Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bars, Bars, Bars (and I don't mean nightlife!)

Loyal readers will know that I started off 2008 with quite a bang, almost 6 weeks in India followed soon thereafter by 9 days in China. Out of the country for 7 of the year's first 10 weeks. Well, a traveling vegan is no dummy! I brought food with me. Mainly bars. Years ago, when I first started eating a vegan diet, I spent 6 weeks in Tuscany studying with my art teachers. I thought I was so clever when I brought along a whole box of the Luna Bar Chai Tea flavored bars. It was my favorite flavor, at the time. Well, it didn't take long for me to quite quite tired of those poor bars, and yet my growling stomach called me to continue stuffing them down. Sigh! Many years passed before I enjoyed that flavor again.

So this time around, I got smart - bring along LOTS of different brands, LOTS of different flavors. Some bars feel more like candy, and I've got no problems with that. Some bars feel more like a healthy snack, which is preferable at other times. Some bars are light, and some really fill you up. Some are totally natural, others are more heavily fortified. I must admit, I like the idea of bars, a yummy, healthy snack that fuels you up and keeps you going. I've become quite an appreciator, and especially after the bar-sampling of my recent travels, I really love trying new brands and flavors. I thought I'd share with you some of my new favorites and some of my new least favorites. This way, you can wisely portion out your precious $1.50

(pictured: India Stash)

First, the sad news of my least favorites.

"Organic Food Bar"
I should have known from the nondescript name, and from the unappealing packaging, these bars were weird and nondescript. Thick and chewy like the old Power Bars I used to eat pre-vegan, but not tasty enough to make up for it. I found the texture to be disturbingly "non-food-like" and the flavor to be icky. I can get into weird texture, but weird flavor/bad flavor is a deal breaker. I took one bite... found the courage to give it a chance with a second bite, and then threw it out. Sad but true.

"Raw Revolution" (Hazelnut Chocolate flavor)
This one wasn't as bad as the previous one, but still not something I'll buy again. Heavy and moist, and bit on the slimy side. Very shiny. Which is a bit off-putting. But most of all, I was disappointed with how many more almonds there were than hazelnuts in the bar. I *love* the famous chocolate-hazelnut flavor combo and this bar didn't live up to either billing. It just tasted like a fruit based raw bar. Fine I suppose, but disappointing.

Think Organic
I don't remember the flavor I tried. It had an okay, fruity flavor, but it was hard and tough. Like a half-inch thick piece of stale fruit leather. Hard to tear off bites, and all the bits got stuck in my teeth. I was happy that I had only brought along one. I ate it, but I won't go back for more.

(pictured: China Stash)

Now, the good news about some of my favorite brands and flavors:

Clif Bar
Ah, the classic! How many times have I been traveling in areas of the States with low-vegan-population-density and been SO grateful to find a Clif Bar at the convenience store? For that alone, I will always be grateful. I appreciate that the Clif Bars are fortified with vitamins, so that when I'm living off them in China, I know I'm getting some percentage of necessary vitamins. When the mood is right, I like the heavy, chewy density that really fills me up. After some of those sad, sad meals in China, finding my Clif Bar in my purse was a seriously good feeling. I usually like the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip flavor, but I wanted to use this opportunity to branch out and try a few new flavors, all of which I really liked:

Maple Nut: a bit more on the candy side, and tasty. Filled with, but not overwhelmed by, a nice maple flavor, and with crunchy nuts. A good crunch-chew texture balance.

Blueberry Crisp: good! breakfasty! And seriously blueberryish! I don't always like "blueberry-flavored" things, if you know what I mean, but this obviously has real blueberries in it, and I really liked it. I will defintely look for it again.

Oatmeal Raisin Walnut: very food-like. Feels like a healthy snack. Not as much like candy, more like a trail mix bar. Nuts, fruits, and grains.

Nectar Bars
The semi-new raw offerings from Clif, which I quite like. I don't end up buying them often, because I usually reach for a Lara Bar when I'm looking for simple, raw ingredients, but I have enjoyed the Nectar Bars that I've had. I took a few along on the trip to India, and they were quite happily consumed! Their Cocoa Nectar bars are also quite good, I especially like the Chocolate-Walnut flavor.

Also, a special shout out for the "20g Protein Builder's Bar." These are very candy-like, but are seriously tasty in my opinion. I like the Chocolate Peanut Butter and Chocolate Mint flavors. The bars consist of a clif-bar layer covered with a layer of thick nougat-y stuff (!), and then coated in chocolate. They are FULL of calories and protein. That's hard to justify when I'm looking for an afternoon snack at home, but can be quite useful when your stomach is rumbling with a bok-choi-and-white-rice induced lack of protein. It's a far cry from the simple ingredient list on the side of a Lara Bar, but it packs a punch that lasts much longer.

Odwalla Bars
I hadn't really tried Odwalla bars before these two trips, and I am definitely a new fan. My top favorite is definitely the "Chewy Nut Bar: Sweet & Salty Almond" Mm! I only took one to India, and made sure to take a couple with me to China. It's chewy, nutty, crunchy... and just like it says - a little bit salty and a little bit sweet. A nice snack.

I also liked all the other flavors I tried, even "Superfood", which I was skeptical about. "Banana Nut" was very nice. Their "Odwalla Bar!" like (compared to the Chewy Nut Bars) are soft and a bit bready, a bit lighter and more airy than the Clif Bar. Feeling more like a baked good. They feel generally quite healthy and less like candy, which is nice when you are actually hungry for food and nutrients.

Since the trips, I have definitely added Odwalla Bars to my list when I'm looking for a little snack, and I look forward to trying more flavors.

Lara Bars
Well, you've probably all tried these. I really love them. I love that the ingredients are few, simple, and natural. I like that I know and can pronounce each ingredient. The Lara Bar isn't an adequate meal replacement, but it does make a nice addition to a meal, or serve as a tide-me-over snack. They are healthy, fruity, and truly flavorful. No weird additives or aftertastes. A nice moist, food-like texture. I really think Lara Bars are great. Some of my new favorite flavors are: Cherry Pie and Ginger Snap. Big time YUM. Cashew Cookie is a bit more mild, which I didn't like quite as much.

I also really like their JOCOLAT line - raw and chocolatey. Unlike the Raw Revolution bar, these bars are raw and really live up to their chocolatey name. I especially like the Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Orange flavors. I think these bars are really great. It's a nice alternative to a candy bar when you are looking for an indulgence that won't fill you with remorse (and icky ingredients).

Art's Pro Bar
Last, but not least! I really love these ProBars. At $3.50 a pop, they are a bit of an investment. But if you think of it as an inexpensive lunch or breakfast, the price looks a bit better. These bars are all vegan, all organic, all unprocessed. They are seriously filling and really good. ProBars have a good texture profile that is very food-y, that is both chewy and nutty. When you are done, your tummy feels as though it has eaten FOOD. This can be such a blessing, in the land of bars. Individual flavors stand out, but the overall flavor combination is successful as a whole. I particularly like the Original Blend, but really I've enjoyed the other flavors I've tried. Koka Moka is a bit more "candy-ish" but quite yummy. If you have a chance, and $3.50, I'd recommend giving them a try. I'm eager to try the other flavors, and hope that they come out with more.

If you made it to the end of this long post, I commend you. Your quest for bars is laudable.

Home-cooked food coming right up!

14 comments:

  1. Love your bar post! I did my thesis on bars (Factors influencing nutrition bar purchases among natural foods shoppers, to be exact) and I didn't eat one for about a year after finishing the project! When bars rule your world, they're easy to get sick of. But when you're traveling in a non-vegan world they're a life saver.

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  2. Thanks for the great reviews, Amey! I'm a huge Luna bar fan (they are my daily breakfast on weekdays) and I've recently started eating Clif bars for dinner on the nights that I'm running around. My favorite Clif bar flavor is Peanut Toffee Buzz w/ the Crunchy Peanut Butter one being the runner up. I'm among the few vegans that haven't tried Lara bars. I just seriously object to the amount of fat they contain for so few calories. It's not worth it to me. Someday, I'll give them a try just to say that I did, though! I really appreciate you taking the guess work out of the rest of these!

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  3. What an informative post! I could have used this pre-trip, as I learned the hard way that Lara bars don't fill you up. (Luckily this only happened twice.)

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  4. Glad I saw this post... I'm going on a trip to middle of nowhere colorado in may and will be needing to bring lots of bars! Now I know which ones to avoid and which ones to stock up on! I got to try my first lara bars at vegfest this past weekend and really liked them :-)

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  5. Great post. Very useful!

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  6. debby8:14 PM

    i love to shop at www.wholeandnatural.com. they have all kinds of healthy and natural kosher food and snacks. the stuff is fresh and low prices.
    seeya, debby
    btw i used a coupon bldc08 try it

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  7. it's weird, I'm not really a bar person, but it's not that I don't like them, I just don't buy them. That said, thank you for this rundown!! Having no experience a writeup like this is gold!

    Actually, I have tried the Larabars (yum!), and I used to ADORE the Nature's Path Optimum bars - what do you think of those ones? The blueberry flax one was my favourite, it had a great crispy texture and blueberry flavour, and also the cranberry ginger!

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  8. Great blog! I'm a HUGE bar consumer as a vegan with a toddler, a small business, and a musical career. Bars are the only way to support my dietary choices.

    I'm sad you didn't like the Organic food bars! Those are by far my favorite; raw, whole foods, and 100% organic, these are the ones I feel best about giving to my daughter. My local grocery no longer carries them, but I drive 30 minutes to get them elsewhere!

    And I found the Odwalla bars to have something of a chemically taste/aftertaste, which I chalk up to the excessive chemical fortification they use.

    I totally agree with the Larabars Love. (except Cashew Cookie is my fave flavor! LOL!)

    Thanks for the excellent blog!

    vegyogini: I had a similar issue with the larabars until I considered how much of the fat was from nut meats, which is so important for our bodies!

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  9. I think the raw bars taste too raw. I love all the Clif and Lara bars. I hope you will try another couple of my favorites - Odwalla Berries GoMega and Strawberry Pomegranite!

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  10. Anonymous8:20 AM

    After reading your bar review I bought a couple of Clif bars to try. I had "carrot cake" with a cup of tea and the sugar content was way too intense for me. Never again. I gave the other bar away.
    After a decades of having a powerful sweet tooth, I recently tamed the sugar monster. Now, fruit satisfies.

    Kim

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  11. Great and thorough post. Lots of bars out there, glad ours mad the list. One correction, PROBAR is not 100% or "all" organic as you stated. It's more in the neighborhood of 80-85% organic and certified organic by the state of Utah. It's hard to be 100% organic with so many raw items in the bar, but we'll keep working to get there.

    If you'd like to sample any of our new flavors from the new line, drop me a line and I'll send some your way - kendall AT the probar dot com

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  12. Anonymous9:49 AM

    HI Amy, I am Dan O'Connor's mom. I live in South Lake Tahoe and discovered your blog online cruising through the Sentinel. I never knew exactly what a vegan was, but your recipes and pictures are awesome and inspiring. You may turn a lifelong omnivore into a vegan someday. Keep up the good work. Linda Baumgart (formerly O'Connor)

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  13. Thanks for the post. I already love Clif bars but now after this I feel I can safely add a few more different brands.

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