Before leaving California, I got to sample the latest innovation in energy bars from a local (San Francisco) company: bars you can bake yourself. The idea behind Matisse & Jack’s TrailBlaze Bake-at-Home Energy Bars is that you get the same nutritional benefits of a commercial bar (if not more), but with all-natural ingredients, without all the packaging, and with the kind of fresh-baked flavor you can get only by, um, baking something fresh. Combine the mix with a few wet ingredients, pop it in the oven for a half hour, and you’re off. Two flavors are available: Cranberry Walnut and Chocolate Chip.
Now, on the surface, this concept seems sound. Certainly, you can save a bit of money by baking your own bars—so at least there’s that. But I’ve read lots of reviews of these bars that proclaim them the best thing since manna, and frankly, I don’t get it. They’re totally adequate—there’s nothing wrong with them—but in my opinion they completely fail to live up to the hype.
Let’s start with the most important thing: taste. They taste fine, which is to say they have yummy ingredients (like chocolate chips—nothing bad you can say about that) mixed in reasonably pleasing proportions. But they do not taste like energy bars. If you’re expecting something along the lines of a PowerBar, or Clif bar, or Balance bar, you’ll be disappointed. These bars are much fluffier, more like a slightly dense brownie than the firm and grainy texture most of us associate with commercial energy bars. And actually…I like that sort of texture. I’d prefer a Clif bar over Matisse & Jack’s any day. True enough: that’s just my personal preference. But I’m saying that it wasn’t what I was expecting, and the difference was so striking that I have difficulty putting these bars in the same category of food as other energy bars.
Maybe, however, the taste of these bars is exactly what you’ve always wanted, in which case, more power to you. Even then, though, be aware of a few facts:
The mixing instructions are kind of weird. There are actually three different suggested recipes, with different combinations of applesauce, plain or vanilla yogurt, water, and/or vanilla extract, depending on what sort of sweetness you’re looking for and whether you need to avoid dairy products. For example, I chose the “less sweet” option, which required combining the dry mix with 1 cup + 3 tablespoons of plain yogurt, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of water. So, I had to get three measuring implements out and dirty, not counting the spoon, bowl, and baking pan. And, using whichever set of ingredients is only convenient if you already happen to have them in your home. What I’m saying is: minus a couple of points for added effort.
A lot is made of the fact that these bars reduce packaging waste, but you’re still left with a cardboard box and a plastic inner bag to dispose of. Given that the mix makes 9 bars, I’m not sure you’re saving a whole lot, in terms of square inches of material, over regular bars. And also: think about the time you’ll spend (at least a half hour), plus the water and energy required for baking and washing. I don’t think the net environmental impact is truly smaller.
One of the best things about commercial energy bars is that they’re handy. You just grab one and go. You don’t have to individually wrap each one, or find a plastic bag to put it in. They’re packaged in a way that makes sense for athletes and other active people. Matisse & Jack can’t offer you that. In addition, although the bake-at-home bars may taste “fresher,” they only keep for a few days. For better or worse, most commercial bars taste fairly fresh even after months.
Now, I hate to be hard on these guys. I know they mean well. As I said, the bars do taste perfectly fine, and I can’t quarrel with their nutritional specs. Plus, lots of other publications have given them rave reviews. So I accept that it’s entirely possible I’m the only one who doesn’t think they’re great. But to be entirely honest, my experience with the bars just didn’t impress me.