Monday, December 20, 2010

Check It Out: Tanka Bars

If a snack somes in a shiny, colorful wrapper -- Fritos! Little Debbies! Pop Tarts! -- it's probably not good for you. But face it: We occasionally need a shelf-stable snack to throw into our bags. Backpackers and bodybuilders aren't the only ones who need a protein bar every now and then. Sometimes, when a work meeting drifts past noon and the office orders in mayo-drenched sandwiches, corn chips and chocolate chip cookies, we need to pull out an emergency snack from the dark, linty recesses of our bags. And that nasty Ziplock filled with stale almonds and rancid jerky won't do.

Snack bars seem like a good idea. But which one do you choose? These days, supermarket shelves are crammed with a dizzying number of different protein and/or meal replacement bars. Examples include:
It's overwhelming -- another example of the paradox of choice. As a result, most shoppers are left baffled, and will probably stick to what's familiar -- even if it tastes horrible and isn't particularly good for them.

Thankfully, for us Paleo eaters, the pickings are actually kind of slim. (Don't be fooled into thinking, for example, that "PaleoBars" are actually Paleo at all. The ingredients include grains, dairy, and a whole lot of laboratory-generated stuff I can't pronounce.)

One of the very few decent choices: LARABARsThey're Paleo/Primal-friendly. The non-chocolate flavors are free of soy, dairy and added sugar, and none of 'em contain gluten. They're made with just a handful of whole food ingredients -- mostly fruit and nuts.

We have some LARABARs in our pantry, and I'm not averse to breaking one out every once in a blue moon.

Still, I'm not crazy about the amount of sugar in LARABARs. Most flavors contain 18 to 24 grams of sugar -- mostly, I would guess, from the fruit. The primary ingredient of most LARABAR varieties is one or more high glycemic fruits like dates or bananas -- and since I don't tend to eat a lot of sugary fruits these days, I'm also not making a habit of chowing down on LARABARs.

So what's at the bottom of my briefcase?

Answer: Tanka Bars.

Tanka Bars are gluten- and hormone-free meat snacks made by a company started by Lakota Indians on their reservation in South Dakota. The Bars are a modern take on traditional wasna or pemmican, but leaner. (Bison is grassfed and naturally lean, and unlike pemmican, Tanka Bars don't appear to incorporate a lot of fat.) 

The ingredients? Buffalo, dried cranberries, sea salt, red pepper, onion, garlic, and lactic acid starter culture. There's some added sugar in the dried cranberries, but I'm not too concerned; it's a small amount, and (as with lots of cured meat products) the lactic acid starter culture eats it. As a point of comparison, a Tanka Bar contains 6 grams of sugar -- one-third or one-fourth the amount found in a LARABAR -- which itself isn't exactly high-carb.

I've tried the original Tanka Bar as well as the "Spicy Pepper Blend" version. The latter is my favorite of the two (though I wish was even spicier), but both are pretty damned good. like a moist, slightly-sweet, less-chewy version of buffalo jerky. I've also bought a bunch of bags of Tanka Bites -- which I think are essentially cut-up pieces of Tanka Bars. They're a great choice, too, because sometimes, just one bar isn't enough.

And don't tell me this video doesn't give you the warm and fuzzies about Native American Natural Foods, the makers of Tanka Bars:

I'm not the only fan of Tanka Bars; the Denver Post recently published a short but glowing review, and Mark Sisson has recommended 'em, too.

Don't kick yourself if you haven't noticed Tanka Bars at your corner store -- they aren't (yet?) available at most supermarkets. Currently, the best place to find 'em are at REI stores, natural/health food stores (I ain't talking about GNC or Vitamin Shoppe, people), and on Tanka's online store. (And for those of you Luddites who refuse to buy stuff online, Tanka's website has a handy store locator, too.)

Also: Until December 31, you can use the online coupon code TANKAHOLIDAYS to get 15% off all the regularly-priced stuff on Tanka's website. So check 'em out.