|Photo credit: Wendy Marshall|
by Wendy Marshall
My early hope was to coax some of these companies into advertising partnerships with the Mazamas, with the goal of bringing an infusion of monetary and promotional support to both sides. I had enough sense to realize I was getting ahead of myself. A better first step was simply to inform people, letting relationships grow organically, and seeing what evolves. My very next idea was to review my ample stash of promotional gifts, with a focus on easy-to-pack food bars and snacks of the type I love to bring on hikes and snowboarding trips. Clearly, mountain sports types have heard of Clif Bar, PowerBar, and Luna. But what other vistas awaited us? What nutritional benefits could these products offer to the discerning consumer in search of fresh territory? Or, for that matter, to people seeking their preferred zone, be it vegan, paleo, or gluten-free?
"We're all nuts here." Where I'm from, that saying is a compliment. My trekking choices tend to agree. Where would snack bars be without nuts? The very nuttiest of these is one of my favorites.
"Ingredients you can see and pronounce" is the mantra of KIND Snacks, plus a business philosophy of, well, kindness. Aside from Clif, this may be the most familiar snack bar to us. I first encountered them at a Hope on the Slopes skiing fundraiser for cancer research, where KIND was a sponsor.
KIND has already partnered with the Mazamas for at least one event, at which I got to try their Black Truffle sample bar. I love this bar for its earthy, less-sweet flavor. It has a savory truffle bite to balance the honey, and the satisfying chewy-crunchy texture typical of KIND bars, using whole nuts and grains.
Truffles not your thing? KIND has 20 flavors of nut bars, and yet more options with added flax, antioxidants, protein, or drizzled in yogurt. Being a dark chocolate fan, I also enjoyed the Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew bar in the KIND "Plus" line with added antioxidants, which had a rich, yet not overbearing sweetness. What's an antioxidant? It's a molecule that protects cells and body tissues from damage by oxygen. In short, it helps keep you from literally "rusting" and aging, always a concern with hard-working muscles and sun-exposed skin. The bars’ highest natural ingredient is cacao, the chocolate bean; other good sources are dark fruits like cranberries, blueberries and pomegranates, whole grains, and fresh vegetables like spinach and carrots.
For those wishing to skip chocolate, I recommend Maple Glazed Pecan and Sea Salt. KIND also offers snack clusters in a pouch. Their products are gluten-free, non-genetically-engineered (GMO), and many are dairy-free as well. Find them at major Portland natural grocers and at kindsnacks.com.
Fittingly, I first encountered a Rawnola bar at a forest activist work camp in the Mt. Hood wilderness. Earthling Organics of California uses ingredients as close to their source in nature as possible, such as raw coconuts and almonds, in that what's best for the planet is what's best for us. Or, as they put it: "Snacks for intelligent lifeforms." Their nine-organic-ingredient, gluten-free, sprouted granola bar in Vanilla has a firm crispy-crumbly texture, finely ground and nice to chew, with a strong coconut-almond flavor. If Vanilla seems too sweet, Rawnola also comes in Cacao, Goji Berry, and Matcha. The last contains chlorella, a powerful plant protein great for promoting muscle growth and healthy cells, with a full set of amino acids and vitamins, including lots of Vitamin B12. Yep, it's a green bar. Rawnola is available at most major grocers like Whole Foods, and Alberta Co-op. Also at earthlingorganics.com.
Nothin' But Foods
Here's a peek at what may arrive soon. This company, who uses nothin' but organic stuff like oats, nuts, seeds, fruit and honey, offers baked, gluten-free granola cookies and snack bars in four flavors. I like these for their chewy granola texture and notably vivid flavors—out of the citrus kick of Ginger Lemon Cashew, intense cacao of Chocolate Coconut or ripe, fruity depth of Cherry Cranberry Almond, I couldn't pick favorites. California is littered with vendors, and I heard Nothin' But wants to spread into Costco stores. Until then, hunt them down at
Whole grains and seeds are good sources of energy. I especially love sunflower seeds, which are easy to pack or add to salads. Sunflower seeds strengthen the heart and bones, balance cholesterol, and reduce cancer risk. Both grains and seeds form the bulk of some of the following snacks.
Bobo's Oat Bars
I found the name, handmade look, and story of this product endearing. Bobo's sprung from a mother-daughter team in Boulder, CO, and still prides itself on four basic ingredients and a small-batch baking process. Inside the humble, clear wrapper, you'll find a thick, hearty, chewy, and incredibly satisfying and flavorful bar. They all taste potently fresh, whether of bright tangy oranges or a coconut that's just been cracked open. Just as good as a newly-baked oatmeal cookie. So far I've tried Cranberry Orange, Coconut and Apple Pie, but this company has 15 flavors of bar to choose from. Just looking at them makes me want to either start baking or head to my friend's farm to play in the fields.
Bobo's Oat Bars are gluten and dairy free, vegan, and non-GMO. These get a definite thumbs-up. Then again, I like my oatmeal. Oats are a slow-burning source of whole grain proteins and complex carbohydrates, full of nutrients and fiber, which help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Bobo's may have begun humble, but it’s now everywhere: Whole Foods, New Seasons, Safeway, REI Co-op, Albertson's, and at eatbobos.com.
Marketed as "primitive nutrition," food bars don't get much simpler than this. I love the name of one: Seeds and ... seeds! Be ready to nosh on this chewy, gooey, very seedy bar, which is free of wheat, soy, and dairy. You'd think a snack with a cave-man on it would be suitable for paleo eaters. Since that's a very distinct diet, I'll let readers judge for themselves by the ingredients—seeds of flax, sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin, plus brown rice syrup. That's all. Speaking of flax, if you'd rather not eat fish or fish oil, flax seeds are known for their high content of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acid, along with many vitamins, minerals and all essential amino acids. Umchu offers six other flavors of bar, too, micro-batched in Edmonds, WA. Whole Foods or Alberta Co-op can hook you up, as can umchubar.com.
The founders of this company, with roots back to 1950, did energy foods before "energy bar" was cool, using one of the greatest natural energy foods, honey. Now they're at it again, with a dozen types of organic bars, energy chews, and other goodies. I'll have to go with the Super Fruit & Ancient Grain bar, packed with dried berries and seeds, but I also like the chews. Honey Stinger is well-known for their sponsorship of athletes and organizations, and they'll be joining us again at Hope on the Slopes 2017. Natural grocers, climbing gyms, sporting goods stores—these guys are everywhere including honeystinger.com.
Taste of Nature
These snacks are laden with good things, topped with visible whole seeds and nuts like a KIND bar. There are 20 flavors, all mostly organic, certified gluten free, non-GMO verified, kosher and vegan. Some flavors are unusual, too, such as Key Lime Pie, Brazil Nut, and Pomegranate. My lone sample, Dark Chocolate Cherry with 10g protein was pure delight, bursting with cherry flavor and crunchy seeds. This is a Canadian company. Unless you venture across the border, the easiest way to try these is ordering via tasteofnature.ca or tasteofnature.com. I'm tempted to ask for a variety pack.
It's an ideal name for a quick snack. Not a bar but a similar-sized pack of loose, whole-grain nibbles a bit like a lightweight trail-mix, Nosh has a base of puffed rice and comes in five flavor combinations. These are creative, such as my favorites, Blueberry Lavender Lemon and Coconut Chai. Besides the unique flavors, I love the addition of tiny, dried currants in the mix. For their size, black currants pack lots of vitamins and minerals along with protein and fiber. Nosh is dairy-free, vegan, certified organic. Safeway, Market of Choice and Vitamin Cottage carry Nosh, or find them at
Chewy fuel. For those who prefer a smoother, dough-like consistency like that of a PowerBar, the following will hopefully fit your pack.
Raw Revolution was started by a nurse and chef. They offer all-organic, plant-based live superfood bars, vegan, gluten-free and kosher too, high in protein but without refined nutrients. I like their Golden Cashew bar, which has fat cashews in a tangy, nutty matrix, while Chocolate Raspberry Truffle grabbed my sweet tooth. At least six flavors, found in natural co-ops, grocers, and at rawrev.com.
Go Macro caters to the macrobiotic diet, which focuses on mostly whole grains and vegetables, an overall balance of salty-sweet, hot-cold, yin-yang, etc., and positive holistic energy in food. The Go Macro representative I spoke with told me proudly they had one of the highest-selling products on the market. I really like their "Sweet Revival" Sesame Butter and Dates bar, whose rich seed matrix has a natural, delicate sweetness. Cashew Caramel, however, is milder in flavor. Dates are high in nutrients and fiber, easily digested, help your body metabolize energy, and may prevent cancers. Vegan, soy-free, and no GMOs. Find up to 12 flavors at major grocers, or gomacro.com.
Picky Bars are an exercise-focused line launched by three professional athletes. They've hit on a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, an ideal balance for workout nutrition. They offer at least eight flavors, mostly organic, not a GMO in sight. I tried their Cookie Doughness bar, which resembles a condensed cinnamon-raisin cookie in both texture and taste. Yum! I found these guys at Trader Joe's or at pickybars.com, where you'll find a summary of ingredients and health benefits.
Protein power. Some companies express their innovation by dedicating their product line to healthier, sustainable, and at times very unusual sources of protein. Here are a few.
"You're not paleo until you eat bugs." That's the grabber for Chapul cricket protein bars, which do, in fact, have cricket flour in them. What? Why eat crickets? This daring company is all about sustainability. My Chapul representative explained that crickets use only 8% of the food and water as cows to produce the same amount of available protein for people, and create only 1% of the greenhouse gases (cows are farty, and gobble lots of resources). Crickets, she said, have twice the protein of beef, 15% more iron than spinach, and as much B12 as salmon. I quickly began to understand. But was I ready? After a deep breath, I tried the Thai bar. It was unique in its hints of ginger and lime, but otherwise? Delicious. Pleasant texture, like any other moist, soft energy bar, yet not overly sweet. I'd never know I was eating bugs. I recommend these not just for adventure, but also their high nutrition content and genuinely tasty, cultural flavor combinations like the Aztec bar with dark chocolate, coffee and cayanne. Chapul bars come in four types, which you can sniff out at Alberta Co-op, Food Front Co-op, Natural Grocers Vitamin Cottage, or at chapul.com.
If you'd rather not eat animals or bugs, try hemp, the plant source of easily digestible protein. Hemp seeds, I learned, are a nutritionally complete food. They are 33% protein, 35% essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6, and contain all nine essential amino acids, plus there's all that lovely fiber. These raw health bars, which come in six flavors, are vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and are labeled paleo outright. Evo's Apple Pecan bar is dark, moist and crumbly, full of seeds and spiced apple goodness, maybe my ideal of what a homemade fruitcake should be. The company offers hemp seed baking flour and other items as well. Find them at natural grocers and at evohemp.com.
This whole-food protein bar draws on the power of egg whites for much of its 12 grams of protein, with an overall emphasis on simple nutrition. In fact, it lists its four main ingredients on the front of the wrapper, along with "No B.S." There's a few more, but all are basic and pronounceable. I tried the Chocolate Coconut, a dense, chewy brick with whole morsels of nuts, fruit and chocolate inside. This density gives a substantial feel to your snacking, and there are eight flavors to pick from. RxBars are gluten-, soy- and dairy-free. CrossFit gyms carry them, but so does Trader Joe's and rxbar.com.
Savory alternatives. If the thought of eating yet another sugary-sweet energy bar makes your throat clench in a Gag reflex, fear not, other options exist.
A company inspired by family meals in Greece, and based on the Mediterranean diet with its focus on fruit, vegetables, grains, and olives. I tried two of their savory bars, Bell Peppers & Green Olives and Black Olives & Walnuts, and loved both. These savory bars, which come in four flavors, have a great balance between sweet and savory, with the former being very subtle. Chewy sun-dried chunks pair well with crisp, puffed amaranth seeds. Mediterra also has four types of sweeter bar with yogurt and oats. Of these, I like the Apricot & Pistachio bar, a pungent, fruity bar, dipped in white yogurt. Again, I like the harmony of complex flavors. I look forward to trying all of these! All are non-GMO, gluten-free. In the Portland area, Market of Choice, GNC, Pharmaca and possibly Whole Foods carry Mediterra along with their site mediterranutrition.com.
Power wraps? What are those? A savory snack stick made from ground nuts and seeds, wrapped in nori, the seaweed used for wrapping sushi. These aren't sweet at all, and resemble a stick of jerky, but they're vegan. I tried the Masala wraps, which have a dry texture and a spicy, warm taste. Nori is rich in protein, iron, iodine (typical of seaweeds), and fiber, and lowers both cholesterol and risk of cancer. Gopal's is dedicated to ethical products for the planet and specializes in 100% raw, sprouted, organic foods. What's this scoop on sprouted foods? A seed, like an egg, is like an armored food storage unit. Much of this fuel is starch, which a human body converts to sugar. When the seed sprouts, the young plant begins consuming the starch, resulting in a food with higher protein and fiber, and a lower glycemic index. Eat sprouted bread, rather than white or whole wheat, and you'll feel fuller faster. Some seeds, like flax, are so well-armored that your body has a hard time utilizing them, unless they're freshly ground into flour or sprouted.
Besides Power Wraps, Gopal's offers four types of nutty, fruity Rawma snack bar, which I have yet to try, as well as raw food crackers and cookies, Sprouties seed packs, Rawmanola clusters, and much more. Alberta Co-op and Food Fight! carry their products; other natural grocers may, as well as their site gopalshealthfoods.com.
These people make vegging out easy, even for people who dislike eating vegetables. Not bars but vegetable chips or "bites," they're delicious alternatives to trail mix or granola clumps. I particularly like all three flavors of Broccoli Bites, which are crunchy and bursting with savory spice. They also have beet chips and kale chips. Most natural grocers and food co-ops will offer them and their site rhythmsuperfoods.com.
"Are you like a vegetarian, or what?" I can't count the times I've been asked something like this, perhaps because I look like one. What I am is odd: I shy away from chicken and turkey, but like red meat (thank you, cows) and salmon. Just don't mention the chocolate. Here are three choices for carnivores.
Epic had a nice booth for their 100% naturally-sourced animal products. In keeping with paleo ideas, they believe in the wisdom of our ancestral diet, but just as important is for animals to live and graze as naturally as possible. Holistic, biodynamic ranching, Epic argues, can restore grassland, unlike the industrial farming and agriculture practices we're seeing today. I'd never eaten buffalo, so I gave their Bison bar a try. It's salty yet sweet, incredibly piquant with a slight smoky taste and cranberries inside. It's not pure bison but also contains bacon, and this is noticeable. Epic offers 11 types of meat bar, and lots more (salmon fillets, too). Most natural grocers and health food stores carry them, or go to epicbar.com.
Mighty Bar specializes in pure grass-fed, organic prairie beef from Down Under, with a farmers' cooperative over 20 years old. They have three flavors of bars; I tried Cranberry & Sunflower Seed. It has good flavor, but a bit harder texture, more in the style of juicy jerky than Epic's bison creation. Whole Foods, New Seasons and Alberta Co-op carry them; mightyorganic.com.
Tanka is worth checking out. Native American Natural Foods makes these buffalo-meat snacks to advocate natural and healthy eating, a Native respect for living things, and racial interconnectedness. Tanka offers four flavors Tanka is widespread, from New Seasons and Whole Foods to Pharmaca, Food Front, Little Green Grocer, REI, co-ops, and many others including their site tankabar.com.
What a ride. Mighty bars, picky bars, kind bars, power wraps, a revolution in food. The most difficult part of this journey for me was choosing, from such bounty, which to discuss. Variety, the omnivore's dilemma, is truly the spice of life. For such wholesome, certified products (at the expo, I learned just how costly certification is), all are reasonably priced. Of course, if you're bold, you can also try making food bars of any sort, as I've done. But often, you may not have time.
When stuffing your pack with snacks this coming year, why not try something new? Many of us take joy in striking out on a path we've never explored before. But I discovered there's no less of a thrill in walking up to someone you've never seen, who's offering their passion to the world via a company they started only a month ago, and asking, "Can I try it?" That way, there's plenty of room to be adventurous.