Showing posts with label energy bars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label energy bars. Show all posts

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Product Review: TrueBars


When Bakery on Main - makers of gluten-free granola and gluten-free granola bars (which we reviewed here) - offered to send us gratis samples of their new TrueBars, I'll admit I was a bit skeptical. Based on initial appearances, they bore resemblance to Bora Bora bars and Wild Alice bars, and we only felt so so about those brands. As we soon discovered, though, appearances can be deceiving.

TrueBars seem to represent something of a departure for Bakery on Main. The company name and logo are seriously downsized. Instead, "TrueBar" is dominant on the packaging, which is slick and colorful and modern, and has little in common with BoM's other products. It's as if they're trying to establish a separate brand or a sub-brand. Fortunately for BoM, these bars can certainly stand on their own.

The tag line is that these are bars "with nothing to hide," a nod to the use of straightforward, wholesome ingredients. For example, the ingredients list on one bar reads: coconut, cashews, brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, rice crisp, agave nectar, chia seeds, brown rice flour, inulin, soybean lecithin, sea salt, and canola oil. Other flavors may have different nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or a touch of chocolate. Some people may take issue with the evaporated cane juice, soy lecithin, canola oil, or even the agave nectar, but on the whole, these bars are filled with good stuff. And you can pretty much see all the ingredients in the bar as you eat it.


Nutritionally, the bars range from 150-190 calories per bar. Fat ranges from 6 to 12g per bar. Sugar ranges from 12 to 15g per bar. Each bar has a few grams of protein. Ingredients such as chia seeds give them omega 3 fatty acids. Other ingredients make them pretty high in fiber. Many of the ingredients are lower on the glycemic index scale. And their balance of carbs, protein and fat make them pretty hunger-satisfying.

For texture, bars to me sit along a spectrum, from too soft and chewy, to good chewy, to good crunchy, to break-your-tooth too crunchy. The TrueBars hit the Goldilocks sweet spot of snack bar texture - neither too chewy nor too crunchy. They have a pleasant firm chewiness, with enough substance to let you know you're biting into something with texture.

As for flavor, we found a lot to love. We sampled six: Fruit and Nut, Raspberry Chocolate Almond, Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry, Walnut Cappucino, Apricot Almond Chai, and Coconut Cashew. On the average, the nuts in any given bar had a pretty subtle flavor. For example, I barely detected the hazelnuts in the Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry, which was a shame, because I love hazelnuts. Otherwise, here's how the flavors broke down:

Fruit and Nut
A good bar. Kind of the Plain Jane of the group. Tasty, but unmemorable.

Raspberry Chocolate Almond and Hazelnut Chocolate Cherry
I group these together because they were similar in terms of overall "formula" - nut, plus tart dried fruit, plus mini chocolate chips. As I mentioned earlier, in both cases the nuts (hazelnuts and almonds) were pretty subtle, though visibly present. The mini chocolate chips never overpowered the bar, but provided a pleasant sweet chocolate flavor, balanced well by the tart raspberries and cherries. If you like fruit in your nut bars, these are the way to go.

Walnut Cappucino and Apricot Almond Chai
These two flavors were excellent. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves gave the chair bar warm, complex layers of flavor. The walnut cappucino bar similarly impressed us. Kelli declared it her favorite snack bar flavor ever. That's saying something!

Coconut Cashew
Another superb flavor. This was my favorite, by a very long shot. I would buy these by the case. In fact, I just might do that in advance of my ultramarathon on September 24. They're like a slightly chewy, slightly crunchy coconut macaroon in snack bar form...with lots of chia seeds. So good.

And so there you have it. By our measure, TrueBars are a huge step in the right direction for Bakery on Main. Overall, they have great ingredients, great texture, and great flavor. After sampling many fruit-nut-seed style bars over the years, we've finally come across one that knocks it out of the ballpark.

- Pete

Images courtesy Bakery on Main

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Product Review: Luna Protein Bars

Image courtesy LunaBars
In between all my training for the upcoming Virgil Crest 50-Mile Ultra (and the 2nd Annual Gluten-Free Ultramarathon Challenge) we've been getting outdoors as a family. A little rock climbing here and there. Some camping. A bit of beach and surfing and boating. And, of course, plenty of hiking (including, most recently, a trek to the top of Millbrook Mountain in the Gunks in NY, followed by a hike/climb to the top of 11,800-foot North Diamond Peak above Cameron Pass in the Colorado Rockies).

In the backcountry, especially, my food preferences once partly included a stockpile of gluten-free energy / protein / snack bars. Maybe chocolate peanut butter, or mint chocolate. I'd throw 2 or 3 (or 4 or 5) in my pack, stash one in the cargo pocket of my shorts or pants, and eat them as my hunger dictated.

In more recent times, I've gravitated toward carrying fresh and from-scratch foods - fruit, nuts, peanut butter, homemade sandwiches, chocolate, etc.

But when the folks over at LunaBar contacted me offering to send gratis review samples of their gluten-free Luna Protein Bars, I happily accepted. It would be like revisiting an old friend.

Luna, in case you didn't know, is the women-oriented version of the CLIF Bar (guys can happily consume these bars, too). Earlier this year, they made the move to make their entire line of 5 flavors of the protein bar line gluten-free. Chocolate. Chocolate Peanut Butter. Mint Chocolate Chip. Cookie Dough. And Chocolate Cherry Almond. Luna sources GF ingredients, maintains good manufacturing processes, and tests their bars to ensure their gluten-free status.

Each bar weighs in at roughly 180-190 calories, with 12g protein and 3g fiber. There are no artificial sweeteners, no trans fats, and no GMOs. 35% of the ingredients are organic. So far, so good!

But what about taste and texture?

First, Kelli's reaction. She wasn't enamored with any of the flavors. By her own admission, though, she's never much been a fan of these kinds of bars, past or present. So I wouldn't consider this a negative on Luna's part. It was more representative of Kelli's categorical perspective on this type of food.

My reaction was considerably more positive. For texture, I've taken to calling the Luna Protein Bars the "Goldilocks" consistency... neither too soft and chewy, nor too firm and crunchy. In other words, they were just right. In the recent 90 to 100 degree F heat we've had here in the Hudson Valley, the chocolate coating didn't hold up well, melting inside the wrapper. But I don't know any chocolate that could withstand the kind of heat much of the country has recently dealt with. I'd be curious to see how firm the bars get in the winter cold while skiing or snowshoeing. For most uses, though, their texture was spot on.

As for flavor, I chose the mint chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and cookie dough as real standouts. Each had a good balance of complementary flavors - mint and chocolate, or chocolate and peanut butter, or cookie dough and chocolate. Yet, in no case were the flavors too strong or overpowering. The bars delivered on their flavor promises, without having flavors that proved too subtle or too "in your face." Again, for my palette, they were just right.

The chocolate flavor was fine. Nothing special.

The chocolate cherry almond was the only flavor I didn't care for. The cherry notes were detectable, but the almond flavor got lost. Both Kelli and I had trouble finding it among the flavor profile.

At the end of the day, I'd say that Luna has come up with a winning product in its protein bars. I'd definitely buy these and stash a few in my backpack. If you're looking for a tasty, healthy, compact snack - for hiking, for travel, for the office - one that's small enough to stash in a backpack, or a purse, or a desk drawer, Luna Protein Bars should definitely be on your radar.

- Pete

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Product Review: Wild Alice Bars


Recently, a package arrived unannounced in the mail from the folks over at Wild Alice Bars, maker of gluten-free vegan energy bars. They found my name through the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness and sent along some gratis samples for review. Right off the bat, I was apprehensive (on Wild Alice's behalf). I've eaten a lot of energy bars in my day - either related to endurance racing or mountaineering - and I know that, while there are some that I do like (quite a bit), there are also lots that I don't like (by a long shot).

The story behind Wild Alice Bars is a fairly common one to gluten-free foods: girl (or guy) gets diagnosed with a food sensitivity; said girl or guy starts making a food to meet her or his own food restrictions and to meet an unfilled demand in the marketplace of gluten-free foods; small business (hopefully to become big business) is born.

In this case, Alice (a real person) was diagnosed with food sensitivities in 2007. A member of the Mazamas Mountaineering Club in Oregon, she started experimenting with making her own energy bars, and sharing them with club members. Soon, Wild Alice Bars was born, making gluten-free vegan energy bars in a dedicated commercial kitchen.


The bars come in two flavors: cranberry walnut and apricot cashew. Both are built on the same formula of ingredients: DRIED FRUIT, agave syrup, quinoa flakes, NUTS, brown rice flour, canola oil, apple juice concentrate, garbanzo bean flour, pea protein, guar gum. Substitute dried cranberries and walnuts in the place of "dried fruit" and "nuts" for the Cranberry Walnut, and dried apricots and cashews for the Apricot Cashew.

Nutritionally, they pack a lot of goodness in there - fruit, nuts, brown rice, quinoa, bean. Each relatively small bar packs more than 230 calories, including plenty of healthy fats, some protein, and some carbs.

On the issue of cost, they're fairly expensive. You can buy a box of 8 (or a combo box with 4 of each flavor) directly from Wild Alice Bars for $16 plus $5 shipping and handling. That's $21 for 8 bars, or more than $2.60 per bar. If you eat these bars with any kind of regularity, it'd be a quick way to break the bank. (That said, if you're looking for a portable on-the-go snack that's gluten-free and vegan, and don't want to make your own, these would certainly be one way to go...)

And lastly, there's flavor (taste and texture). Alas, these bars don't measure up for me. There's a subtle sweetness, which I like, but there's also some funky flavors (presumably from the bean flour and pea protein), plus a certain grittiness or graininess in the texture (ditto). But most of all, these things simply make me thirsty. I couldn't imagine chomping down a whole bar without a 16-ounce glass of water at the ready.

Let me say that the Wild Alice Bars, for better or worse, fall squarely into the category of energy bars I tend not to like (when evaluated on the basis of taste and texture). They remind me of Larabars to a degree, and I don't like them either. It's nothing personal. I want to like Larabars, and I want to like Wild Alice Bars. I like their ingredients and their nutrition. But at the end of the day, I also have to enjoy eating them, and for this guy's taste buds, they just don't make the cut. It's something to keep in mind, however... if you're the type of person that likes Larabars, you'll likely also find friendly flavors in Wild Alice Bars.

The bottom line for me? I like them on an intellectual level, but when it comes to actually eating them, I'll take a pass.

Giveaway! You don't have to take my word for it. Try them out for yourself! Wild Alice sent us more bars than we needed for the review, so we're passing them along to you. Send me an email, and include "Wild Alice Bars" in the subject line. Entries will run through midnight Sunday, and we'll announce the winner at the beginning of next week. The winner will receive 2 bars of each flavor (4 bars total). Good luck!

- Pete

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Product Review: Bakery on Main

Fiber Power Triple Berry Granola

Bakery on Main, based in Glastonbury, CT, is a natural foods company offering basically two types of gluten-free products: loose granola, and granola bars. They're made in a dedicated gluten-free facility, with gluten-free ingredients, and are in-house tested for gluten. All good things.

The products are now available in most states, and the website has a convenient store locator so you can find a retailer near you.

Granola Bars

The granola bars are made from a base of rice (rice syrup, crisp rice, rice flour), corn, soy and a variety of seeds (sunflower, sesame, flax). They come in three flavors: peanut butter chocolate chip, extreme trail mix, and cranberry maple nut.

On the average, the bars are quite tasty. They're chewy (though sometimes a little sticky to hold in your hand sans wrapper), and have a nice blend of flavors. But, the individual varieties themselves lack uniqueness. All three granola bar flavors pretty much taste like the same thing. For the peanut butter chocolate chip, both the peanut and chocolate flavors are too subtle. The cranberry maple nut sometimes tastes a bit like cranberry, but tastes nothing like maple (and in fact, maple is not even listed on the ingredients). And the extreme trail mix tastes most like sunflower seeds. In fact, for all three flavors, the seeds - and especially the sunflower seeds - came through strongest.

Again, the granola bars don't taste bad. In fact, they're quite good. But don't set your expectations based on the flavor listed on the wrapper.

Extreme Fruit & Nut Granola

Loose Granola

The story is much the same for the granola, which tastes like a drier, crunchier, loose version of the bars. The one standout is the Fiber Power Triple Berry Granola, which stands apart from every other granola and granola bar we tasted. It has nice berry flavor, and the use of GF oats make the base for this one different than the others. Even so, it's a bit too dry and cake-y in the mouth for my taste, and I most enjoyed it coupled with a tall glass of water to wash it down.

Bottom line: Bakery on Main offers up tasty options for both loose and bar-form gluten-free granola. Sure, the flavors all taste relatively the same. But don't sweat it. At least this way, if your local supermarket is out of one flavor, you know you can go with another without deviating too much from what you already know and like!

- Pete

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Product Review: Bora Bora Organic Foods

Back before Thanksgiving Kelli and I received a "care package" from the nice people over at Bora Bora Organic Foods, whose US office is right here in Colorado. They are the makers of a line of nutrition bars. These puppies are (hang on tight...it's a long list) gluten-free, organic, refined sugar free, non-GMO, vegan, and kosher. By virtue of the fact that they're vegan they're also dairy-free. And as best as I can tell, the bars are also largely a raw product, comprised of nuts, seeds, and fruit (using either agave nectar, honey, or brown rice syrup as a sticky binder and natural sweetener).

At present Bora Bora offers seven flavors (falling under one of three categories: energy, superfood, or antioxidant), with three more flavors in the works. The flavors range from exotic (Brazil Nut Almond, Mango Macadamia) to the domestic (Blueberry Flax, Sesame Cranberry). All of the official flavor names work in some kind of Bora Bora reference (Tribal, Volcanic, Tropical, Tiki) which feels a bit contrived to me. Just tell me the flavor... I don't need the extra flair of the sexy name.

Over the last two months, Kelli and I have had a chance to taste test the seven current flavors under a variety of circumstances - as a snack in the house, as a snack on the go, as trail food during a winter ascent of an 11,000-foot peak here in Colorado. Here's our assessment:

Kelli was lukewarm toward the bars. For her, the flavors didn't meld as one would hope. I'm a bit more positive. In general, I like the bars. Even more so, I want to like these bars, because of all the goodness that goes into them. In a sense, what Two Moms in the Raw does for "loose granola," Bora Bora does for nutrition bars.

My chief critique is also Kelli's, and that's that these bars make me damned thirsty. That, in turn, I attribute to the use of whole nuts, such as whole almonds. I think that sliced or slivered almonds, mixed with the other ingredients, would be kinder to moisture gods. I find these bars infinitely more enjoyable with a glass of water on-hand to wet my whistle between bites.

Another word of note is that the Cinnamon Oatmeal flavor, as the name implies, uses oats (a possible gluten cross-contamination concern). The Bora Bora website makes no mention of GF oats, and this was an immediate red flag for me. I'm very glad to report that the folks at Bora Bora were able to rapidly address my concerns in detail. The short story is that Bora Bora tests its oats at the University of Nebraska's Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, and those oats came in under 10ppm, exceeding the Codex 20ppm standard for gluten-free certification by a factor of two. Further, Bora Bora is actively working to source a certified gluten-free oat in order to instill heightened consumer confidence within the gluten-free community. Good enough for me.

The bottom line is that there's a lot to like about these bars from Bora Bora...especially when I'm well-hydrated, or have a glass of water at the ready.

Giveaway

Bora Bora's care package also included a tiki ceramic coffee mug and an organic cotton t-shirt (size XL). Consistent with our policy of only accepting product samples for review here on NGNP, we're passing those extra gifts along to you as a giveaway. If you're interested in entering, email me (pete@peterbronski.com) and include "Bora Bora giveaway" in the subject line. Submit your entry by midnight Friday, and we'll announce the winner and ship the prize beginning of next week!

- Pete

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Balance Pure


Recently, I spent a day snowcat skiing on assignment for a Colorado magazine. The premise of cat skiing is thus, for the uninitiated: You are skiing in the backcountry (read: no lifts, unpatrolled, unmaintained, no avalanche control work) on either telemark, alpine touring, or downhill ski equipment. Instead of having to climb to the top of each run (as with traditional backcountry skiing), you use a motorized (and heated) snowcat to shuttle skiers from the bottom of a slope to the top.

As I boarded the snowcat at the start of the day, each seat had a bottle of water and an energy bar awaiting its respective skier. I reflexively prepared to offer my bar to another skier, assuming I wouldn't be able to eat it, when I noticed the words "gluten-free" prominently displayed on the front of the label. What a pleasant surprise!


Photo courtesy of Steamboat Powdercats.

The gluten-free bar in question was a Balance Pure, made by the Balance Bar company and touted as being "made from simple ingredients." The ingredients are indeed simple, especially when compared to the often complicated ingredients lists on other energy bars.

The Balance Pure bars come in two flavors: Cherry Pecan, and Chocolate Cashew. Both are moist and chewy. The Cherry Pecan flavor tastes vaguely fruity (not strongly of cherry in particular), and almond comes through strongly as well. This is a good thing, if you like almonds (I do), but it was also surprising, since the flavor is Cherry Pecan (almonds are in the ingredients, however). For the Chocolate Cashew, the cashew flavor is there, but takes a slight backseat to a raw chocolate flavor, which for me is what comes through most. Overall, I give both flavors, and the bars in general, high marks.

- Pete