REVIEW: Buff Bake Protein Sandwich Cookies (Snickerdoodle and Double Chocolate)

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At times silly, at times successful, and always divisive, the protein cookie game is an ever growing, and now evolving, market. While the end goal for most companies has been to produce a product that most closely mirrors a soft baked homestyle chewy craveable cookie, Buff Bake are pushing the field into uncharted and beloved territory – the Oreo. Buff Bake are mostly known for their protein-infused spreads, which I had one time and was underwhelmed by, and their Lenny & Larry’s-esque soft baked cookies, which, again, are just alright. However, their new line of Protein Sandwich Cookies promise the creme-filled satisfaction of the grocery GOAT with an added boost of protein. Each package contains four cookies for 220 calories, 13 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein, and, gasp, 12 grams of sugar.

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REVIEW: The Lion’s Pack Edible Cookie Dough (Chocolate Chip, Monster Cookie, Snickerdoodle, Teddy Dough, Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart, Oreo Cake Batter, Snickers Candy Bar)

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As big of a consumer as I am of protein bars and powders, I’m a bit wary of the massive smattering of novelty protein items hitting the shelves these days. Cookies, cakes, and candies don’t tend to work as well, both in terms of nutrition and taste, and the macro-to-taste enjoyment ratio is usually off. I first got wind of The Lion’s Pack last year and ordered a couple of their protein peanut butter spreads, which I thought were fine tasting but texturally pretty off. At the time they also offered a number of protein cookie dough’s, but they looked odd and didn’t seem very appealing at all. In the last six or so months the company have been aggressively promoting the reformulating of their dough recipe, and from what I’ve seen it looks solid. The dough’s are all vegan, gluten free, and made-to-order, with over 20 flavors to choose from.

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REVIEW: Quest Hero Bars (all three flavors)

Quest Hero bars are the protein bar giant’s macro friendly take on a candy bar, and as a person who’s actual knight in shining armor during the course of a bad day has been a real deal bar of chocolate, I can get behind this.  The bars once again utilize the new and confusing artificial sweetener allulose, which is one of the cleanest tasting sweeteners out there, but not without some downsides.  The jury is still out on exactly what kind of impact this ingredient has on the body, and as of now still has to be counted as sugar on the nutritional label, giving these Quest bars a significantly less macro-friendly look than their older tried and true siblings.  Still significantly “less bad” than an actual candy bar, the Hero bars take the grainy “cereal” base from the Beyond Cereal bars, add an additional layer of gooey texture, and dip them into a creamy coating.  The initial launch comes with three flavors – Blueberry Cobbler, Chocolate Caramel Pecan, and Vanilla Caramel.

Blueberry Cobbler:

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Off the jump the texture on this bar is phenomenal – super soft and chewy with multiple layers and a lovely creamy coating. The dominant flavor is a very sweet and real tasting blueberry with a hint of acidity and no lingering artificial sugar taste. The second big flavor that creeps into the equation is graham cracker, and reminds of the Quest cereal waffle bar without the prominent syrup flavor and just a hint of cinnamon spice, which is no surprise since these bars use that same chewy granola-esque base.

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One of my biggest gripes with Quest is the aggressive use of sucralose, and much like with the Beyond Cereal bars, the swap for allulose has really alleviated that problem almost entirely.  The sugar flavor is very clean and true and has a more natural berry flavor than any bar I can recall having.  This is my favorite blueberry bar that I’ve had and a very strong addition to the Quest catalog.

Rating: 8.5/10

Chocolate Caramel Pecan:

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Slightly bitter cocoa-forward chocolate base with a decently thick layer of caramel on top. The flavor reminds me of a cheap brownie, not too strong of a nutty element but tastes almost nothing like what you would expect from a whey-dominant, “low sugar” protein bar, although the general profile is pretty predictable for a protein product.  The caramel has a good chew, tastes decently authentic and has a slight saltiness that keeps the bar from being too sweet.

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While this one is fine, it does have a slight artificial aftertaste, and with the worst macros of the three – highest calories and fat with the least amount of protein, I don’t think I would buy this one again.

Rating: 6.5/10

Vanilla Caramel:

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This one again reminds me of the waffle cereal bar without the maple and instead a strong golden graham cracker sheen.  It is very sweet with a nice smooth vanilla flavor and surprising salty pop on the finish. The salt cuts through in a way that gives a bit more of a salted caramel presence, which is nice considering the overall sweetness of the bar.  There’s a little bit of a fake sugar sucarlose aftertaste on this one, not as strong as the chocolate but a bit more present than the Blueberry Cobbler, but still much less than your typical Quest bar.

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Although there are almonds on the package and in the ingredients, I don’t get much almond flavor and there are just a couple random pieces in the top layer and a nuttiness is not prominent in the actual texture.  This is one of the best tasting vanilla bars I have had and another one I would definitely buy again and could legitimately take the place of a white chocolate-y or caramel craving when watching calories.

Rating: 8/10

Overall this is a pretty impressive launch from Quest, and while the macros aren’t as good as the standard Quest bar the flavor is significantly better and will be pretty enjoyable for a lot of people, even those who don’t usually get down with protein bars.

REVIEW: The Peanut Principle’s “Going Green” Pistachio Butter

I’m a nut butter nut, and when it comes to creamy, fatty, crave able jars of spreadable protein I’m always down to try something new.  I’ve had many types of pulverized nuts in my days, including Trader Joes’ great Mixed Nut version, but never have I had or seen a pistachio butter…and the times, they are a changin’.  The Peanut Principle are a gourmet nut butter company from New York, making buttery goodness out of nearly every kind of nut from plain and flavored peanut to hazelnut, walnut, macadamia, pumpkin seed, and lots more.  I ordered a huge sampling of peanut butters last year and was overall very impressed, so when they announced pistachio I had to jump on the opportunity.  Going Green is a creamy pistachio butter that’s as basic as it gets, with the lone ingredient being organic dry roasted pistachios – no salt, no sugar, no BS.

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The taste of this butter is everything the look of the jar promised – pure, rich, thick, intense pistachio.  It’s a very unique-to-the-green-nut-flavor that is deep and roasty, slightly sweet, and cleanly fatty.  The texture is insanely thick but less lip-smackingly mouth-drying than peanut butter tends to be, which I think might be due to the lack of salt.  Despite the absence of saltiness there’s no lack of pop, as the nuts themselves pack a big wallop of flavor that needs little help to be incredibly robust and huge.

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On toast the flavor becomes a bit more subdued and blends in with the bread well.  Some of the richness mellows but the sweet flavor of the pistachio stays intact.  As good as that flavor is, I didn’t think the butter offered as much as a traditional peanut butter or salted butter so I tried it with cinnamon and sugar, which still was just okay, and then strawberries, which also were just alright.  I could see this being tasty spread on some pancakes, dolloped onto some vanilla ice cream, or used in conjunction with some pistachio pieces to make a killer stuffed french toast.

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Make no mistake, this is a premium product, and at $11.99 for an eight ounce jar it’s four times the cost of a regular peanut butter, even from a gourmet company like Peanut Principle, whose sixteen ounce jar of regular PB goes for $5.99.  It may be expensive, but it absolutely delivers on what it set out to do, and packs the punch of what feels like hundreds of pistachio’s into a small glass jar.  Pistachio’s aren’t one of my favorite nuts, but if you’re a fiend for the little green guys, this stuff will send your morning bread into hyperdrive, or be a perfect pick-me-up straight from the jar, without the hassle of shells.

Rating: 8/10
Found at: http://www.peanutprinciple.com ($11.99)

Quick Nutrition: 2 Tbsp. – 160 cals – 13g fat – 3mg sodium – 8g carbs – 2g fiber – 2g sugar – 6g protein

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Mixed Nut Butter

Who doesn’t love a good handful of mixed nuts?  Each reach inside of the jar or bowl is much like our buddy Gump would say and you “never know what you’re gonna get”.  Whether salty or sweet or straight up plain, mixed nuts earn praise from health freaks, beer guzzling bar goers, and those who just like a good crunch for their afternoon snack.  So why hasn’t anyone pulverized them all and shoved the mixture into a jar?  Welcome Trader Joe’s to the equation.  In addition to their already packed line of butters – from the heralded cookie to the classic peanut, TJ’s is now slangin’ Mixed Nut Butter, which combines dry roasted and salted almonds, cashews, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans into a gooey runny treat to spread up your life.

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The butter has an extremely smooth and creamy consistency.  Right after mixing and out of the jar it is thin, runny, and oily in a way that is tempting to want to drizzle it all over any and everything.  The texture is very unique – much similar in appearance and initial feeling to almond butter except not nearly as thick or grainy.  The primary flavors that come through are almond and cashew with some hints of pecans and brazil nuts.  I don’t specifically taste the hazelnuts, but I’m okay with that because they’re generally my least favorite and most astringent tasting in any mixed nut variety, and I can’t pinpoint the flavor of walnuts either.  The salt level is perfect – not so much that the butter tastes salty, but just enough that the spread pops and shines on its own to highlight the complexity of all the different components.

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After leaving the mixed butter in the fridge for a couple days I was surprised that it didn’t seize up and become firmer the way almost all other nut butters do.  It was slightly more together than when I first opened it but it stayed thin and runny enough that it could still be poured onto food (or into your mouth) straight from the jar.  After cooling I also noticed the pecan notes to be more pronounced, which isn’t a bad thing at all since they provide a great golden richness that amps up the overall flavor on this unique product.

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For the final test: the butter goes good on top of toast, but it doesn’t achieve the same ultimate magical combo with banana that peanut butter does.  I’ve always preferred peanut butter to all other types of nut butter, and while this mixed one is fun and well done, it doesn’t change my mind on which nut makes the champion butter.  It’s fun and tasty, but factoring in flavor, cost, and macros, I think I’ll stick with my one true nut butter love – the peanut.

Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Fit Joy Raspberry Chocolate Truffle and Cookies and Cream

Last years’ most prolific protein bar company, Fit Joy, are back at it again kicking off the first quarter of 2017 launching two new bars at the same time.  They went with one relatively uncharted flavor with Raspberry Chocolate Truffle, and tackled one that pretty much every competitor has already tried with Cookies and Cream.

Raspberry Chocolate Truffle:

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Visually this bar is great. A little bit of a different look for Fit Joy as there are no crisps on top and the protein base is noticeably softer with a marzipan-like texture. There’s a huge raspberry chocolate smell that is very floral and promising.

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The bite starts good, with a big bright raspberry flavor that lives up to the intense flowery aroma. Unfortunately, it takes an intense nose dive quickly as that powerful raspberry flavor becomes too much and is so overwhelmingly tart and sour that it literally made my face pucker.

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The way the bar dissolves on the tongue and the extreme tart-ness starts to taste like a kids Flintstones chewable vitamin and I’m left really wondering where the chocolate is. The thin dip on the bottom and drizzle on top can’t hold a candle to the epic tart berry flavor to a degree that chocolate may as well not be in the name or on the bar at all. Almost every other company that has released raspberry has done it with white chocolate, which helps up the sweetness and tame the tart. I was excited for a chocolate version but unfortunately this just doesn’t work at all. Sour, acidic, and ultimately kind of gross.

Rating: 5/10

Cookies and Cream:

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Visually this bar, again, is very appealing. The top is speckled with crunchy cookie bits and the inside base has a softer, fluffier texture than any other Fit Joy, kind of reminiscent of a whipped cream cheese. The flavor is full on chocolate, with both lighter milk chocolate and darker bitter being represented. There are so many different cocoa flavors going on that I even get hints of coffee, which adds to the rich bittersweet taste.

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This bar more closely resembles the experience of eating an Oreo than any other I’ve had – with the crunch and squish combo being very similar to wafer cookies sandwiching the iconic white Creme. There are softer whey crisps within the protein base as well, which adds multiple layers of crunch.

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I really like this bar. It has a solid smooth taste and texture without any weird lingering protein flavor and is overall really clean. My one criticism of it would be that it’s much more like a Chocolate Oreo than the original, which is fine, they should have just called it Cookies and Chocolate Cream instead.

Rating: 8.5/10

It ends up being a total split for Fit Joy entering 2017 with their worst bar and one of their best bars launching at the same time. While they don’t have the most explosive flavors out there (s/o Oh Yeah!) I continue to be impressed with their output and will try all Fit Joy bars in the future, even if some of them might totally miss the mark.

REVIEW: Nuts ‘N More Chocolate Maple Pretzel

In my life peanut butter is a food group.  Whether it be smooth or crunchy, salted or unsalted, plain or flavored – peanut butter has a luxuriously addictive and delicious texture that I go to town on with just a spoon and a jar on a regular basis.  There comes a point in every PB-addicts life when reducing some of the fat and increasing the amount of protein simply makes sense, and it is with that mentality that brands like Nuts ’N More flourish – off of nut butter fiends seeking ways to justify their addiction.  At the end of last year I ordered one of the company’s newest flavors – Chocolate Maple Pretzel – and hoarded it until the moment was just right.  Well friends, the moment is now, and it feels (and hopefully tastes) oh so sweet.

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I guess it should come as no surprise that a product that combines three of my favorite flavors into one (put cinnamon in there and I might die) is tasty, but this nutty spread exceeded even my own expectations.  The aroma is spot on chocolate covered pretzel, with that salty sweetness accented by cocoa and rounded out beautifully by maple and yeast.  It’s like dunking your head into a bag of chocolate covered pretzels with just a drizzle of maple syrup on top, and it is divine.  The other Nuts ’N More spreads I’ve had have a kind of protein-y almost artificial peanut butter smell to them, and this one has none of that, which is really appealing.

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The flavor of this stuff is absolutely through the roof.  The peanut butter base has been perfectly integrated with chocolate chips that blended themselves into a smooth brown color as I mixed.  There are big chunks of actual pretzel that crunch and pop with salty explosions that set off the chocolate and peanut butter to brilliant new heights.  The use of real, gluten free pretzels is executed flawlessly, as they’ve maintained their texture and add a different kind of depth to this butter than any other I’ve had before, and they didn’t skimp on them either.  Maple is the least dominant of the flavors but it’s definitely present and its role is cherished, adding a little extra sweetness that enhances the bready flavor of the pretzels; and a little kiss of that Sunday morning magic that comes along with anything that registers “syrup” in my brain.

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Check out the pretzel sticks in there – my GOODNESS!

What’s most impressive about eating this spread is if I didn’t tell you there was some extra protein punch from whey you would have no idea because there is no fake flavor or grainy texture to be found.  The chocolate and maple do a tremendous job of masking any unpleasant or artificial notes that can come through in low sugar high protein products and the flavor is not only convincing but deliciously addictive for any flavored peanut butter.  It is without a doubt the best Nuts ’N More release I have tried and is up there with D’s Natural’s best Fluffbutter flavors in battling for the protein butter title.  This jar literally lasted me three days – I simply could not stop eating it.  It’s salty, it’s sweet, and dare I say I think it might be perfect.

Rating: 10/10

Quick Nutrition:
2 TBS – 182 Cals – 11g Fat – 9g Carbs – 2g Fiber – 2g Sugar 11g Protein – 138mg Sodium