriously crammed with schwaggy oils, emulsifiers and processed sugar. And vegans beware! There may be dairy products lurking in your carob chips too. Always read the label. Always.
So, onto the recipe. Along with the many carob trees bursting with fruit all around me, there were figs. Tons and tons of figs. What a blessing it was to wake up in the morning, walk outside, sit under the fig tree and have breakfast. All I had to do was reach up! Bliss. It seemed only natural then that I would combine the things that nature had already put together for me – just love when she does that.
No surprise then that carob and figs go together just splendidly. These little muffins are a very delicious, whole food breakfast or snack, and excellent at tea time as well. Unlike the muffins you’d find at a coffee shop, which, let’s admit, are really just cupcakes without the icing, mine are rich and dense with a whole grain nuttiness that really satifies. The carob adds a caramel-like flavour, which is played up nicely by the sweet jamminess of the figs. If you feel like getting creative, why not try adding some nuts or seeds? Spice things up with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Or even carob chips! I left the recipe rather basic so that you can play around as much as you like. I also wanted to make sure not to overwhelm the carob flavour so you could really get a sense of how yummy it is!
Carob and Fig Muffins
Makes 10-12 muffins
2 cups / 200g rolled oats, ground
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup / 25g carob powder
½ cup / 75g coconut sugar
zest of 1 organic lemon or orange
½ cup milk
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. chia seeds + 6 Tbsp. water
1½ cups chopped figs (about 5-6 figs, reserve 1 for garnish)
1. Combine chia seeds with water, stir, and set aside.
2. In a food processor, blend rolled oats on high until you have a rough flour. Place in a large bowl. Add all other dry ingredients and stir to combine.
3. In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Stir in the chia seed gel.
4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Gently fold in the chopped figs. Spoon batter into a lightly greased muffin pan or muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Add a single slice of fig on top of each muffin for garnish, if desired.
5. Bake in a 350°F / 175°C oven for 20-30 minutes (depending on size) until the toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool completely. Enjoy. Store in an airtight container for 4 days, or freeze.
*Note: as I know some of you will ask, my muffin cups are from a Danish company called House Doctor. Here is a link: http://en.housedoctor.dk/-/kitchen/disposable-tableware/Gl0110
These were unusually large muffin cups – probably double the regular size and with this recipe, only made 7 muffins.
Check out the Ibiza retreat photos on Facebook here: