Gluten-freaking out : a review of GF snack bars in a world of treats

Ahhhh the festive season. The suburban air is thickly scented with the smell of de-icer and burning wood. The satisfying crunch of grit salt underfoot on walkways has its own charm… Especially whilst race-walking to the platform to catch a train at 7.00am! I’ve been working with my head down, and written about three versions of this blog post on my phone during my lunch breaks- when I manage to disconnect from work that is.

Stress does funky things to your body – of late I have found I feel quite ill after eating bready stuff so I cut it out for a while to see if it made a difference- I call this the gluten free chapter! Going gluten free is a bit difficult at first; having said this, I have indeed felt much better. Whilst working, I often have a little craving for something sweet, yet munchy, and satisfyingly chewy so I’ve been sampling a few options for GF diets. Here is what I’ve found so far: some are good, some are really good, and after eating some you wonder “how the hell did anyone think this suitable for the consumption of humans?!! GAHHHKK!!”

Here’s a collated “listicle” of my findings thus far … ••Yes, you read right, Listicle- because the Internet has reduced our attention spans even further to a few words and pictures such that verbose bloggers like me have to change to stay relevant. ••

1) Trek Cocoa Chaos Wholefood Energy Bar- 1.25

This bar was Gluten Free, Wheat Free, and Dairy Free (at this point in scanning the packaging one can’t help think – what’s left??! Air?) This was the first bar I em-BAR-ked upon my intrepid journey with… in hindsight, it was not half bad. It comprised of three squares, and at first glance looked nothing short of a dog biscuit. Smelled a bit dog biscuit-y too… Nevertheless I sank my teeth into it and gave it a good chew.

I began reading the packaging on the back and sides; they reeked of desperation, perhaps in order to justify the 1.25 I shelled out for it. “Hand-pressed, never baked”; “Delicious and filling”; “Sticks with you, keeps you going”… not going to hide the slight apprehension mounting around taking a second bite.

I didn’t hate it- despite having bought a back-up Crunchie bar just in case. It was made of raw cocoa (which features  like a shining beacon at the end of a very dark tunnel in a recipe of my own…) something known as “soya crunch” alongside gluten-free oats, brought together with some natural sweeteners.

I’d give it a 3.5/5, it’s not too sweet, but filling and a bit of a treat if you’re trying to maintain a healthy blood sugar level during the day ;)

2) Lazy Day Foods’ Free From Tiffin Squares…. (emptied by my GF and non GF GFs before I could take a picture) 2.39

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Whilst throwing a birthday party earlier on in November 2014, I dare say my age is now approaching the alarming threshold known as  “old,” my new friend Caitlin bought these for me alongside some GF mince pies (to be reviewed separately…). I bit into one of these delightful squares whilst revelling in my newfound inspiring company, sharing amusing stories and the like. My tongue and synapses cut straight to the chase in surmising it was rather nice.  I shall describe it for you, because I am rather nice.  A rich, slightly bitter chocolate coated pieces of marshmallow, dried fruit, and biscuit. Every alternate bite featured a different kind of chew, sometimes fruity, chocolatey, a slight salty crunch adding complexity to the rich chocolate blanket under which they hid…

It’s easy to say I’d give it a 4/5. Not quite a 5, as the biscuit carried a slight raw/undercooked taste, a challenge yet to be overcome by the GF snack industry.

3) Nookie’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Energy Bar – 1.99 available at Pod Outlets and online.

Peanut butter and chocolate is a surefire win, but in a so called “health bar” it gains no more than a side-eye until otherwise verified…

The fateful day I came across this bar of curiosity, I had no time and literally ran to the nearest food outlet and ran back to HQ. I sat down at my desk and carefully unwrapped the squat, caramel colored rectangle, peppered with large chunks of chocolate. It looked like it could be satisfyingly chewy, so I carefully broke off a corner to verify my book-cover-judgement, and proceeded to give it a go. A colleague looked over from his seat, and resumed tapping away at his laptop; privacy screen to boot. He must have seen me grin.  It was well rounded, chewy, slightly crunchy and delivered in flavour exactly what it said on the packet. The ingredients include: gluten free oats, peanuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, vanilla extract, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sea salt. The flax seeds were a delightful addition, knowing I get my Omega 3s at ten to three in the afternoon is indeed a bonus. The bar has only been sweetened with natural sugars, and contains an interesting combo of dates, “brown rice syrup”, honey,  and coconut sugar. I’ve never heard of brown rice syrup in a bar and I’m not sure how good some alternative sources of sweetness are for you, but either way this bar is nice as a treat. It is very high in energy… so eat in moderation! Even half a bar is quite heavy, so it goes a long way in providing a pick-me-up for two occasions.

Bottom line: It sounded good, I wanted a snack, I tried it, and liked it. Peanut Butter bias… guilty as charged. I’d give it a 5/5.

4) M&S (yes.. I ventured back there again!) Caramel Pecan Crunch Bar – 1.10

Oh man, I came upon this bar out of desperation too. I find it heightens my ability to conduct critical analysis, mainly because low blood sugar levels can create some of the most amusing postulations, so much so that I giggle out loud. I am so glad I have an outlet known as a blog to document my mental musings, ergo allowing for some eccentricities in real life…

This bar had a thick layer of caramel sandwiched in a layer of pecans and lashings of chocolate, and … POLENTA! The much lauded staple of the Italians in a never before commercialized avatar- the snack bar! – I had to try it. I picked it up alongside my salad (an accompaniment to my lunch… not my entire lunch at all.. ha!) and proceeded back to my office, I had work to do and needed to appease my hankerings or risk day-dreaming till 6pm… eating is serious business (and so is plenty of exercise before any further assumptions are made ;) .) I unwrapped the slim bar and slid out an inch using its cardboard liner. I used a spoon to break off a piece and proceeded to taste it- with much trepidation given its manufacturer’s track history of caramel bar-like sundries. The caramel was rich, well rounded, and no pecans were bitter. I was room-temperature about the polenta and caramel combination, however as a GF snack bar it excelled in the field of innovation.

I’d give it a 4.5/5. Good show/ lucky shot… definitely hits the spot.

5) Eat Natural’s Mixed Nut Bar: Peanut and Almond – 95p

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This bar was a pick-me-up on the way to a team-meeting… I had to brave the bustling streets surrounding London’s Victoria station and needed a boost. Little did I know that the pale, and uninspiring exterior matched the taste in the interior (of my mouth). I wanted to throw it away there and then. I was unfortunately floundering in the quagmire of hunger, a feeling akin to swimming in treacle, thus the phrase “waste-not-want-not” prevailed.  So I ate the dry, cardboard cracker I paid 5 pence shy of a pound for. For the remainder of my tube journey, I battled cotton mouth induced by this nasty little creation until I reached HQ at Chancery Lane; where I downed a quart of water. This … this was the aforementioned “how the hell did anyone think this suitable for the consumption of humans?!! GAHHHKK!!” In fact, I’d like to add an extra “GAHHHKK!!” not for comedic value – although in hindsight all of my food-related misfortunes make me giggle as I recount them online – but for accuracy in describing its: Mouth-feel. 

I dislike the term, but it is useful, given my rheological approach to this whole journey…

I generously give this bar a 1/5. As the nuts that made up 20% ( or … 1/5th) of the bar were tasty, they required no culinary – if you can call it that- intervention from the creators at Eat Natural. Sort it out.

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