Our Favorite Near Chocolate Things, Part II

Near-chocolate comes in many forms -- including that which contains neither cocoa nor cocoa butter, yet comforts us in time of need.

In Part I of our discussion of the near-chocolate phenomenon, we waxed eloquent on items like white chocolate and Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. These are more half-chocolates than anything else, containing cocoa butter and cocoa powder, respectfully -- mere ingredients of true chocolate.

There are other chocolate substitutes that have no chocolate ingredients in them at all, yet somehow hath charms to sooth the savage X-choc breast (at least occasionally). Consider, if you will, cupulate and carob, both of which have recently begun taking up the chocolate slack.

Almost but not quite chocolate

Cupulate may not have the most marketable name ever, but it does make a reasonable near-chocolate in just about any form. It's closely related to chocolate, coming from another tree in the Theobroma family, the cupuacu (T. grandiflorum), which produces a pod and bean very similar to those of T. cacao.

The big difference between cupulate and chocolate is that cupulate tends to more reddish in finished color and significantly milder than chocolate. It contains very little theobromine, which is chocolate's active ingredient, replacing it with a chemical called theacrine. It also has little if any caffeine in its processed form.

Why bother, you ask? Because it's a decent near-chocolate fix for people who can't handle chocolate due to allergies, or who want some chocolate taste without a full-on chocolate buzz. While cupulate has yet to hit it big in the U.S.A., it's starting to make a dent in the world chocolate marketplace.

Not chocolate at all

Aside from confectioner's glaze (of which we shall not speak again), carob is the substance most often passed off as chocolate. Unlike cacao, carob is an actual bean, the fruit of the tropical tree Ceratonia siliqua. It's a traditional food plant in Africa, and is sometimes referred to as "St. John's Bread" after a Biblical story.
As near-chocolates go, carob isn't half bad. But as chocolate expert Sandra Boynton points out, it's not quite there, either. As she puts it, "Carob makes a terrific substitute for chocolate, in much the same way that ketchup is a convincing replacement for fine wine." Well, yeah.

The problem with carob as a chocolate substitute is that, like cupulate, its flavor is milder and less bitter than chocolate's, and it lacks that certain je ne sais quois that chocolate has -- in other words, that theobromine and caffeine kick that we extreme chocoholics live for.

So sadly, Ms. Boynton is correct; while carob gives it a nice try, it can't quite hold a candle to the real thing. It's definitely near-chocolate, indeed. And by the way: while we hear there's a new movie coming out called Pirates of the Carob-Bean, we suspect that's just a rumor Johnny Depp's putting out to enhance his career.