When it comes to sugar, I let nature be the guide. Instead of eating flavored yogurt with one tablespoon of added sugar, I’d rather eat plain yogurt with real fruit. For breakfast, I sweeten my oatmeal with raisins rather than maple syrup (maple syrup may have trace minerals, but you have to eat a lot to get the benefits).
Although I love sweets, most packaged stuff is overkill. Case in point: Quaker chewy granola bars are 1/3 sugar by weight. There’s more sugar than fiber and protein combined. Their 25% Less Sugar line sounds like a great idea in theory, but it has calorie-free sweeteners. The solution is dialing down the sweetness, not replacing it with lab-made “food!”
Larabar, on the other hand, makes excellent no-added-sugar snacks. They use the natural sugar of dates, nature’s sweetest fruit. White sugar isn’t evil per se, but it lacks the fiber, vitamins, and minerals of fruits.
Larabar used to make Mayabars (which I dubbed the best chocolate energy bar from the 2006 Fancy Food Show). They were fruit-sweetened chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs. Unfortunately, they revamped the line (now called Jocolat) and removed the nibs for a “smoother texture.” Bah, I want my essence of chocolate. The other problem is they’re expensive at $2 each. Since their bars are essentially dried fruit and nuts, it’s not that hard to figure out the recipe.
Anna at Cookie Madness developed a formula: 1 part of dried fruit to 1/2 part of crunchies (nuts, oatmeal, puffed rice, cacao nibs, etc.) by weight. I added a little more cocoa for extra chocolatiness. It’s not an exact recipe; you can adjust the ingredients by taste.
These are delicious chocolate bars that are actually good for you! You get a one serving of fruit with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
Naturally Sugar-Free Chocolate Bars
Adapted from Cookie Madness
Makes 6 bars or 24 “truffles”
2/3 cup walnuts
1 cup packed, pitted dates (about 24)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 Tbsp cacao nibs or finely chopped dark chocolate
Toast the walnuts in a preheated 325F oven for 15 min., or until browned and fragrant. Stir the nuts half way through baking.
In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until they are pebble sized pieces. Set aside in a medium bowl.
Place the dates in the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Process until they’re smooth and form a ball around the blade. (At first, you will get lots of sticky pieces.) Add the cocoa and process until smooth.
In a bowl, knead the date mixture with the walnuts and cacao nibs until they stick together. If the mixture is too sticky, add more nuts or cacao nibs. If too dry, add a couple teaspoons of water.
On a cutting board lined with plastic wrap, shape the mixture into a long 1″-wide rectangle. Slice pieces with a sharp knife. Or, roll into 1″ balls. Store leftovers in the fridge.
Note: You can use natural or Dutch-processed cocoa, depending on your tastes. Natural cocoa has more complex flavors, but it is more acidic. I like to use it in cooked recipes. Dutch-processed cocoa has some the edge taken out, but you also loose other flavor elements. I like it for frostings and other raw uses. Generally, don’t swap one cocoa for another in baking recipes, since it can throw off the pH and affect the way cakes rise.