I love breakfast.
I love that my tastebuds aren’t awake enough yet to crave intense flavours, and that a banana tastes like cake. I love that I’m never ragingly hungry enough to devour vast amounts of whatever is nearest, so I can take my time crafting to perfect combination of flavours and textures and nutrition. I love that whatever I do crave, I can eat it, because pretty much anything goes at breakfast.
Unfortunately, I rarely “do” breakfast. Of course, by definition, whatever you happen to eat to break your fast is breakfast, but you know… I don’t do the sitting down at the table with the daily paper, pouring myself a fresh glass of citrus juice alongside my cup of caffeinated beverage, picking at an array of grains and fresh fruit and vegan-friendly dairy alternatives, savouring hot and cold and crunchy and creamy, preparing myself for the day ahead.
Although I don’t have a daily grind let alone a real commute, I do tend to just get up and go these days; since I eat dinner late and go to bed late and sleep well, and especially since I’m not locked into hours of work before a break, I feel no pressure to have a “proper” all-in-one-go breakfast. Sometimes it’s a banana when I get to the studio, just before a client. Sometimes it’s a pot of yoghurt with fruit or nuts or molasses or granola or all of the above. Sometimes I’ll wait until I’ve taken a client, sometimes I’ll gobble it on the train, sometimes it’s somewhere in between. Sometimes I’m pottering around the house, snacking as cravings arise. Sometimes food is the last thing on my mind for hours, then a ravenous hunger hits.
And that’s all fine, because breakfast isn’t nearly as important as people have made out all these years. Early? Late? High carb? High protein? Dessert for breakfast? Salad for breakfast? Cardio for breakfast? I have yet to see a conclusive study that shows that breakfast is necessary, or that a certain miracle combination of macronutrients holds the key to success. Thus far, all I’ve seen are correlations; “people who eat breakfast tend to have lower body fat”, “people who eat high-protein breakfasts tend to eat fewer calories throughout the rest of the day”, and so on. Nothing that shows (note that this is different to “claims”) that “breakfast does this to the chemicals in your body which does this to your physique”.
From my own experience, I do best when I listen to my body. The quicker I heed my cravings, and the closer I obey them in terms of taste and texture, the happier and more productive I am. Maybe that’s because my body is getting what it needs, or maybe it’s because I’m spending less energy and secreting less cortisol worrying about what to eat and when.
So that brings me to “breakfast bars”. As in the pre-packaged, mass-manufactured, convenient snack which happens to have a few oats and fruit scattered in among the syrups and preservatives, and bearing the all-important password “breakfast”, usually alongside an image of a sunrise as the backdrop to a bundle of freshly harvested grains. Are they worth it?
As somebody who often eats and snacks on the go, I appreciate them. As somebody who doesn’t like being told what to eat and when to eat it, I have to force myself not to sneer. Personally, I think plain old flapjacks (as in the oat-and-syrup-and-butter kind, rather than the homonymous American pancake) come much closer to a traditional breakfast than most of the commercialised processed-cereals-and-vegetable-oils-and-rice-syrup confections, and are much cheaper. As with everything, it’s about knowing what to pick and how much of it to consume.
Anyway, I was recently contacted by the PR company for 9bar, a Welsh “healthy snack” company whom I have previously ignored as virtually all of their products contain honey, asking if I was interested in trying some samples of their new breakfast bars. Sceptical and unable to find an ingredients list, I wrote back and said I’d be interested if this lot happened to be vegan – turns out they are! So I eagerly agreed, and a week later received a selection of their new range. [I had also taken multiple photos of each of the bars – wrapped up, unwrapped, half-eaten, from above, from the side, etc – but my laptop died and I lost all the photos! That’ll teach me to be organised and transfer everything immediately and wipe my memory card clean each time… Luckily, when I explained the situation the lovely Imogen at CCD Public Relations took a photo for me so I can at least show you what they look like, as I obviously devoured my samples as soon as the photos were taken!]
The first thing I did (well, the second thing, as the first thing I always do when I receive a parcel is a little jumpy dance of excitement) was scrutinise the ingredients list. Rice syrup, agave nectar, and raw cane sugar. Hmm. Soya protein crispies (soy protein isolate, tapioca starch, and salt) and crisped rice (rice flour, rice bran, sugar, rice extract). That’s more sugar, more processed ingredients. Then there’s palm oil – I’m not vehemently against palm oil, but if I can avoid it I do. I’m always confused when products use healthier ingredients like agave and coconut oil, but still include more refined and less healthy counterparts. Still, the main ingredient at 26% is mixed seeds; sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and hemp.
Perhaps more importantly, depending on your perspective, the nutritional breakdown is pretty encouraging; about 230kcal per bar, around 20g of carbohydrate which really isn’t bad for a snack, 12g of fat which is mainly from seeds, and 9g of protein which, despite what popular fitness magazines and supplement companies would have you believe, is a solid amount to keep you ticking along.
But what about the taste? Well, let me put it this way; an experienced musician can hear music from reading the sheet music, but it’s all down to the interpreter to convey feeling, meaning and emotion. I think I’m getting to the stage of being a fairly experience snack bar eater, so I had a pretty strong idea of what the bar would be like based on the ingredients list. Unfortunately, no magic happened along the way to intensify any flavours or textures, and these remained an ordinary cereal bar.
Now please understand that these are not bad. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that they are good (and that I ate all four in two days should be a testament to that)! But are they special? Well, no. They are a collection of cereals and seeds encased in a mixture of sugars and sweeteners, with the odd bit of dried fruit or nut. Does a breakfast cereal bar have to be special? No – it helps, but at a recommended retail price of 90p each, I don’t think we should expect them to have reinvented the breakfast bar. Should you buy these? I think the more vegan-friendly bars we can get in large-scale distribution, the better. If you enjoy crispy cereal bars and need something while you’re out and about, there are worse ways to spend your 90 pence.
This is how I’d break it down:
- Pros: vegan — cheap — added protein — full of seeds — not too sweet
- Cons: high level of processed ingredients — not filling/satisfying enough for me
As for the bars themselves:
- I tried the Almond & Raspberry first, but was disappointed that there wasn’t more almond flavour. I’d probably be in the minority with that view though.
- As an afternoon snack (to which, in my opinion, these bars are far better suited), I demolished the Cashew & Cocoa. That one was good, the flavours were much more rounded. I didn’t actually find that it tasted of chocolate much (or maybe there was just something wrong with my tastebuds that day), but it did have this smooth richness to it that I really enjoyed.
- The following morning I had the Apricot & Strawberry on my way in to train a client. I can’t really remember it but I do know that I had an apple after eating it, as the sweetness had set me off but hadn’t really satisfied me.
- Although I had no intention of eating a second bar that afternoon, after photographing the Peanut & Raisin I couldn’t resist. I didn’t expect to enjoy it – I suppose maybe I thought it would be too plain, too boring – but actually it may have been my favourite! I couldn’t tell you why, but I guess somehow all the flavours just fell into line perfectly.
I’m delighted that 9bar are finally making some more vegan bars, and I know that far more people will like them – vegan or not – than will dislike them. Personally they’re probably not for me, but frankly I’m just relieved not to have added another craving to my repertoire.