Taste Test: Get Your Most Chocolaty Gains with These Brownie-Themed Protein BarsApril 21, 2017
You’ve cranked out every last rep, pushed the limit, and felt the burn run deep down each and every muscle fiber in your body. Or you’ve the spent the whole day doing errands on your feet, only to realize it’s been hours since your last meal and you are famished. Fueling (and refueling) is of utmost importance—but with the hustle and bustle of modern life, sitting down for a full, nutritious meal can be a luxury for many. Enter protein bars—bars that offer a good amount of the macronutrient in a portable sealed package that can be consumed wherever, whenever, no utensils required.
Perhaps most appealing about them, however, is how most bars take on sweet flavors patterned after existing sweet treats that are good for the soul, but thought to be bad for your physical health. Think chocolate chip cookies. Caramel nut clusters. Peanut butter cookie dough. Birthday cake!!! Or deep, dark, chocolatey brownies, in the case of our little taste test today—sans the so-called nutritional “damage” and guilt you’d get with the real thing.
Or so you’d think, anyway. In practice, too many protein bars either taste like sad counterfeit versions of whatever they try to resemble, as if to rub in your face that at the end of the day that ya can’t have what you really want. In spite of their supposed more “healthful” image, many bars are little more than glorified candy bars in terms of nutrition, with just as much fat and sugar as the regular junk. And for many bars on the market, a peek into the ingredient list reveals a long list of artificial sweeteners and preservatives that sound more like something that should stay in the laboratory, not your body. In many ways, you’d probably be better off with the real McCoy.
To be clear: nothing beats real food, and by no means are we recommending these take the place of anything found in nature, prepared with the love and care of actual human hands. Still, you cannot deny their convenience when you need a quick, portable way to get feel energized in between meals or to reach your daily protein needs. And in spite of their processed nature, some of them can be pretty darn tasty.
For this taste test, we took a look at brownie-themed protein bars from six brands available in the local market: Doctor’s Carbrite, Universal, Promax, Thinkthin, Purefit, and Quest. For our purposes, our focus is on actual flavor than nutritional value. But for reference, we’ve listed the summary of their nutrition facts—take your pick based on your own personal needs. Keep in mind that the amount of protein is not the sole indicator of its quality; the source of the protein matters, too, with whey and egg at the top spot and soy and vegetable proteins at the bottom.
Doctor’s Carbrite diet – chocolate brownie
56.7g; available at Healthy Options
Nutrition: 190 Cal / 21g Protein / 23g Carbs / 3.5g Fat / <1g Fiber
Protein source: Soy Protein & Whey Concentrate
Sweetener: Glycerine, Maltitol
Though marketed primarily as a low-carb, sugar-free “diet bar” (which we picked up at the sugar-free section of our local Healthy Options), Carbrite bars carry a fairly impressive amount of protein for the calories that is at par with other protein bars. It starts with a thin chocolate coating (you’ll find actual chocolate liquor and cacao butter in the ingredients) which makes way to a dense, fudgy base with just enough of a firmness that it feels chewy, finishing with just a hint of grit. In spite of a mildly chalky aftertaste (the hallmark of whey protein), this bar offers a deep, dark chocolaty flavor that can quell the most intense of chocolate cravings.
Universal Hi Protein – Chocolate Brownie
85g; available at Healthy Options
Nutrition: 293 Cal / 33g Protein / 30g Carbs / 6g Fat / 4g Fiber
Protein source: Isolated Soy Protein, Whey Protein Concentrate (Milk), Hydrolyzed Protein
Sweetener: Glycerine, Maltitol, Corn Syrup
Universal is similar to Carbrite with its thin chocolate coating and dense, fudgy base and a similar ratio of calories to protein content, but you get a bigger serving in one packet—85 whopping grams as opposed to Carbrite’s 56.7—and the added thickness makes it even more satisfying to sink the teeth into. The overall flavor isn’t the best however; though it starts dark, similar to Carbrite, it finishes with an lingering bitterness (not the kind we associate with dark chocolate, but the kind we associate with artificial sweeteners—maltitol, in this case) and a metallic acidity that feels… well, fake. Going by taste, we’d still go for Carbrite; but in a pinch Universal is a close contender.
Promax protein bar original – double fudge brownie
75g; available at Healthy Options
Nutrition: 290 Cal / 20g Protein / 37g Carbs / 7g Fat / 2g Fiber
Protein Source: Soy Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate
Sweetener: Corn Syrup, Fructose, Sugar
Promax also follows the chocolate-coated-fudge-bar format of its two predecessors, though this bar pairs a firmer, denser base with a meltier coating that makes it a hassle to eat at room temperature in this tropical country. (A few minutes in the fridge does wonders!) One glance at the nutrition facts reveals a higher calorie count for the same amount of protein, as well as a higher amount of sugar (due to the use of real sugar—for better or worse). But we have to admit we love how it tastes. While it’s not the darkest-tasting, it carries a malty, milky chocolate flavor that brings us back to our childhood in the best way possible.
Thinkthin High Protein Bar – Brownie Crunch
60g; available at Healthy Options
Nutrition: 230 Cal / 20g Protein / 23g Carbs / 8g Fat / 1g Fiber
Protein source: Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Whey Protein Isolate
Sweetener: Maltitol, Glycerin
With Thinkthin, you get the same chocolate-coated fudgy base of the previous three, but with rice krispy-like soy crisps strewn in (hence the “crunch” in the name)—a combination which is by no means offensive, but strikes us as amusing, considering you don’t often find brownies paired with puffy cereal in the real world. We’re not the biggest fans of the texture; the base feels much drier on this bar, giving it a craggier feel that crumbles easily when pinched or sliced yet feels oddly gummy when chewed. The chocolate flavor is mild, with a milkiness that isn’t bad, but combined with the odd texture it fails to make an impact.
Purefit pREMIUM nUTRITION bAR – chOCOLATE bROWNIE
57g; available at Healthy Options
Nutrition: 220 Cal / 18g Protein / 24g Carbs / 7g Fat / <1g Fiber
Protein Source: Soy Protein Isolate
Sweetener: Beet Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, Dates, Glycerin
Purefit does not come coated in chocolate, but instead presents its dense, chewy base bare naked. Bits of “soy crisps” are thrown in the mix to add texture, but the overall bar steers toward the dry side—it’s hard not to stop for water after just a few bites. You mostly get a nuttiness that reminds us more of chocolate oatmeal than brownies, per se—these don’t have the deepest, darkest chocolate flavor. But with far less franken-ingredients on the list, we have to say it tastes far more natural than the others—a complete and utter blessing when you’re taste-testing five other bars in a row.
Quest Bar – Chocolate bROWNIE
60g bar; available at SM Supermarkets, Nutropia, or through @QuestBarPH
Nutrition: 170 Cal / 20g Protein / 22g Carbs / 7g Fat / 15g Fiber
Protein source: Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate
SWEETENER: Sucralose, Stevia
Quest, too, comes bare naked and uncoated—you get a uniformly-colored, uniformly-textured, shiny brown bar. Eaten as is (that is, straight from the wrapper), you get a chewy but stiff consistency, not unlike a denser Tootsie Roll, and reveals a fibrous mouthfeel at the end (which makes sense, considering it has a much higher fiber content compared to other bars in the market). The chocolate isn’t the strongest in this state; you get the remotely butter-like flavor typical of other bars of the brand, but the sweetness is delivered in a far-too-straightforward way we associate with artificial sweeteners. As any true protein bar connoisseur would know, however, the trick to eating Quest bars is to chuck it in the microwave or the oven to heat up just slightly (be careful not to overbake!). Doing turns its interior fudgy and soft, magically toning down the fibrous texture (or at least giving the illusion of such) and really bringing out its cocoa-y, chocolatey flavor. Though this somewhat defeats the purpose of portability, it almost feels like actual brownies, sans the grease.
Of course, none of these bars can perfectly replicate the buttery, fudgy, bittersweet sensation of real brownies—which can still be part of a healthy diet in moderation. If you must have your chocolate, you’re always better off enjoying a small portion of the real thing once in a while—but savor every little morsel and be fully aware of the experience. But if you’re on the go and need replenishing post a grueling workout, stat, or just something to fill you up with a moderate dose of the satiety-inducing macronutrient, it doesn’t hurt to keep one of these in your bag.