Life Beyond Chocolate

by Maria Theresa Maggi on November 13, 2012

Rees'es peanut butter cup

Most people following or learning to follow a healthy vegan or plant-based diet are relieved to discover that a little cocoa powder here and there is allowed, and can add depth and richness to healthy foods.  The recent surge of enthusiastic and joyful comments on Susan’s post, Pumpkin Spiced Hot Chocolate is compelling evidence for this relief.

But what if you can’t have chocolate? Or if you like chocolate but chocolate doesn’t like you?

Decades ago, Dr. Swank cautioned those with MS  in his classic The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book that the caffeine and the theobromine in chocolate can overtax the compromised nerves of those who have MS. Alas, I am one of those people.  (You can read more about the problems these compounds in chocolate cause some people here). In my case, if I want to assure myself I’ll be awakened and kept awake at night by involuntary leg twitching, all I need to do is eat a so- called “healthy” gluten free fat free brownie. Beyond a rare ceremonial bite or two, it just doesn’t work for me anymore.

I have been addicted to chocolate ever since I was a little girl, and though I didn’t know that word at four years old, I experienced what it meant.  I can remember sitting on the couch, still so short my feet stuck out straight in front of me, having been given a small cup of chocolate chips to eat in front of the black and white TV. I was trying to share them with my sleepy baby, which got smeared with the chocolate on my hands. And though I should have been happy, I remember the conflicted feelings of  the rush to get the taste into my mouth, not being able to stop eating the sweet morsels, and feeling terrible simply because I  knew I couldn’t stop.  Ironically, or perhaps tellingly, I did not remember this early experience until after starting to eat this way and learning to recognize more accurately how chocolate was affecting me.

Just out of college, decades after that tell-tale moment on the old brown couch, my dear housemate Judy gave me the Boynton book, Chocolate, The All Consuming Passion. Even though I haven’t had a chocolate bar in too many years to count, I kept it on my bookshelf until a few weeks ago, when I finally decided I was done identifying with those adorable little hippos.

Boynton's chocolate loving hippo

It’s in a pile consigned to go to a used bookstore so someone else who wants to laugh about being addicted to chocolate can read it.  In some way this decision marks the certainty that I am living chocolate free and not afraid to say so. I’d rather have legs that can relax, and the best sleep I can find at night.

Over the years, I’ve learned to love life without chocolate. Usually I don’t try to substitute. I’ll take a different direction and just go for a simple treat that’s rich and whole in its own way. Like a soft medjool date. Natala over at Engine 2 says they taste like caramels. I agree.

But every once in a while I still want to join the party. Reading the Pumpkin Spiced Hot Chocolate recipe was one of those times. So I called on my old friend carob.

We first met in the early 70’s (about the same time Dr. Swank was first warning those of us with MS about chocolate). I was 14 and my mother was on an “allergy diet.” For a brief time she gave up wheat, alcohol and maybe cheese, too. I can’t remember. But I do remember going to House of Nutrition where they sold thick chunks of  broken carob bars out of a large glass canister at the front counter.  (I just looked it up, and it’s still in business! Here’s their take on carob, with staff picks for favorite products.) I was a bit embarrassed that I liked its milder taste. For most people, liking carob as much as chocolate is kind of like Charlie Brown being glad to get a rock in his trick or treat sack. Chocolate satirist Boynton quips that although when combined with fat and sugar, carob approximates the color and consistency of chocolate, “the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.”

Even though I appreciate her wry humor,  I don’t agree with that. My early affinity for carob has served me well when I need a sweet substitute in a recipe that revolves around chocolate. Karina at Gluten Free Goddess is well loved for her incredible chocolate desserts. But she also reveals a delightful soft spot for carob in her post featuring a recipe for a tasty Carob Banana Smoothie which you can enjoy by going here.

So I made the Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate without the chocolate. Oh, and without the pumpkin, too.  I used cooked pureed winter squash I had on hand. And since I can’t have soy, either, unless I want to have night sweats or a higher, unforgiving pitch to the pain in my connective tissue, I used almond milk. My choice of sweetener was a tablespoon of date syrup and two drops of liquid stevia.  Because carob is milder, I used about 2 ½ tbs of it. I  added a whole teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a little extra vanilla. The result was a thick, rich drink that surprised even me, who is always willing to ask the wallflower carob to dance.

But you don’t have to take my carob-biased word for it. I took Susan’s suggestion and made the leftovers into pudding by heating it back up on the stove with two tablespoons of cornstarch whisked in. I brought it to a boil and poured it into  my great grandmother’s carnival glass dessert cups. (But before I did that, I had the inspiration to add a dash of Grand Marnier out of tiny bottle I keep for just such special ventures. Orange extract would work, too, if you want to fancy it up. Or grate a little orange zest in.)

Later that day when my DGA (Dear Garden Accomplice) was here raking leaves and helping me prepare the yard for Winter, I tentatively asked if he’d like to try it, apologizing for the fact that it wasn’t chocolate. He was game. His eyes got really wide after the first spoonful.  “This is really good,” he said. And took another spoonful. And said it again. And again. He stood in the kitchen, eating the whole thing without even bothering to sit down.

Apparently, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

pumpkin spice carob pudding

The very last of it before I gobbled it up myself.





Leave a Comment

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JJ November 14, 2012 at 8:01 am

Here, here! Three cheers for carob! I, too, am a former chocolate addict. I can totally relate to your story about being young and unable to stop eating it. Carob is lovely, I wish more people didn’t just give it to the dogs. 🙂


2 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 9:02 am

Hi JJ!

Yes, indeed! Thanks for this great comment, which made me chuckle. I am delighted to know another carob enthusiast!



3 kally November 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

where can you generally find carob?


4 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 9:34 am

Hi kally,

I buy mine in the bulk section of my food co-op. I imagine it’s available at a place like Whole Foods (we don’t have one here). I checked and it’s available online at Amazon, too, several different brands. Bob’s Red Mill makes one.



5 Jane November 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

The drink and pudding sound delicious, Maria, and I have added them to my ever-going collection of plant-based recipes.

I’m not really addicted to chocolate, but at least once a week I do long for something sweet, rich and delicious. Usually I fix that with a few spoonfuls of raw honey, or raw honey and meusli. I guess that means I’m not that plant based, actually. Still. Its good.

In the small town in South Africa where I live, carob is unobtainable, as are many of the healthy alternatives mentioned on plant-based sites. I also find them really expensive. But I always reckon, well, plants themselves are cheap and easy – all the good things we really need are cheap and easy. Tonight i made the aubergine and pumpkin moussaka with a white sauce made from cauliflower that I found in a link you gave. Its was scrumptious! Just the appearance alone, mimicking a real moussaka, was enticing. Anyway, thanks for the encouragement you give. Do you ever make vegetable juices, by the way? i think they must be beneficial for everyone.


6 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hi Jane,

I’m glad you are collecting recipes, trying them out and finding them enticing. You can always use Susan’s wonderful original on the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog with cocoa powder, too, if chocolate is not an issue for you, and it’s available. I like your philosophy of plants being cheap and easy, as all the good things we really need are. We can always improvise something delightful from what is around us. Generally I do not make vegetable juices, because I find it’s easier for me to digest the veggies if I chew rather than drink them. But once in a while I will. They are delicious.



7 Nicole O'Shea November 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

Moonwatcher, I can’t have chocolate either! I was never a hardcore addict but still…’twas a bummer to discover. But I also love and have always loved carob.

Back in the day, pre-diet change, I used to bake a homemade, all-from scratch, dark chocolate sour cream cake with milk chocolate icing. The icing was basically butter, heavy cream, 10X sugar and semi-sweet baking chocolate, melted together to create a thick, almost solid, creamy icing.

My first phase into changing my diet, pre-full-on-Mcdougalling, I revamped this cake, but made it vegan, with a vanilla cake on the inside and carob icing (made with coconut creamer and earth balance, I believe! Ha! SO not-good-for me, but I was sadly misguided then…) on top. I loved it, my husband loved it and everyone else who tried it did too!

I also made carob-and tofu/almond butter cups sorta like that Reeses ya got pictured on top, and they were great, as well. Gobbled them right up, I did.

But that was years ago. I was a shell of a woman, with no diet character and nuanced palate like I have now. Both of those would feel like eating a sledgehammer of decadence now.

Three cheers for Carob!



8 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 9:46 am

Hi Nicole!

Yes, three cheers for carob!

Sounds like we may have had a similar trajectory in the evolution of our diets and our baking journeys. A “sledgehammer of decadence”–that’s a great term. I am grateful for my own nuanced palate, too, hard won over the course of my life. But that’s what it’s for, right, life? To learn and to grow. Thanks for sharing your great perspective.



9 narf7 November 14, 2012 at 11:57 am

We grew some little carob trees so that one day Serendipity Farm will be self sufficient in chocolate subs :). Cheers for this wonderful post and some great ways to sub 🙂


10 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Wow, narf7, that is really cool you grew some little carob trees! Thanks for your cheers!!



11 carollynne kelly November 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Ah yes, I too, love the medjol dates and am a former chocaholic too. love your stories, they are just so uplifting for me! thanks for sharing with us.


12 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Hi carollynne,

Oh, another medjool date lover and former chocaholic!! I am so glad you love the stories! You are very welcome.



13 Marsha November 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I love your posts so much…ty


14 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm

You’re welcome, Marsha!!


15 Sandy November 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I guess I am the outcast of this group that is responding to your previous chocolate addiction. I started choosing a vegan lifestyle about a year and a half ago but allow myself to “cheat” on desserts and chocolate. I don’t feel real good about it but still indulge. I am undoubtedly a chocolate addict and cannot stand carob. Perhaps if I were to refrain from eating chocolate I would gain an appreciation toward carob but I am not there yet. I love, love, love dark chocolate.
I like to believe that if the chocolate negatively affected my body that I would manage to not eat it.


16 moonwatcher November 14, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Hi Sandy,

Most people who choose a healthy vegan lifestyle don’t have to give up chocolate. Hopefully you’ll be one of those. And not everyone likes carob, either. Either way, we’re all in this together.



17 KatieQ November 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

I love that you chose to eat your sweet treat in your great grandmother’s carnival glass dish. Whenever I want to feel special or need a pick me up, I use my grandmother’s carnival dishes. They make everything taste better.


18 moonwatcher November 18, 2012 at 8:47 am

Thank you, KatieQ! Now I will also think of you making your own treats special in your grandmother’s carnival dishes. What a lovely connection.



19 Pam (MSNomad) May 2, 2013 at 10:29 pm

As I read through some of your archived posts, I’m learning so much! I get lots of leg twitches at night, and also in the evening when I’m resting with my legs up on the couch. Interesting to think that it could be the chocolate.

I’ve also been waking up in the night overheated, and in the morning it takes about an hour or so to cool down. I don’t sweat, but my body is just overheated. Never dawned on me that it could be the soy, but interesting that those symptoms haven’t been occurring since I’ve cut back drastically on soy these past 3 plus weeks…

Hmmmm – you give me food for thought, pun intended!


20 moonwatcher May 2, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Hi Pam (MSNomad) and welcome to the blog! Thanks for reading. Happy to know what I’ve written here about chocolate, and possibly soy, is giving you good food for thought about your own symptoms, pun intended!!



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