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Dr. Gourmet's Food Reviews


Plant Protein Bars: Peruvian Cocoa Peanut Butter, Japanese Matcha Vanilla Crunch, and Mexican Chipotle Hot Chocolate

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Peruvian Cocoa Peanut Butter bar from Mezcla

Every now and then we get an email from a company wanting us to review their foods. I always want to ask them, "You have read our reviews, right?" because we generally don't pull any punches here at Dr. Gourmet. After over 15 years of reviewing everything from frozen entrees to canned chili to burritos to frozen desserts we have seen some pretty darn awful food - and when we do, we say so. Likewise, when the food is mediocre we say "meh, this ain't worth your time or money."

But companies persist.

This week we received some plant protein bars from a company called Eat Mezcla, LLC (after we let them know the review may not be favorable). Three bars – one of each flavor. I will admit that I did not divulge in my response to Eat Mezcla, LLC that I think protein bars are stupid. There is not much reason for them. The majority are not good for you and as a snack you should be eating nuts if you want something salty or savory to snack on or fruit if you are a sweet snacker. More fiber, better quality oils, and no added sugars in fruit or nuts. They are just good for you snacks.

Likewise, no one should be using bars as meal replacers. Just eat good food.

But the category persists because what is really being delivered is a candy bar that people can feel better about. Take Kind bars, for example. They are OK, but they're still full of sugar. Better for you than a Milky Way, yes, but not as good as just having fruit and nuts instead. And these things are expensive. You can buy about 4 pounds of bananas for the cost of a Mezcla, which are $2.50 apiece. Four POUNDS.

The first one we opened was their Peruvian Cocoa Peanut Butter. This is a bit like a cross between a Rice Crispy Marshmallow Treat and a Kind bar. Not as sweet as either, and the little bit of chocolate is weakly flavored. There is a hint of peanut butter, but this is just not very special. At 170 calories it is about the industry standard – less than 200 but not too low. The bar does have 3 grams of fiber, but there's also a fair amount of added sugars (7 grams or 28 calories – just shy of two teaspoons of added sugars).  

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Japanese Matcha Vanilla Crunch bar from Mezcla

The Japanese Matcha Vanilla Crunch was about the same: Meh. Same crunchy Rice Krispies type puffed pea and rice powder concoction. No matcha flavor at all, and a mildly vanilla-flavored white coating on the bottom. It has the taste of cake icing and a waxy mouth feel. Slightly lower in calories at 160 and only 2 grams of fiber. Meh and meh.

Dr. Gourmet reviews the Mexican Chipotle Hot Chocolate bar from Mezcla

I was saving the Mexican Chipotle Hot Chocolate for last, because I think that chipotle and chocolate are made for each other. Going in with high hopes might be foolish, but I tore open the package – this one labeled with 160 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

Of the three, this one does not disappoint (I did not expect to write that sentence). The chocolate is good bordering on very good, and while the crunch is the same as the other bars, it is not cloyingly sweet like they are. There is a great slightly smoky flavor with aromatic cinnamon and the follow through is a perfectly slight burn of chipotle pepper. A bit like a sweet mole in a bar.

If there is a criticism of this bar it is that the chocolate could be a bit more full bodied and some additional cocoa undertones would not hurt. That said, I would seek this bar out were I to eat such things, which I do occasionally when I am traveling. As such, maybe this bar can land in airport kiosks because I would make it my go-to emergency snack.

We see this a lot though. A great product from a well meaning company. A 9.5 out of ten for one product but the others are not much better than a Special K bar. How does it happen that a company can put out something so good but miss the mark and let other mediocre products out into the market? evol did this. Some amazing products, especially in the early days, but then a lot of dreck. Amy's does this every day (their canned products are very hit and miss and some of their frozen meals are amazing while others just plain awful).

We see very few companies that can deliver a consistently good product across their product range and Mezcla appears to be another one of those.

So my message to Mezcla is that I don't care how much time and effort you think you put into the peanut butter and the matcha bars, go back to the drawing board. Reformulate the recipe and use the chipotle bar as your example. It tastes of chipotle, but the matcha does not taste of matcha. It has great complexity while the peanut butter bar is bland and the flavors all blend together. If you do that, you might have a company, but I am not sure that there is success in having a single strong product.  

Meatloaf sang "two out of three ain't bad." Maybe. Certainly one out of three is bad no matter how good the one out of the three is.

Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet

Review posted: August 7, 2020