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The Great Snack Food Roundup

November 17, 2011 in Featured, Other

To put it simply, I am a snack fiend. At my worst I was eating roughly six snack bars a day, plus my normal breakfast/lunch/dinner/after-dinner-dessert/midnight snack routine. It was a rough life.

So, I hope that all of that relevant snacking experience gives me some special insight on judging the quality and taste of snack foods. Actually, I really needed a break from my un-lucrative side business of writing apps for Android phones. In Java. Which I have since learned is a gigantic pain in the *Dorito*.

An oldie but goodie.

An oldie but goodie.

Nature Valley Fruit and Nut Bars

The fruit and nut bars have long been a staple in my snack food diet, and for good reason: they’re tasty and aren’t horribly bad for you. I consider them the standard by which all other snack foods must be judged. I eat several hundred of these a year. I’m serious.

Anyway, the nice thing about these bars is that they have a nice, satisfyingly chewy consistency, unlike many of Nature Valley’s other offerings. Ever try the dark chocolate bars? They’re dry, rock-hard, and taste horrible to boot. The last and only time I bought a big box of the stuff from Costco, I had to resort to Tom Sawyer-level trickery to get other people to eat them (“wow, mmm, they’re so goooood!”).

So if you haven’t tried the Fruit and Nut bars, you should do so. They come highly recommended. The strawberry yogurt ones are good too.

Smart Fries. In the flesh.

Smart Fries. In the flesh.

Gourmet Basics Smart Fries, Classic Sea Salt

I came across these fries after surfing around Amazon looking for healthier alternatives with high reviews. These got some pretty high marks across the board. Well-deserved? You be the judge.

So the main draw of the “smart” fries is that they’re “air-popped”, which sounds awfully like popcorn to me. In actuality, the fries are thin and curvy little tidbits that are also hollow, ie. filled with air. That’s “air-popped”. As a result, eating a fry doesn’t give you the same satisfaction you get from eating a single pototo chip. It feels like you’re eating, well, nothing.

These taste almost exactly like the famous Calbee Shrimp chips (which look more like fries than these). It’s lightly salted, and not bad as far as taste is concerned.

One bag is 1 ounce, and contains a lot of fries. Considering each fry is like .0000001 ounces, the amount of work it takes to eat an entire 1 oz bag of fries feels like going through five bags of snack-size potato chips

The bag is also half-full/empty:

Peeking inside a bag of Smart Fries.

Peeking inside a bag of Smart Fries.

Clif Kid Zbar, Variety Pack

Credit slickdeals for this one. I bought the 24-pack of these Zbars, albeit with some hesitation considering how bad normal Clif bars taste. I can safely report that the Kid Zbars are much better than the adult Clif bars.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Clif Kid Zbars are made for kids. Now my rule of thumb is that anything for kids usually tastes better than comparabler adult stuff, with certain exceptions like Flintstones Complete chewable vitamins. Try them if you don’t believe me. But the Zbars are actually quite good even though they don’t look particularly appealing. As for the differences between the three different types of bars (Honey Graham, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Brownie), there aren’t many. Chocolate Brownie is a little more chocolate-y than the rest, Chocolate Chip has…chocolate chips, and Honey Graham tastes like Chocolate Chip without the chips.

As you can probably tell, I don’t have a lot to complain about here. I also don’t have a picture of the bars because I ate them all.

It was probably a mistake buying this variety pack considering I dislike 24 out of 50 of the included bags.

It was probably a mistake buying this variety pack considering I dislike 24 out of 50 of the included bags.

Doritos, Lays, Fritos, Cheetos, Variety Pack

Tucked away in the Cheetos ingredients label under all of the marked-up fat and sodium content is a well-known crowd-pleaser: monosodium glutamate, aka MSG, aka the stuff they put in Chinese food to make it taste extra salty and extra good. Is MSG actually bad for you? I can’t really tell you, because Wikipedia can’t really tell me, because no one seems to have really figured it out yet, despite the fact that the stuff’s been around for 100 years or so.

For me, I’m not so finely attuned to the taste of MSG that I can identify it on contact, like my brother, who also claims that it gives him headaches.

But I don’t know why a bag of Cheetos needs MSG, and because of this Cheetos has lost 90% of its respect points.


In the variety pack, you get two different kinds of Doritos, three types of Lays potato chips, some Fritos and some Cheetos. What’s annoying is that there isn’t an even number of bags in the box, no; instead, you get a lot some arbitrary mix of bags that Frito Lay decided to throw into a Classic Mix box. That means 20 bags of Doritos, 10 bags of Cheetos, 8 bags of Lays, 8 bags of Fritos, and another 4 bags of Lays BBQ flavor.

Now, this review is a little biased because I absolutely hate Doritos. So you might have to take this with a grain of salt, or MSG, when I say that both types of Doritos taste the same: terrible. But for the purposes of conducting a thorough review, I ate every single bag of Doritos in the box. (I first tried to give them away but no one wanted them…) The sacrifices that I make for science.

The two bright spots in this variety pack are the bags of Regular Lays and Fritos. And the nice thing about both of them is that their respective ingredient lists are bare amd empty, like it should be; Lays is made of potatoes, oil, and tons of salt. Fritos is made of corn, corn oil, and tons of salt. That is how I like my chips, down to its simplest form with a ton of salt.

Do yourself a favor and buy a big bag of Regular (or Wavy) Lays, and a bag of Fritos. Your brain (if those rumors about MSG causing brain tumors are true…) will thank me later.

The anatomy of a Balance Bar Gold, S'mores Flavor

The anatomy of a Balance Bar Gold, S'mores Flavor

Balance Bar Gold, S'mores

Balance Bars are pretty highly rated, or at least they were highly rated on drugstore.com, where I bought two boxes of the S'mores and Lemon Meringue flavors.

The reason that these are so-called Balance bars are named so is because they’re supposed to provide you with a nice balance of protein, carbs, and fat. That sounds great on the wrapper, but I don’t see why you need to have 20% fat to go along with the 40% protein and 40% carbs. It sounds like a hollow excuse for making a really fatty chocolate bar.

And the Balance Bar Gold ™ does not taste like a really fatty chocolate bar, nor does it stack up with actual S'mores. These bars don’t taste like S'mores any more than Smart Fries taste like French Fries.

But do they taste bad?

Not quite. But they don’t taste good either. I felt like writing some poetry, so here’s a haiku describing the sensation of eating a Balance Bar Gold ™ bar, S'mores flavor.

Bar goes in the mouth
Tastes just like chocolate
With sawdust and corn

Unfortunately I still have to eat 13 of these bars.

The Amazing Lemon Meringue Balance Bar

The Amazing Lemon Meringue Balance Bar

Balance Bar Gold ™, Lemon Meringue

Now, normally, I would have grouped the Balance Bars together, but this time I figured that the Lemon Meringue flavor deserved its own special place. Not a special place in hell, as you might have guessed. Oh, no. Quite the opposite.

After chewing my way fiercely through a Balance Bar Gold, ™ S'mores flavor, I was initially hesitant to try another. Unfortunately, due to the fact that I still had approximately twenty-nine bars left, which equates to over 3 pounds of bars, I wasn’t left with much of a choice.

I’ll say it straight: lemon meringue is the Balance Bar you want. Sell your S'mores bars on eBay, or whatever you do with leftover bars, and just buy these instead.

As you might expect, these bars have a distinctly lemon-y flavor. There’s also that annoying hint of cornmeal that seems to define all protein/carb bars, but the lemon does a pretty good job at hiding it.


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