After an informal taste test, I concluded that the company that can make a good-tasting protein bar can get rich quick.

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Protein bars are a great invention.

They pack a lot of punch into a small package to help you deliver oomph when you need it in sports.But manufacturers seem to have overlooked one pertinent detail - taste.

Granted, the bars typically have little or no cholesterol, caffeine, preservatives or fat. Geez, what does that leave?

Do they have to taste so bad? In an informal taste test of 13 bars purchased at six Greensboro businesses, I concluded that the company that can make a good-tasting protein bar can get rich quick.

Over the course of three days, I sampled each bar, savoring the flavor and swishing my mouth with water and Gatorade. I wrote down my impressions. I also solicited a friend to sample the bars and write down her thoughts.

We seemed to agree that while the bars may look like candy and may be packaged like an exotic confection, some taste like medicine and have the consistency of packed sawdust or shoe leather. Or a bicycle inner tube. Or worse.

With one bar in particular - the Bear Valley Pemmican - I could have used a little mortar and built a nice brick wall. Yuk!

Although they weren't found in Greensboro when this survey was conducted, the new Clif Bar is supposed to be tasty. Ty's Cycle Sport recently received a shipment in its Greensboro store.

The Clif Bar is similar to a cookie in texture and comes in three flavors: apricot; double chocolate and date-oatmeal. It compares favorably with the other bars in nutritional content.

Another bar to watch for is the new Edge Bar, which was found at Phidippides Sports Center in Concord. By far, it has an edge in taste and consistency of all that were sampled for the survey. Best of all, it contains less than two grams of fat. Its chocolate tastes like chocolate, and the bar compares favorably with both the Power Bar and Quigley's Alpha 1 Nutri-Bar.

Here are the findings from my taste test:

Power Bar - A chewy, sticky bar that is hard to get out of its Mylar (foil) wrapper. It does not melt or crumble. The color of cat food, the bar is palatable and slightly sweet. It leaves you thirsty. It's available at Appalachian Outfitters, Cycles de Oro, House of Health and Ty's Cycle Sport.

Exceed - The chocolate is dense, dry and chalky but has an acceptable flavor. This bar is large and heavy and smells like B-vitamins. It's available at Ty's, Cycles de Oro and Omega Sports.

Quigley Alpha 1 Nutri-Bar - A moist but chewy, slightly crunchy bar that is difficult to remove from its wrapper because of stickiness. The bar is not overly sweet or heavy. Available at Cycles de Oro.

Pure Power Energy Bar - Similar to the Power Bar in size and consistency but tastes better. The bar is sticky, dry and, once again, difficult to remove from wrapper. Like the Power Bar and Exceed, it leaves you thirsty. It's available at House of Health.

Stim-O-Stam Cross TRNR - The original flavor tastes much like a Bit-O-Honey bar. The chocolate toffee is slightly sweet, crunchy and chewy. It is difficult to unwrap because of stickiness. It's available at Ty's and Cycles de Oro.

FinHalsa - A sticky, pleasant-tasting bar with a peanut butter-honey aftertaste. The bar is not exceptionally sweet. It is easier to unwrap than the others. It's available at Ty's.

Organic Energy Bar - A soft, chewy, slightly crunchy bar with a pleasant, fruity taste. The strawberry-banana flavor tastes like strawberry preserves and leaves a good aftertaste, yet is not too sweet. Unwraps easily. It's available at Appalachian.

Nature's Plus/Source of Life Energy Bar - This carob fudge bar is chocolaty, nutty and chewy. It has a good taste but a somewhat bitter aftertaste. It's available at House of Health.

Tiger's Milk - Tastes like a candy bar and comes in several flavors. The smooth texture inside is sweet. The carob coating melts in heat, making it impractical to take on long, sweaty runs or bike rides. It's available at Drug Emporium and House of Health.

Nature's Plus Spiru-Tein - The carob-coated bar has a good peanut butter flavor and tastes like a candy bar. But again, will the carob melt? It's available at House of Health.

Missing Link - This chocolate-covered bar is heavy but tastes fairly good. Its taste has a hint of honey (or is it bubble gum?). Easy to chew and unwrap, but this bar is not for the weight-conscious. Package indicated that it's for bodybuilding weight gain. It also has beef extract, which packs a whopping 25 grams of protein per bar. The chocolate melts easily. Available at Ronny Barnes Nautilus.

Hoffman's Energy Bar - This club sandwich bar tastes like a Twix cookie-candy bar. It is chocolate-covered and melts easily, and it tastes too good to be healthy. It's available at Ronny Barnes and House of Health.

Bear Valley Pemmican - This carob-cocoa bar is heavy and cake-like. It tastes like a bad vending-machine brownie. It has a slightly bitter aftertaste and leaves you thirsty. Available at Appalachian.

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