As a casual student of American food faddism, something that is still more than alive and well today (Yes, it’s an amazing coincidence that a sizable percentage of the educated liberal upper middle class all became gluten intolerant over a 3 year period. Must be pollution or something), I always love stories about our ridiculous food history. Hippies were all about food faddism and the promotion of some pretty gross stuff. Case in point: Carob. What the hell is this shit?
A wry disgruntlement will forever unite those of us who were children during the height of the nineteen-seventies natural-foods movement. It was a time that we recall not for its principles—yes to organics, no to preservatives—but for its endless assaults on our tender young palates. There was brown rice that scoured our molars as we chewed, shedding gritty flecks of bran. There was watery homemade yogurt that resisted all attempts to mitigate its tartness. And, at the pinnacle of our dietary suffering, worse even than sprout sandwiches or fruit leather or whole-wheat scones, there was carob, the chocolate substitute that never could.
In the nineteen-seventies, carob infiltrated food co-ops and baking books as if it had been sent on a COINTELPRO mission to alienate the left’s next generation. “Delicious in brownies, hot drinks, cakes and ‘Confections without Objections,’ ” the 1968 vegan cookbook “Ten Talents” crowed, noting, too, that it was a proven bowel conditioner. “Give carob a try,” Maureen Goldsmith, the author of “The Organic Yenta,” encouraged, but even her endorsement came with a hedge; in the note to her recipe for carob pudding, she confessed that she still snuck out for actual chocolate from time to time—though less and less often! No one under the age of twelve could stand the stuff. Not the candy bars that encased a puck of barely sweetened peanut butter in a thin, waxy brown shell, nor the cookies—whole wheat, honey-sweetened—studded with carob chunks that refused to melt in the mouth, instead caking unpleasantly between the teeth. My mother—who, to her children’s lasting gratitude, never compromised her pie recipes, even during her peak whole-foods years—told me recently that she was never that fond of carob, either.
Evidently, chefs are trying to bring it back in ways that actually taste good. We will see. But the author makes a solid last point.
As adults, we make hundreds of carob-like dietary substitutions in the name of good health. We shave summer squash into long spirals and deceive ourselves that it’s anything like pasta. We tip coconut creamer into our coffee, ignoring the way it threatens to curdle, and project onto it the memory of café au lait. Grownups have mastered this acquired taste for the ersatz, but children have no ability to strike the same bargain. They taste not the similarities between the foods they are eating and the foods they really want to eat, only the thwarted desire for what is forbidden. No matter how much time passes, those objects of childhood dread are difficult to see anew. Poor carob. I may never know how good you taste.
My recommendation is not to make these substitutions. Either eat the food you want or don’t eat it, but don’t make poor substitutions that are just gross.