How do cricket flour energy bars stack up? Exo & Chapul vs Team Favorites
We are obsessed with bars. We maintain a spreadsheet that tracks nutrition data, ingredients, and factors like texture and flavor for over 50 bars! What we know for sure is that bars are like jeans. You have to try on MANY pairs to find right one(s) -- yes plural. We have bars for different occasions...tastes...goals.
The key to finding YOUR bar is a willingness to taste. And taste them twice. But before you buy, you can do a little homework to maximize your investment in time and money:
- First, pre-screen the bar. Don’t waste time on bars with too much sugar, salt and/or unnatural ingredients. And be smart about the protein source. We avoid SPI (Soy Protein Isolate). Know what you are looking for in terms of nutrition. For example Athletic-Minded Traveler's Managing Editor seeks to minimize calories and sugar per gram size, but maximize fiber, protein and healthy fats. She’s also super frugal and pretty much won’t keep a bar “in stock” if it costs more than $1.50 per bar. Deals are there!
- Second, research. This is where we can help. We've done much of the work for you. Tell us what you are looking for and what you like and we'll recommend bars to try. Start with some of the bars we cover below!
- Third, taste and taste again. Don't rule out a bar after one tasting. It's amazing how some bars will appeal in different situations and/or time of day.
Chirp Chirp Chirp
When we heard about cricket flour bars, we were immediately curious. How would these bars stack up against some of the Team's favorites? And what does it really mean to be "sustainable" in terms of the protein source? And is sustainability a compelling reason to buy? As you will see below, we have compared bars from two of the most well-known "cricket bar" brands, Chapul and Exo, to some of our favorites to better understand the cricket bar niche.
Cricket bars are all about cricket flour. This is the protein source and the key value proposition to buyers. Cricket flour comes from milled crickets. Most companies rely on the Acheta domesticus due to its high protein content and taste. Learn more here. Crickets are an example of a more "sustainable" protein source. Sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
Have you considered the sustainability of your protein source when making food decisions? Our team has...a LITTLE! Most research points to beef as being the biggest culprit in natural resource depletion. Producing beef requires approximately 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and resulted in 5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than chicken, pork or dairy. Seems crazy!
Where does cricket flour fall? It's deemed sustainable:
- Crickets are 20 times more efficient as a source of protein than cattle. This isn't really a big deal for protein bars, but it's food for thought (pun intended) in the grand scheme of things.
- Crickets feed about 6 times less than cattle, 4 times less than sheep and 2 times less than pigs to produce the same amount of protein.
- Crickets also require far less water than cattle; in fact, to get a pound of dry protein from a cow, between 1,700 and 2,500 gallons of water is required. To get the same amount of protein from a cricket, only ONE gallon of water is needed.
Exo and Chapul are two of the companies leading the way with sustainable cricket flour protein bars (and other cricket protein products). "Cricket Bars" contain pure ingredients in a quest for healthier, more earth conscious fuel. Flip to the back of an Exo bar to view its simple ingredients: almonds, dates, coconut, honey, cricket flour, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, ground flaxseeds, vanilla extract, and sea salt. How about Chapul bars? Same thing - coconut nectar, peanuts, date paste, cricket flour, cocoa powder, sunflower butter, cacao nibs, salt, and vanilla extract.
So, why would someone choose cricket flour over a protein powerhouse like whey? Four possible reasons:
- Same amount of protein per gram serving (cricket flour yields 23g protein for 35g flour; whey yields 24g for 33g powder)
- Lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (helps reduce risk of chronic disease because too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 are among the reasons for many chronic disease. More info here.)
- More iron and fiber per serving
- Crazy-high amount of B-12 (326% of the recommended daily intake)!
Do these factors matter? Sure they do. Cricket flour and whey are both high quality proteins. Recall that protein is broken down into amino acids to help repair and rebuild damage from exercise and training, but we get more essential fatty acids from cricket flour than whey protein. This lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty means that cricket flour promotes a better anti-inflammatory response.
The typical Western diet is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which stem from fried foods and the like. The more omega-3 intake we have, the lower intracellular inflammation. This means fewer cases of asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases. Western diets can also be low in iron, which can lead to feelings of weakness and fatigue, in addition to poor athletic performance and cognitive function. Women need more iron, as well, and cricket flour surpasses whey protein in a head-to-head comparison. It also has fiber and Vitamin B-12 , the former playing a vital role in improving the microbiome of the gut and the latter being the glue that holds the accessibility of amino acids and fatty acids together. WOW!!!
The below graph illustrates what a protein powerhouse cricket flour can be...if you are willing to consume it.
*Graph: Grams protein in a 100 gram serving
Let's talk about the BARS.
Approach: The Athletic-Minded Traveler Team favors whey, rice, pea and egg white protein over soy. Why? You can read a previous post here about the potential “hazards” of soy protein isolate. Additionally, we view sugar alcohols as sugar. So while labels may separate them out, we lump them back in for our analyses. It's more straightforward and doesn't reward any brand/bar for using a substitute.
Method: We conducted taste tests and focused our analyses on taste, texture, portability, nutrition profile, ingredients, and cost. The "taste" part is really where the opinions diverge -- on these bars and on every bar we test.
The above images show our contestants. The "beauty contest" was a draw. Chapul (2 bars on left) is a little thinner and Exo is a little gooeyer. NOTE: We sampled all flavors from both companies.
THE DATA: CHAPUL vs. EXO
When it comes to any bar, nutrition data is very important.
|Data (in grams)||Chapul Chaco (PB & Chocolate)||Chapul Aztec (Dark Chocolate, Coffee & Cayenne)||Chapul (Matcha & Banana)||Exo - Blueberry Vanilla||Exo - Banana Bread||Exo - Cocoa Nut|
|Sugar + Sugar Alcohols||8||9||8||14||14||13|
|Sugar/gram as %||14.81%||16.67%||14.81%||23.33%||23.33%||21.67%|
|Fiber/gram as %||9.26%||11.11%||5.56%||10.00%||10.00%||11.67%|
- As mentioned at the outset, we try to maximize flavor, fiber, "good" ingredients, healthy fats and protein. We try to minimize sugar, processed ingredients, and calories per gram weight (unless trying to "bulk" up). The cricket bars are nutritious.
- While we tried ALL the cricket bar flavors, the above got the highest taste ratings.
- All bars are soft and moist. -- Some are almost "greasy." The Chapul bars are softer, more pliable. The Exo are slightly more moist. These make them a bit messy to eat -- greasy fingers.
- There was no clear winner in the "taste" category. Team feedback varies across flavors. No one bar shone, and it is doubtful that any bar will become part of our inventory, despite how much we love the sustainability aspect.
- Chapul presented better in terms of being a lower sugar alternative and a more realistic snack for our testers with calorie counts lower than the Exo bars. All testers felt the Exo Bar calories and sugar counts were too high for eating the bar in one "seating."
- We were surprised at the higher sodium content for the Chapul bars. They didn't taste salty, but it is something that stood out when we looked at the data.
- These bars cost more (approx $3/bar) than any bar we currently stock.
"Favorites" a bit of a misnomer because each Athletic-Minded Traveler team member has a different favorite. The only "Bar Company" that every Team member can agree upon is Bonk Breaker. The Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and the higher protein Almond Cherry Chunk (with dark chocolate) are two that get the best ratings in terms of taste, texture and nutrition. The images below show each bar that our Team regularly eats. And since different Team members have different tastes and needs, the data capture what each bar offers.
|Data||Oh Yeah Victory (Peanut Butter Chip)||Orgain Organic Protein Bar (Choc Chip Cookie Dough)||Raw Rev Glo (PB Dark Choc Sea Salt)||Health Warrior Chia (Dark Chocolate)||Oskri Protein Dark Chocolate Bar (Mulberry)||Bonk Breaker (PB&Choc Chip)||Bonk Breaker Protein (Almond Cherry Chunk)||NuGo Free (Dark Chocolate Crunch)|
|total fat (g)||6||5||11||5||6||9||8||3|
|Sugar + Sugar Alcohols||8||8||3||5||9||13||12||11|
|Sugar/gram as %||12.31%||20.00%||6.52%||20.00%||15.93%||26.53%||24.49%||24.44%|
|Fiber/gram as %||26.15%||15.00%||28.26%||16.00%||5.31%||6.12%||8.16%||8.89%|
|AMT's take||Mellow. Softer, little chewy & very "bar" like. Solid Peanut Butter flavors. Filling. Big.||Sweeter, like smaller size option, tastes like cookie dough with had good flavor throughout. Has erythritol.||Melt in your mouth chocolate chips. Healthy fats satiate. Soft bar. Not too travel friendly.||If you like chia seeds, it's a winner||Good dark chocolate and berry flavor. Unique and appetizing.||Best in taste for a firm non chocolate covered bar. Tastes home-baked.||Cherry flavor sings. Love texture. It's not "bar-like" at all. Home baked.||A little boring & less crunch than you'd expect. But some love the chewiness & dark choc.|
|First Five Ingredients||Protein blend (whey, milk, calcium), probiotic soluble fiber, peanut butter, peanuts, peanut butter chips, peanut flour.||Organic protein blend (brown rice, pea, chia), organic tapioca syrup & fiber, organic choc chips, organic almonds.||Superfood blend (peanuts, pea protein, brown rice protein, raw organic hemp protein, Coc oil, chia seeds, flax)||White chia seeds, brown rice syrup, cashew butter, rolled oats, organic dark chocolate chips||Protein blend (rice, pumpkin, pea, sunflower), mulberries, cranberry, rice syrup, date paste||Brown rice syrup, peanuts, GF oats, organic dark choc, honey, crisp rice||Almonds, brown rice syrup, GF Oats, Rice protein Isolate, Organic dark choc, honey||Rice protein crisp, dark chocolate, tapioca syrup, agave syrup, brown rice syrup, brown rice crisp|
|Protein Source||High quality protein, low sugar, high fiber & protein. NO sugar subs, GF||Brown rice & pea.||Pea Protein||Cashew butter & Chia seeds||Rice, pumpkin, sunflower, and pea protein blend||Non-GMO Brown Rice Protein||Non-GMO Brown Rice Protein||Rice|
THAT'S A LOT OF DATA!!!!
FAVORITES vs. CRICKET BARS -- Key Notes
- Sizes vary. The only way to really compare any bar is to do it on a gram per gram basis. This is especially important since we stock a variety of bars and they come in varying sizes. Health Warrior's bar is small, but we love having something that is smaller to pair with another snack like fruit or jerky.
- Taste is personal. These bars are a good place for anyone looking for a bar to start. Look at our notes and let the sampling begin. We purchase our bars online, most frequently from Amazon.com and Vitacost.com. However, surprisingly, Walmart is still offering a DEAL for the Raw Rev Glo bar: $13.89 for 12!! Here's the link.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
1. Feel free to comment on this blog and ask about these bars or others that you like to get our feedback.
2. Sign up for our eNews. We will be giving bars away!
3. Don't be afraid to try new bars! But be smart about what you are consuming.
** Athletic-Minded Traveler's Managing Editor, Erin Kaese, penned this article with contribution from Associate Editor Daniel Gaz.