We've all been there before: You're running late, need to get on the road or are somewhere remote where there’s not a lot of options, and you are (to put it mildly) starving. The most convenient thing for you to grab is staring you in the face, yet you have no clue if you really want it or not.
That option, nine times out 10, is an energy bar, and we're right there with you -- it's hard to know if your selection is going to be any good if you haven't tried it before. And with so many cropping up on the market these days, seems like there's always a new, unrecognizable bar that's just flashy and eye-catching enough to pique your interest.
So, we did the legwork for you. On a recent visit to our local REI, we grabbed every variety of bar offered, and put them to a taste test. The following is a list of the ASN staff's picks, from favorite to not-so-favorite, and why.
1. Kate's Stash Bar ($2.99)
Our staff ranked this bar high across the board for taste. It also has a crunchy texture, derived from a combination of oats and crispy rice nuggets, and a solid peanut butter flavor. Who doesn't like peanut butter? We could see this one being a hit with kids, as well.
Pros: We loved everything about this bar from a taste perspective but also, we liked the fact that there are only eight ingredients in these bars, including flax and hemp seeds for an added boost of protein and Omega 3.
Cons: We would have liked to see a little less sugar (14 grams in one bar), and possibly a nut or dairy free option.
2. Bobo's Coconut Bar ($3.49)
The sheer weight and volume of this bar was initially appealing when selecting it off the shelf in the store. Not surprisingly, this bar has a healthy taste that would keep you full on a hike or any extended outdoor adventure. We also thought it had a pretty good texture, although the coconut flavor had a slightly unnatural aftertaste for some taste-testers.
Pros: This bar stacks up as one of the most filling we tried, right alongside the Pemmican bar. Also, for those with allergy or eating restrictions, Bobo's is nut, dairy and gluten free.
Cons: It is a bit high in sugar, at 16 grams per bar, although a typical serving would be half a bar.
This bar received high marks on taste from 75 percent of our staff. It’s fruity and nutty (like a classic granola bar) but with a slightly lighter, more refined flavor. After taking a closer look at what's inside, we were excited to see that it contained some superfood ingredients like chia and flax seeds.
Pros: Solid flavor, and gluten and dairy free.
Cons: Could be a bit too sweet for some. Contains 18 grams of sugar.
The chocolate and cherry flavor really come through on this bar, and it's delicious, but almost tastes a bit more like desert than a snack for the trail. Some of us also weren't a big fan of the texture, which seemed a little less natural than others.
Pros: In spite of its desert-like taste, this bar only has 15 grams of sugar, which ranks low compared to other bars in this taste test. Tahoe is also gluten and dairy free.
Cons: Contains a soy protein, which could contribute to texture, and be off-putting for those who are looking to avoid soy.
Whole nuts? Check. Sea salt? Check. The subtle honey flavor is not too sweet and we like the texture of this one, even though it is a bit simple.
Pros: There's only 5 grams of sugar in this whole bar, making it the lowest in sugar count out of all the bars we tried.
Cons: A bit lower in protein (6 grams) and not as filling as others we tried.
6. Pemmican Fruit and Nut Bar ($2.00)
Everyone has different tastes, and this bar brought out some spirited debate about flavor. While simple, the Pemmican bar was ranked fairly high in taste by a few of our staff, but failed to impress with others. The one thing we could agree on was the short list of easy to pronounce, common ingredients, that all seemed relatively healthy.
Pros: This bar is super filling, with 17 grams of protein. It’s also only $2, which is a pretty good deal considering it was a much more substantial portion than other bars we tried.
Cons: One bar contains 28 grams of sugar, which is the highest we saw out of the bars we tasted. Some of our staff found it had a vinegary aftertaste -- after further investigation, vinegar is an ingredient in this bar. In addition, the first ingredient is malted corn and barley, which could present a problem for those with particular food allergies.
Out of all the bars, this one probably tasted the most “natural” and “earthy” in flavor. It’s not overly sweet, despite being chocolate flavored, and does have the texture of the maca powder among other ingredients like organic almonds, organic cashews and organic chia seeds and cacao nibs.
Pros: All the ingredients listed in this bar are organic. This bar is also soy, gluten and dairy free. We also liked that it contains a not only one, but two superfoods – chia seeds and maca.
Cons: Those who aren't a fan of maca should probably steer clear of this flavor.
This bar didn't quite taste like peanut butter, so that was a bit perplexing in the taste test. It was also on the overly sweet side, presumably from the number one ingredient: dates.
Pros: This bar is 88 percent organic and 66 percent of sugars are derived from fruits, nuts and grains. For those with allergies or restrictions, they are gluten, soy and dairy free. Also, it’s Non-GMO certified.
Cons: It tasted too sweet, and not surprisingly, there are 18 grams of sugar in one serving.
The flavor on this bar was liked by almost all who tried it -- the mint and chocolate really come through and are pretty tasty. It's the texture that caused a hang up on this one. Although it boasts 20 grams of protein, the Clif Builder has a somewhat chalky consistency we assume from the soy protein isolate -- the first listed ingredient in this bar.
Pros: Good amount of protein other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, B6, B12, C and E.
Cons: High in sugar (21 grams) and contains soy, for those on restricted diets.
The first ingredient in this bar is a blend of organic almond and cashew nut butters, and we like the sound of that. But, the taste didn't necessarily stack up. The coconut flavor is a bit over powering, and left a weird aftertaste for some, but we’ve heard good things about some of the other flavors.
Pros: Slightly lower in sugar content than other bars on the market, at 9 grams.
Cons: We would like to see less coconut and more nut butter flavor.
This bar is marketed as a high performance meal replacement snack for after-workout recovery. It boasts 10 grams of protein, but it tastes more like a candy bar than anything else. The first ingredient listed is organic dark chocolate, followed by organic honey and whey protein isolate, which we suspect is what gives it a dense texture.
Pros: Relatively high in protein.
Cons: Too sweet for our taste, and not a fan of the dense texture and consistency.
While taste is a major factor for most, this test made it clear that everyone has varying preferences and palettes.
With that in mind, we thought it could be helpful to rank these according to some other categories besides taste.
Most Filling: Bobo’s
Nut Free: Bobo’s
Best Value: Pemmican
Healthiest Ingredients: Bearded Brothers