Energy bars used to be a convenient-yet-bland way to grab quick calories while training or through-hiking. But over the last few years, energy food makers have been battling to see who can make the tastiest product. Many of the new entries, with organic ingredients and relatively little sugar, are almost unrecognizable from the Powerbars of old. Bar makers makers have also upped their game with real chunks of fruit, exotic spices, and subtle flavors.
After calling in over a dozen new products to try, we realized our palates were probably too crude to judge the flavors well. So we visited gourmet chef Michael Fuller, owner of T.J. Buckley’s, a restaurant that both the Frommer's and Fodor’s guides call one of the top fine dining experiences in Vermont. Fuller serves up entrees like local rabbit leg stuffed with Swiss chard and double-smoked bacon, with meals often running more than $100 per person. Besides cooking, the chef bikes several several hours a week on his Cannondale Lefty 29er hardtail.
After sampling all the energy bars in Fuller’s small dining room, the chef chose these two as his favorites.
The Best-Tasting Energy Bars: Kind Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt
We pushed other samples of Kind’s new nuts and spices line on Fuller, and he was polite enough to make “Mmm” sounds into our tape recorder. But when he ate the one crisscrossed with stripes of bitter chocolate, he was knocked out. “Oh, that’s good,” he said. “With the salt going on. Wow. By far the favorite, a no-brainer.”
On the nutrition side, the bar has less sugar than most energy bars in the category and low sodium for a product with “salt” in the title. The proportions of protein and low sugar made for a bar that didn’t give us the harsh rush we got from other products.
The Best-Tasting Energy Bars: Clif Bar Sierra Trail Mix
“I have a love-hate relationship with Clif Bars,” says Fuller. After tasting another new Clif product in our lineup, he dismissed it as an expensive “rice crispy treat.” But he found that one of the newest company's newest products, the Sierra Trail Mix, due out in June, had a pleasing chocolate and oat flavor. And we have to say that this 250-calorie beast did its job in replacing calories like nothing else we tried. In comparison with Kind’s chocolate and sea salt number, the Clif had more carbs, more protein, and less fat. With a whopping 22 grams of sugar, it was certainly capable of giving us jitters. But after a long bike ride or hilly run, it was the only thing that satisfied.
Sodium: 230 mg
Price: $1.39 (out in June)