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First Annual Energy Bar Test

Backpacking Light staff members rate six "natural" energy bars on taste and nutrition.

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by Carol Crooker and Alison Simon | 2005-04-12 03:00:00-06

First Annual Energy Bar Test - 1
The bars. All the bars are full size except the Alpsnack, which is sample size.

Being a "foodie," I made it my business to investigate the various food offerings at the 2005 Winter Outdoor Retailer show. "Natural" energy bars were a prominent hit. I collected samples of six brands of bars that were either new to the show or introducing new flavors, and that made some claim about being natural. After some discussion among the four Backpacking Light staff members at the show, our analyst, Alison, set up testing criteria. We tested the Alpsnack Energy Bar, Balance Bar Trail Mix Energy Bar, Fuel Natural Endurance Bar, Lärabar Energy Bar, NuGo Nutrition to Go Energy Bar, and Probar Energy Bar. Each of the four testers (Alan, Alison, Carol, and Vic) carefully studied and sampled the bars and rated them on taste and nutrition. Our criteria for what constituted "good nutrition" varied - some cared about trans fats, others didn't; glycemic index was of interest to some, but not to others. We also rated the bars in a third category - what is the likelihood that this bar will make it into my pack? Some of us will not pack a bar that pleases our taste buds if it violates one of our criteria for good nutrition. High fat content is a plus for most of us, as is high calorie to weight ratio. Some like a bar with lots of protein. Regardless of the calories and nutrition, some of us are reluctant to carry a highly nutritional bar if we don't like the taste, others will eat anything.

Alison crunched the numbers after everyone secretly recorded their ratings in the three categories. For each bar, scores in each category were averaged over the four testers, then the resultant three scores were averaged, with the third category - will it make it into my pack - double weighted to arrive at the average overall score for each bar. The Probar emerged as a clear winner for our group of testers, and Balance Bar Trail Mix a clear loser (even though it was the favorite of one of our testers). Scores for the remaining four bars formed a close grouping.

Observations

  • Each of the testers had a different favorite: Alison - Alpsnack, Alan - Lärabar, Carol - Probar, and Vic - Balance Bar.
  • Preferences varied wildly: Vic's favorite bar - Balance Bar - was Alison's least favorite, and her favorite bar - Alpsnack - was his least favorite.
  • The two bars using hemp nuts easily had the highest calories per ounce.
  • The two bars with the most protein, NuGo and Balance Bar Trail Mix, were the only bars with soy, and also had the longest list of "processed" ingredients, i.e. furthest from their natural state.

Ratings are from 1 - worst, to 5 - Best.

Table 1 Ratings Chart for Energy Bars
Brand Overall Rating Flavor Average Nutrition Average Take it? Average
Alpsnack 13.6 3.25 3.625 3.375
Balance Bar Trail Mix 12.0 4.0 2.5 2.75
Fuel Natural Endurance 13.9 3.5 3.875 3.25
Lärabar 14.4 3.625 4.25 3.25
NuGo 14.0 4.0 3.0 3.5
Probar 17.1 4.25 4.375 4.25

Interactive Table: Javascript-Enabled Browser Required

To see the testers' individual results, click: Alison, Alan, Carol, Vic

Brand Alison's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 18.5 4 4.5 5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 9 4 3 1
Fuel Natural Endurance 13 4 3 3
Lärabar 10 3 5 1
NuGo 14 5 3 3
Probar 16.5 3.5 5 4
Brand Alan's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 16.5 4.5 4 4
Balance Bar Trail Mix 12.0 4 2 3
Fuel Natural Endurance 11.0 3 4 2
Lärabar 19.5 4.5 5 5
NuGo 16.0 5 3 4
Probar 19.0 4.5 4.5 5
Brand Carol's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 13.5 3.5 3 3.5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 9 3 2 2
Fuel Natural Endurance 15.5 4 3.5 4
Lärabar 16 4 4 4
NuGo 14 3 3 4
Probar 19 5 4 5
Brand Vic's Overall Rating Flavor Nutrition Take it?
Alpsnack 6 1 3 1
Balance Bar Trail Mix 18 5 3 5
Fuel Natural Endurance 16 3 5 4
Lärabar 12 3 3 3
NuGo 12 3 3 3
Probar 14 4 4 3

Comments - Positive
Alpsnack high fat content; good flavors
Balance Bar good chocolaty taste
Fuel high fat content
Lärabar soft texture; great food content; my fruit serving for the day; the banana tastes great --- like banana bread
NuGo good variety; very tasty; nice crunch
Probar good taste; like a "sticky breakfast cereal"; good texture
Comments - Negative
Alpsnack I'll need to floss my tongue
Balance Bar too sweet; palm kernel oil makes it unacceptable
Fuel tastes like sawdust; needs more chocolate flavor; no to the cocoa butter
Lärabar bad visuals; likely to melt (Note: "melt" in this case refers to the tester's concern that the fruit portion of the bar might soften in high heat conditions)
NuGo cocoa butter means "no-go"
Probar likely to crumble outside the package
Table 2 Nutrition Information
Bar Serving size (oz) Servings per bar Calories Fat calories Total fat (g) Sodium (mg) Total Carbs (g) Fiber (g) Sugars (g) Protein (g)
Alpsnack 1.48 1 210 100 12 70 24 3 15 5
Balance Bar Trail Mix 1.76 1 210 60 7 230 23 3 12 15
Fuel Natural Endurance 2.3 1 310 - 18 25 32 4 15 8
Lärabar 1.7 1 190 80 9 0 24 4 17 5
NuGo Family 1.76 1 180 30 3 170 26 2.5 13 11
NuGo Protein 1.76 1 190 25 2.5 160 25 1 13 17
Probar (whole) 3.0 1 350 140 16 38 50 6.5 14 8
Probar 1.5 2 (TWO) 175 70 8 19 25 3.25 7 4

Notes:

1. Nutritional information is shown from one randomly chosen flavor for each brand of bar.

2. The NuGo Family and Protein bars were tested as one set of bars.


Table 3 Energy Bar Highlights
Bar Calories/ounce What makes it special First ingredient Sweetened with Flavors
Alpsnack 142 Certified organic hemp nuts, almonds, and fruits. Dairy, gluten, and wheat free. Organic almonds Organic sugar, organic rice syrup, organic cane sugar Plums & Currants; Apricots & Cranberries; Coconut, Mango & Pineapple; Fair Trade Dark Chocolate; Fair Trade Espresso Chocolate
Balance Bar Trail Mix 119 Lasting energy from ratio of carbs, protein, and dietary fat, 14-15 g protein, low glycemic index. Protein blend [soy nuggets (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, salt), calcium caseinate, soy protein isolate, casein, whey protein isolate] Brown rice syrup, honey, evaporated cane juice invert syrup, sugar Cinnamon, Oats and Honey; Chocolate Chip; Fruit and Nut
Fuel Natural Endurance 148 Made with fresh whole seeds, nuts, and grains. All natural, no preservatives or added sugar, gluten free. Organic versions available. Hulled hemp seeds Brown rice syrup, corn syrup, honey Chocolate Crunch, Apple Caramel, Chocolate Espresso
Lärabar 124 Total of two to six ingredients: unsweetened fruit, nuts, and spices. Uncooked, unprocessed, no added sugar, non-GMO, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, vegan, kosher. Equivalent of a whole banana in the banana bar. Either dates or nuts (almond, walnut, or cashew) depending on flavor. No added sweeteners Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Banana Cookie, Cashew Cookie, Chocolate Coconut Chew
NuGo Family Bar 102 Crunchy and processed similar to fine bakery products. Low glycemic response. Low in saturated fat, all natural, no hydrogenated oils, or trans fatty acids. Kosher. Crisped soy nuggets (isolated soy protein, rice flour, malt and salt) Beet sugar, sugar, dehydrated cane juice, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose Chocolate Blast, Blueberry Boom, Coffee Break, Peanut Butter Pleaser
NuGo - Protein 108 "More soy protein per calorie than any other nutrition bar." Crisped soy nuggets (isolated soy protein, rice flour, tapioca four, malt and salt) Beet sugar, sugar, dehydrated cane juice, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fructose Banana Chocolate, Orange Smoothie
Probar 117 Ingredients blended, not baked. 15 whole foods that are raw and organic. Vegan. No preservatives, no chemical alteration of ingredients. Tropical Mix (raisins, sunflowers seeds, unsulphured papaya, pineapple, dates, raw cashews, raw coconut, raw pumpkin seeds, raw brazil nuts) Brown rice syrup, grape juice, evaporated cane juice One flavor

Notes:

1. NuGo is also available in two Smarte Carb flovors, which were not tested

2. Fuel Bars are also available in an organic version (1.6 oz, 210 calories), and a Fun Fuel size ( 0.5 oz, 70 calories).

Index of websites:

Alpsnack

Balance Bar Trail Mix

Fuel Natural Endurance

Lärabar

NuGo

Probar


Citation

"First Annual Energy Bar Test," by Carol Crooker and Alison Simon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/first_annual_energy_bar_test.html, 2005-04-12 03:00:00-06.

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Energy Bars
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David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
eating on the installment plan on 04/14/2005 19:26:32 MDT Print View

Generally, I've found that "lunch" on a hike is whatever is consumed between the time I leave camp in the morning and when I set the pack down for the last time and pitch the tarp. If I'm not walking, I'm most likely feeding.

Thanks for the pointers on larger-size "gel" products. I also discovered that Clif sells "big shots" (16-serving jugs of clif gel) but only in the razz and mocha flavors.

Now if only you could have a y-valve for a hydration system, so I could switch between gel and water...

jeremy wo
(jwucd) - F
Snickers weight on 04/14/2005 19:52:05 MDT Print View

"Then you have to add the weight of the vitamins in addition to the heavier candy bar!"

Not so. Marathon bars are about 113 Calories/ounce, but regular Snickers bars are about 135 Calories/ounce! The vitimins do add a little weight, but they have a lot more vitimins and minerals than the bar.

You're right about melting though. Forgetting about a candy bar in your bag until it melts and gets chocolate over everything sucks. And it's easier to ration energy bars, since they don't taste as good.

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
Snickers weight on 04/14/2005 22:04:21 MDT Print View

Sorry, I was being funny about the weight of the Snickers bar and vitamins combination. Of the two bars I compared, the candy bar weighed 3 grams more than the energy bar and you really would need a multi-vitamin to make up the difference between the two.

george cauthen
(gnothiself) - F
Payday not a bad choice on 04/14/2005 23:43:40 MDT Print View

salted peanuts on caramel. RC cola hard to get these days, but redneck gas station convenience stores often stock payday.

What's this dumping on rednecks? Who will be next? People with less than master's degrees?

There is just not that much difference between hi-tec AT walkers and the Walmart boots/gun/deer stand locals often near the trail. Or great depression hobos for that matter.

Not that much difference between REI markups and walmart knockoffs either.

I have no idea who I voted for in the last two elections, or even whether I voted. I know who I tried to vote for, though.

John Garberson
(Montana) - F
Paydays on 04/15/2005 08:16:37 MDT Print View

I rarely eat candy bars EXCEPT on the trail and then I take Payday. They don't melt and are darn near indestructible. Don't even need to bring the wrapper...unwrap 'em and drop 'em into the gorp bag. They have a bit of salt which I crave on a hot hike and list at 145calories/ounce.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
i second the motion on 04/15/2005 09:44:29 MDT Print View

my fav also:

unwrapped payday bars in bag(s) of G.O.R.P.

GORP-plus /// GORP+ /// superGORP may consist of some of the following, dependin' upon what i have available:

raisins, payday bars, peanuts, almonds, sometimes cashews/walnuts/pecans, always dried papaya&dried pineapple, sometimes non-sulfurated apples, craisins, apricots, a couple of prunes, sometimes various types of seeds, carob coated peanuts&raisins (doesn't seem to melt as easily as chocolate), occasionally M&M's, sometimes choco. coated espresso beans (haven't found carob coated espresso beans yet).

buy the ingredients separately at the super-market. can be made more cheaply or more expensively depending upon the ingredients selected.

sometimes all i eat is GORP with multi-V&M supplement.

any other GORP suggestions would be appreciated.

Edited by pj on 04/15/2005 09:45:35 MDT.

Phil Barton
(flyfast) - MLife

Locale: Oklahoma
gorp on 04/15/2005 10:59:46 MDT Print View

Paul, like you, I tend to cruise the grocery store for what hits my fancy when building the next trip's GORP. Lately, I've added banana chips.

I'll have to try the chocoloate coated espresso beans and Payday bars.

The other ingredient I'll often add is a teaspoon of salt in the mix. I tend to crave salt when hiking and just like that little bit extra.

GORP is a much more personal thing than I ever realized.

Edited by flyfast on 04/15/2005 11:00:22 MDT.

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
GORP on 04/15/2005 14:39:45 MDT Print View

My favorite GORP ingredients are: raw almonds, cranberries!, macadamia nuts, and pistachio nuts.

Richard Nelridge
(naturephoto1) - M

Locale: Eastern Pennsylvania
Sunflower seeds & m&m peanuts on 04/15/2005 14:55:51 MDT Print View

Sunflower seeds can also add nicely to a GORP mix. Also m&m peanuts will give you both peanuts and chocolate that will not melt easily.

Edited by naturephoto1 on 04/15/2005 15:03:49 MDT.

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
G.O.R.P. on 04/15/2005 15:15:50 MDT Print View

Good Old Raisins & Peanuts (GORP) is probably the best energy combination listed. Everyone can make their own according to their tastes. Also,if there is an allergy to specific foods, they can of course be eliminated. I think the Pay-Day bar is another great addition.

dan kutcher
(danscapes49) - F
Kudos on 04/15/2005 18:09:08 MDT Print View

My favorite is chocolate chip. I like the Clif bars, too, but Kudos are my favorite - right in between candy and a breakfast cereal bar in sweetness and nutrition.


(Anonymous)
LaraBar Clarification and Free Sample Offer on 04/18/2005 23:16:20 MDT Print View

I would like to clarify a misconception by the reviewers about LaraBar. LaraBars do not ever melt or freeze because they are made from only fruit, nuts and spices - nothing else added. They are the cleanest burning energy because of the purity of ingredients.
If you are interested in sampling a LaraBar, and you are one of the first 50 people to contact us from this article, we will happily send you a sample to try. Please contact us at 877-LARABAR.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
LaraBar Clarification on 04/19/2005 07:25:50 MDT Print View

LaraBars, thank you for posting a clarification on the temperature properties of your product.

Please note that the LaraBar was the second highest rated bar in our tests. It was my personal favorite. I have a number of LaraBars at home waiting to go on my next trip. That being said…

No product is perfect in the eyes of all beholders. The LaraBar had a host of positive comments and only a few negative ones. That is what one would expect from a well received product. I believe by ‘likely to melt’ our commenter (anonymous by test design) meant that the fruit portion would soften with higher temperature. Our highest rated bar got a similar comment ‘likely to crumble outside the package.’

-Alan Dixon
Product Review Director

James Augustine
(chirodr) - F

Locale: Southern California
Fuel Bars on 04/21/2005 00:02:05 MDT Print View

I like bars that are made out of food, and was very impressed to find the fuel bars being certified organic nuts and seeds...no added synthetic, fractionated vitamins and chemicals. FYI...I contacted the company and they are locally distributed by Bristol Farms. Soon, Whole Foods market and Mothers will carry them as well.

Good stuff!

Jim

Carol Crooker
(cmcrooker) - MLife

Locale: Desert Southwest, USA
FREE Larabars on 04/26/2005 12:07:53 MDT Print View

Has anyone received their free sample Larabars yet? (See the phone number 3 posts previously). When your samples arrive, please post the results of your taste tests :)
The Larabars were my second favorite after Probars. I like to take 1 of each for each backpacking day.

Edited by cmcrooker on 04/26/2005 12:09:44 MDT.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Larabars at Whole Foods on 04/26/2005 12:30:57 MDT Print View

BTW my Whole Foods has a complete set of the Larabar line in the energy bar section. ProBars I have to order online which is a lot less convenient.

-Alan

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
found Larabars at Whole Foods on 04/26/2005 16:23:48 MDT Print View

Bought one of the Cherry Larabars at Whole Foods. I picked the flavor at random -- I love cherries, but most 'cherry flavored' stuff is that nasty artificial flavor that tastes like cough drops.

But the Larabar does have a good, intense, real cherry flavor. Very similar to the flavor of my homemade dried tart cherries, in fact. The overall texture and flavor aren't bad (sort of a dates-and-nuts flavor), and I don't think it can freeze very hard in cold weather. IIRC the single bar was about $2.29, and a case of 16 was $30, which makes them about twice the cost of Clif bars. That's going to limit the number of Larabars for me, anyway. I may end up with the occasional single bar for a different flavor.

Ken

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
LaraBar on 04/27/2005 09:07:46 MDT Print View

I received my free LaraBar and tried it. I got the Banana Cookie, which tastes quite a bit like Banana Nut Bread. The texture is chewy, not like jerky, but more like fruit leather.
I would try more LaraBar flavors on a weekend trip just to find out how well they satisfy my needs.

Mike Storesund
(mikes) - F
LaraBar on 05/02/2005 14:16:44 MDT Print View

Well after I tried my free LaraBar I bought some more for this last weekend trip. I had the Chocolate Coconut Chew and 3/4 through the bar I bit into something hard. After isolating it, I found it to be a piece of walnut shell. I guess their quality control let that one go through.
Added;
I talked with the people at Humm Foods to advise them of the lot number I had the shell piece. I understand that when they deal with natural foods in bulk, especially items like walnuts, or any shelled item sometimes shell pieces will slip through inspection. They were very responsive and their immediate concern was if I had any dental needs, which I did not.
I have sent them the wrapper and shell piece and they have offered more than replacing the bar. In all honesty I was not expecting their offer, just wanted to advise them of the issue.

Edited by mikes on 05/02/2005 21:59:38 MDT.

JD Schaefer
(JDRower) - MLife

Locale: North Carolina
Clif Bars should be included because. . . on 05/03/2005 13:11:45 MDT Print View

They're 4 to 1 carbs to protein and that's an ideal ratio for replenishing lost fuel and rebuilding damaged (used) muscle, at least that's what my nutritionist recommended when I did a 2-day 17-hour row from Corvallis, OR to Portland, OR.

Seems to me she included hydration in there too.

Lots of variety with Clif Bars.