Photo by Rebecca Firkser

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need some real food

Rebecca Firkser
June 28, 2018

I have a love/hate relationship with protein bars. Like granola bars, they’re easy to stash in the bottom of your bag for a work-breakfast or post-workout pick-me-up. They’re not messy to eat and with all that extra protein they can basically double as a meal, or at least tide you over until your next meal. There are as many protein bars as there are types of protein. Sadly, I couldn’t find a cricket protein bar for this test, but we’ve got many other forms of the nutrient: protein from nuts, egg white, flaxseed, oats, collagen, casein, soy, whey, milk, and brown rice all show up—not all in one bar though, thank goodness.

None of these bars were great. Some were pleasantly nostalgic (hey there, Clif!), but for the most part protein bars aren’t good. They stick to your teeth. They coat your tongue. They have a weird, chalky-bitter aftertaste. If you need more protein in your life, I’d suggest making your own protein powder and putting it in a smoothie, or just adding more legumes or meat to your diet. Hopefully this guide will help you know what to buy the next time you’re racing through the airport tasked with the challenge of both feeding yourself and making your flight.

Photo by Rebecca Firkser

1. Clif Energy Bar

Protein: 10 grams from oats, soy protein isolate, roasted soybeans.

We genuinely enjoyed this Chocolate Almond Fudge offering from Clif. A brand we’ve all purchased in the past, the team loved the consistency of the bar, and appreciated that we could taste the oats. Compared to all the other bars, this one tasted the most like real food.

2. Zing Vitality Bar

Protein: 10 grams from almonds, hazelnuts, rice protein concentrate

The Dark Chocolate Coconut bar from Zing was a surprise favorite of the bunch. None of us has heard of the brand before, but we were all glad to know about it after sizing up the competition. It had a delightful coconut scent, and was pleasantly chewy—similarly to soft granola bar.

3. RX Bar

Protein: 12 grams from egg whites, almonds, cashews

I will admit I have purchased a case of these Chocolate Sea Salt RX Bars on Amazon. I usually have one in my purse for emergency snacking. Though she wasn’t present for the tasting, Senior Food and Drinks Editor Kat Kinsman has been known to wax poetic on these bars, and I’m inclined to agree. My fellow tasters weren’t convinced fully of its merit, but did concede that it was great to see pieces of chocolate and almond, and the sea salt on top of the bar was a nice touch. My main RX Bar complaint is that they are extremely sticky, coating your teeth with a film that you can only combat by closing your mouth and running your tongue around your teeth for a few minutes.

4. Larabar Fruit and Nut Bar

Protein: 4 grams from cashews

The chocolate chip cookie dough-flavored bar was pretty good. I often buy Larabars myself, typically the Coconut Cream Pie flavor. I like to keep them in the fridge, which helps the bars (which are made of just dates and nuts) firm and, in my opinion, taste a little more fresh. In the interest of an even playing field, I left this bar at room temperature with all the others. We found it to be very soft, and slightly oversweet. Personally, I’d pop that bad boy in the fridge and finish it in a few hours.

5. Think Thin Protein and Fiber Bar

Protein: 10 grams from soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, calcium caseinate, almonds, soy protein isolate

Problematic name aside, my colleagues and I enjoyed the Chocolate Almond Brownie Think Thin bar. We were shocked to find that it smelled like good dark chocolate, compared to many of the other bars, which smelled more like chocolate-scented candles. The texture was light, almost whipped—sort of like the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar, but not as sticky. Like most foods with “thin” in the brand name, we felt like after eating this bar we would still be hungry.

6. Balance Nutrition Bar

Protein: 14 grams from soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, calcium caseinate, casein

Though the Chocolate Craze Balance Bar smelled a little odd, we quite liked the soft texture. Did it have a weirdly fruity maraschino cherry aftertaste? You bet. Did any of us hate that? Not at all.

7. Luna Whole Nutrition Bar

Protein: 8 grams from soy protein isolate, roasted soybeans, flaxseed, cashew butter

Unsurprising for a chocolate cupcake-flavored bar, my colleagues and I found the Luna bar to smell and taste artificial, and to have a slightly plasticy aftertaste. Associate Editor Kate Welsh made the astute point that it “tastes like what a housewife in the ‘80s ate as a meal replacement.”

8. Questbar Protein Bar

Protein: 20 grams from whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate

The Double Chocolate Chunk Questbar wasn’t great. The texture was spongy and we came to the conclusion that the flavor was akin to an old Tootsie Roll.

9. Pure Protein Bar

Protein: 21 grams from whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, hydrolyzed collagen, almond butter

I won’t sugarcoat it, we didn’t like the Chocolate Deluxe Pure Protein bar. It tasted like if you left one of those vegan, dairy-free black bean brownies out in the sun for three days. It basically disintegrated once it was in my mouth, and left a pretty foul aftertaste. Site Editor Ryan Grim said it was reminiscent of “squeezing a coffee filter into my mouth.”

10. NuGo Stronger Whey Protein Bar

Protein: 25 grams (per bar, 1 bar is technically 2 servings) from whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, rice protein, almond butter, peanuts

We went out with a bang on the Dark Chocolate Caramel NuGo bar. Tasting of neither dark chocolate nor caramel, it was a similar sensation to what we imagined 3 Musketeers bar would taste like if you opened the package one Halloween, but then forgot about it in your candy pillowcase for several years.

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