First of all, contrary to common belief, chocolate doesn’t contain much caffeine at all.
A square (one ounce) of unsweetened baking chocolate averages 23 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of coffee might contain more than 100 milligrams. An ounce of unsweetened chocolate does contain 376 milligrams of theobromine, however, an alkaloid closely related to caffeine but a milder stimulant.
The leguminous carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), also known since biblical times as the locust bean tree, grows in relatively arid, semitropical climates such as in California, Florida, and the eastern Mediterranean region. Its pods have been dubbed Saint John’s bread because the Bible says that John the Baptist survived in the wilderness by eating “locusts and honey.” In spite of the Bible’s preoccupation elsewhere with locusts (the word appears twenty-nine times in the King James version), it is more likely that John munched on locust beans rather than on the insects.
Locust bean gum, which appears in many food ingredient lists, is a tasteless, mucilaginous polysaccharide thickener obtained from the carob’s seeds. It is used to thicken frozen desserts, cultured dairy products, cream cheese, and other foods. It interacts with the other vegetable gums xanthin and carrageenan to form rigid gels, and is therefore rarely used alone.
So where does chocolate come in? The carob tree makes long, edible, seed-bearing pods that can be dried and ground into a powder. Because the powder is brown, sweet (it contains about 40 percent sugars), and virtually fat-free, someone got the not-so-bright idea of using it as a substitute for chocolate. Unfortunately, because it lacks chocolate’s fat it has a sandy, gritty texture, not to mention an almost total absence of flavor.
Carob is the Grinch who stole chocolate. Fuhgeddaboudit.
By the way, a ganache is a blend of the two most luxuriant ingredients in our epicurean armamentarium: chocolate and whipping cream. In essence a marriage of two fats, cocoa butter and butterfat, ganache on a menu is not for the faint of carte. Rarely billed by its own name, it might be concealed as the frosting on a cake or the filling between its layers. Or it might be the center of a truffle. Wherever it appears, ganache is the definitive chocolate creme, and you know that when cream is spelled the French way, it’s gotta be good.
Our offbeat concluding confection is a grilled chocolate sandwich. Yes, a sandwich. Bread and all. Any time you’re in the mood for a soul-nourishing nosh, you can quickly whip up the cacao gods’ answer to the grilled cheese sandwich.