How to Make Raw Food Protein Bars: My First Daring Attempt

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Home-made protein barsAbout a year ago, my lovely girlfriend surprised me with a pair of tickets to a raw food workshop out of town (she knows me so well).

It was an incredible workshop led by a raw food chef (who happened to be pregnant at the time) with more enthusiasm than I’ve ever been exposed to in my life.

She left quite an impression on me as she shared her craft and taught us how to make some killer raw food desserts.

And that impression kind of stuck with me.

As has the love for making awesome raw food meals. Ever since that workshop, I’ve been having sporadic moments of raw food cravings.

Cravings powerful enough to spark imagination. Cravings that force my girlfriend to get out her heavy-duty food processor and start performing some magic.

This past weekend was one of those days.

Out of nowhere, I had an indescribable urge to fulfill one of my life-long dreams:

To make my very own protein bars.

Here’s how I (ummm we) did it…

Before I get into the details, let me say where the idea for the process came from.

Raw food desserts come in many different shapes, sizes, textures, and tastes. But, for particular examples, there are two fairly distinct components: the base and the topping. The base is very thick and pasty. It solidifies when frozen. The topping is a much smoother texture that has an icy taste when frozen.

The protein bars I created used the base-making principles from the raw food making process.

This is what keeps them solid.

Why Protein Bars?

Protein is an essential macronutrient the body needs for a multitude of functions, like building and repairing tissue.

Although it’s important to moderate our consumption of protein (remember, excess protein promotes insulin secretion which isn’t an optimal hormonal state), I find that many of us still find it difficult to get enough quality protein throughout the day (especially when we’re on the run).

I’m not a big fan of brand-name protein bars because they’re loaded with additives, artificial flavors, and sugars (again, insulin secretion). On top of that, they’ll do a number on your wallet.

I just don’t like anything I can’t control.

So I decided the best way to solve this issue is to (try to) make my very own protein bars.

Please note that this is my very first attempt at making protein bars. Although I’m happy with how they turned out, I’ll be playing around with the recipe to try and make them even better.

What You Need…

The good news is that you don’t need much.

The Hardware

From a hardware point of view, you’ll need the following items:

1 – Food Processor

To make any kind of raw-food dessert, you need a solid food processor (see picture below). This tool is incredibly handy for mashing up and mixing even the hardest and crunchiest of ingredients (like the ones we’re using in this recipe). If you don’t have a food processor, a heavy-duty blender might suffice, but I haven’t tried this myself.

Food Processor

The all-mighty food processor.

2 – Measuring cups

Measuring cups are useful here because they’ll help you get the right texture. When you’re making raw-food desserts, it’s really important to get the base nice and pasty. If it’s too wet or too dry, you won’t get the result you’re looking for. You need to mix the ingredients in such a ratio that will get them pasty enough to form into the shapes you want.

3- Aluminum Pan

An aluminum pan is required for solidifying the protein bars. Don’t use a glass container because the mixture will need to be placed in the freezer to turn the bars solid. A nice, flat aluminum pan will suffice.

The Ingredients

Here’s a list of the ingredients I used to make my protein bars:

  • Ground blanched almonds
  • Fresh, organic walnut pieces
  • Natural whole Brazil nuts
  • Organic coconut oil
  • Shredded unsweetened coconut
  • All-natural whey protein
  • Raw cocoa beans
  • Mint leaves
Very, very basic recipe!

How I Made my Protein Bars

Here are the steps I took to make the protein bars:

1. Prepare

Get your food processor ready. Get all your ingredients out in front of you and prepared for measuring. Clear up your kitchen and give yourself some space to work.

This is going to get a bit messy!

2. Measure and Load

  • Measure out a cup of ground almonds and throw it into the processor
  • Measure two cups of fresh walnuts and add it to the mix
  • Measure out one cup of Brazil nuts and add it to the mix
  • Measure out roughly 1/3 to 2/3 cups of organic coconut oil and add it to the mix
  • Measure out about 2-3 scoops of all natural whey protein and add it to the mix

It should look something like this…

Protein Bar Mixture

3. Start Mixing

Get the food processor going.

Start mixing the batch and see what kind of texture you get.

This is very important. What you’re aiming for is a smooth paste that is not too watery, but also not too dry. It needs to be just right. If it’s too watery, you need to either add more walnuts or ground almonds and mix again. If it’s too dry, try adding either more coconut oil or simply add a little bit of water (not too much!). Keep playing around with the mixture until you get the pasty, pliable texture that’s required.

4. Add the Final Pieces

Once you have the paste mixed into the texture you want, add in your raw cocoa beans and mint leaves.

The raw cocoa beans are hard to come by (I got these as a gift from El Salvador), but raw cocoa powder is a great substitute and can be purchased at your local health food store. The mint leaves were just an experiment to see what kind of flavor they would add.

After everything is mixed together, add a bit of shredded coconuts into the mix and let the food processor run on low power. You want to keep the coconut shreds long (not minced up).

This is what it should look like when it’s ready for spreading…

Pasty Protein Bar Mixture

Notice the pastiness of the mixture.

5. Spread out the Mixture

Once you have your mixture ready, grab your aluminum pan and dump the paste onto it.

Begin forming the paste with your hands (like I did) or with a roller if you have one (I didn’t) into a flat square (or any shape you choose really).

This is why it’s important to get a solid, pasty texture. If it’s too dry or too watery, it’s not very pliable.

Protein Bar Paste Flattened

The image on the left shows the mixture after it is dumped out of the food processor. The image on the right is the same mixture only flattened.

Once you have a flat paste spread out over your pan (as shown above), take some Saran wrap and cover the mixture.

Put it in your freezer. Let it sit there for a while (I left it for a few hours).

6. Cut and Serve

After a few hours, the flattened mixture should have solidified.

Take it out of the freezer and touch it. If it is still pasty, put it back. If it is solid to the touch, it’s ready to be cut.

You can cut the bars any way you like. You can cut them into squares, triangles, long bars, or whatever shape floats your boat. You can use a knife or a pizza cutter. Both work really well.

Protein bars cut

Protein mixture solidified and cut. I sectioned my mixture into 18 bars.

Once the bars are cut, use the flat end of the knife to scoop them off the aluminum pan. Depending on how long the bars have been in the freezer up to this point, it’s a good idea not to use your hands to ensure the bars don’t break.

Store the bars neatly into a container and put them back into the freezer.

Home-made protein bars

Protein bars are ready to go back in the freezer!

Leave the bars in the freezer overnight…

And get ready to enjoy them in the morning!

Protein Bar Nutrition Facts

I think the coolest thing about making your own protein bars is that you get to control what you put in them.

Often enough, brand-name protein bars are loaded with sugar, additives, preservatives, and artificial flavors that you can’t get away from.

My goal with these bars is to keep them low on sugar and high in overall nutritional value.

Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients we used and let’s figure out the nutritional value of each protein bar.

Note: because I didn’t have the a measuring tool with me to figure out exactly how many grams of each ingredient I used, this will be a somewhat rough estimate. Keep in mind, however, that the idea is to get to that desired texture and then scale up or down depending on the volume you’re looking to create.

According to my research, here are the approximations:

  • 2 cups of ground almonds = 220g [source]
  • 2/3 cups of organic coconut oil = 139g [source]
  • 2.5 cups of walnut pieces = 310g [source]
  • 1 cup of Brazil nuts = 150g [source]
  • 3 scoops of all-natural whey protein powder = 96g
  • 1/3 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut = 24g [source]

Once again, the sources are a little bit inconsistent, but it should give us a good rough estimate.

Now let’s dig into some complicated math…

Nutrients from ground blanched almonds:
Ground Blanched Almonds

  • Calories = 1256 calories
  • Protein = 47.1g
  • Fat = 110g
  • Carbohydrates = 47.1g

Nutrients from organic coconut oil:
Organic Coconut Oil

  • Calories = 1190 calories
  • Protein = 0g
  • Fat = 138g
  • Carbohydrates = 0g

Nutrients from walnut pieces:
Walnut Pieces

  • Calories = 1957 calories
  • Protein = 41g
  • Fat = 185g
  • Carbohydrates = 41g

Nutrients from Brazil nuts:
Natural Whole Brazil Nuts

  • Calories = 1070 calories
  • Protein = 21g
  • Fat = 101g
  • Carbohydrates = 16g

Nutrients from All-Natural Whey Protein:

Gold Standard Natural 100 Whey

  • ┬áCalories = 390 calories
  • Protein = 72g
  • Fat = 3g
  • Carbohydrates = 15g

Shredded (Unsweetened) Coconut:
Shredded Unsweetened Coconut

  • Calories = 160 calories
  • Protein = 0g
  • Fat = 14.4g
  • Carbohydrates = 6.4g

Raw Cocoa Nibs:

Raw Cocoa Beans

Note: the raw cocoa beans and the mint leaves add nutritional value, but do not add much to the overall macronutrient composition, so they’re omitted from these calculations.

OK, let’s add those numbers up:

  • Total calories: 6,023 calories
  • Total protein: 181g
  • Total fat: 551g
  • Total carbohydrates: 122g

This is the total macronutrient breakdown of the batch I created.

Breaking this down into 18 individual protein bars, we get the following.

Protein Bar Nutrition Facts (per bar):

  • 376 calories
  • 11g of protein
  • 34.4g of fat
  • 7.6g of carbohydrates

Apart from the macronutrient composition of these bars, it’s very important to note the nutritional density they possess. This should be the primary focus – to get the most nutritional value out of each bar as possible.

My Notes:

As you can see, (healthy) fats make up the majority of the macronutrient composition of these ‘protein’ bars (which is also what drives their caloric value since fats are the most calorically dense macronutrients).

The reason all of this is good news is because our body is actually designed to use fat as fuel (not sugars). Fat is a long, very stable fuel source that the body prefers for metabolization and it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar and accompanying hormonal dysregulation.

Essentially, eating fat will help you get leaner and healthier, but we’ll save that for another post.

Note that there are only (roughly) 11 grams of protein per bar. I’d like to eventually push this number up to 15 grams minimum in the next iteration. Remember that the goal isn’t to over-consume proteins as we’re often told. The (adult) body only needs around 45 to 60 grams of protein per day for optimal function and tissue repair. Anything over that will cause hormonal dysregulation, which triggers fat accumulation and can wreak havoc on your metabolic systems.

So yes, it may make sense to call these ‘fat bars’ instead of ‘protein bars’, but it’s my creation and I’ll call them what I want :)

All in all, these bars are nutritionally dense. They’re very high in nutritional value (especially from the raw cocoa beans which contain powerful antioxidants).

I’m fairly pleased with my first time experiment.

The Cost

I think it’s important to give a rough breakdown of how much it cost me to actually make this.

I purchased all of my ingredients at the Bulk Barn because purchasing quality foods in bulk is always cheaper.

Note: since I lost my receipt (sorry!), I can’t give a very detailed outline of my costs.

Here’s the price breakdown:

  • Ground almonds, walnut pieces, Brazil nuts, shredded coconut = $19.90
  • Coconut oil = $9
  • Natural Whey Protein = $70/71 scoops = $10/3 scoops
  • Raw cocoa beans = free (gift)
  • Mint leaves = free (gift)

Total Cost = $38.9

Cost per bar = $4.8

Although this may seem somewhat high, keep in mind that there were a lot of leftovers of the ingredients that were purchased. For instance, the jar of coconut oil, which is one of the more expensive ingredients, is still nearly full and can be re-used for a later batch. The same can be said with some of the other ingredients.

It all comes down to volume and iteration. My goal is to bring these down to the $1-2 per bar range.

What I Plan to Change

Remember that this is my very first attempt at making home-made raw-food style protein bars. This entire experiment is designed to give you an idea – a framework – which you can use to start playing around with ingredients and creating your very own bars.

One thing that we learned at the raw food workshop is that there is plenty of room for variation.

As long as you have the right texture for your mixture, you can add or remove any ingredients that you wish.

Side note: dates are a great for adding volume and pastiness to the mixture. This is something that was used for the base of almost every recipe that was taught at the raw food workshop. However, dates are very high in natural sugars and, since my goal was to minimize the sugar content of my protein bars, I had to omit them.

In the coming months, I’m looking forward to testing out other ingredients. Here are some things I plan to try with future iterations of this recipe:

  • Flaxseed
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Raw ginger
  • Fresh or frozen berries (low GI)
  • Avocado
  • Maca powder (another superfood)
  • Goji berries (amazing superfood)
  • Almond butter
  • Cinnamon
  • Hemp seeds

The list goes on…

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So there you have it guys! My first ever home-made raw food protein bars.

Have you experimented with making protein bars? Or raw food desserts in general? Are there any other ingredients you think would be good to add to the mix?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

And if you enjoyed the post, I’d love it if you shared it for me!

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Comments

  1. Great post made some of these a few months ago. Aren’t they delicious and are so cheap too. Plus you know what your eating since you made them. Stuff from scratch is so much better than store bought premade items.

    • I love the fact that I get to control what I put in them. I know exactly what I’m eating. I saved money (somewhat) and I found the overall process of making the protein bars kind of fun :)

  2. Srdjan,

    Congrats on a successful first batch of homemade protein bars! I haven’t experimented with protein bars yet, but I do experiment with protein shakes and smoothies now and again. Preparing your own meals and snacks is a good way to control exactly what you are consuming without leaving anything to chance.

    Alykhan

    • That’s exactly my thought too Alykhan. Like I mentioned to Harry, I like the fact that I know exactly what is inside them. I know what I’m eating.

      Smoothies are also great. I try to play around with different recipes there too but since I do it in the morning I don’t really have too much time to experiment.

  3. Will definitely give these a try, I was initially a little alarmed by the high calorie / fat totals, but i like that you explained why they were high :)

    • People put too much emphasis on quantity of food (calories) instead of focusing on the quality of food (macronutrient proportions).

      As long as we minimize the consumption of foods that trigger insulin secretion, our bodies are able to metabolize the healthy fat we consume for energy. As soon as you throw carbs into the mix, fatty acids can’t be released and we go into storage mode.

      Let me know how they turn out for you Paul!

  4. David Cano Riesgo says:

    Did it! Tough I introduced some changes (coconut milk+honey cause couldn’t find the oil) and chocolate powder as your choice seems unreacheable from outside tropic lol.

    The pastiness doesn’t look so thick as yours, so lets hope the fridge does it work, otherwise won’t share pics.

    I am still shocked by calory count, though I understand the reason … When do you recommend to take them? Before / during / after workout? Snack at work?

    As always, I like your post a lot! Thanks a lot!

    • Hey David, that’s awesome! I’m happy you gave it a try. It takes a few attempts to figure out what you need to do to get the mixture right. And it’s cool to mix the ingredients up. That’s the beauty of these recipes – their versatility!

      And don’t worry so much about the calorie count. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard here but one bar will definitely give you all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally. And it will serve as a long lasting fuel source. Read the comment I posted for Paul above…

      PS – I’d love to see those pictures!

  5. First of all, Thanks…these look great.
    I have a couple of suggestions or questions…
    It would be nice to make the bars so that they don’t have to be forzen. I would like to keep them in the refrig and then take a few with me on the plan or in the car. I mean, the ones you buy are not kept in the refrig so how would we have to change this to do this.
    The other thing is…Whey Protein is so old school. I use Sun Warrior Rice Protein Powder and it is much more easy to assimilate. Try it!

    • Hey Larry, unfortunately these bars would have to be kept in the freezer (or fridge at minimum) to keep them solid. The protein bars you purchase have gone through chemical processing to give them improved taste and longer shelf-life. This isn’t natural food, however.

      The one thing I have yet to try is to make raw food using a dehydrator. As you’d guess, the dehydrator takes the moisture out of the raw food with only moderate affects on nutritional content. I need to test to see if dehydrating these bars would keep them solid for longer at room temperature. I first have to get a dehydrator though :)

      I’ve heard of Sun Warrior, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out. And what’s wrong with going old-school sometimes??

  6. Filipe Karam says:

    This week I bought mine at the supermarket. This weekend, though, i’ll give it a shot! Thanks for the tip, man!

  7. Hi Srdjan,
    You have inspired me! I have been wanting to make protein bars for a long time as well. So many things to do so little time (LOL).

    Your recipe reminded me of a book by Brandan Brazier http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_sc_0_11?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=brendan+brazier&sprefix=brendon+bra%2Caps%2C212 that I have borrowed from a library some time ago. The guy is a professional athlete and he is completely raw. There were many interesting recipes in his book including protein bars. I need to reorder it.

    I was not aware that excessive protein consumption causes insulin spikes. Interesting. Would you mind sharing your sources where you have learned that? I would like to read some more about it. I have always thought that the optimal daily protein consumption is between 25 to 35% of your calories.
    Thank you.

    • Alina – I wish there were more hours in the day too!

      I’ve definitely seen that book and have heard of many athletes going completely raw. Although it’s not something I plan to take on full time, I think there are a lot of great things you can learn from experimenting with raw food.

      Definitely check out books like Primal Body Primal Mind and The China Study. They both talk about optimal protein consumption and what happens when you consume more than you need.

  8. Jeff Blackwell says:

    I really like this post and the previous post, that actually shows what you eat to stay fit & healthy or lose weight. I plan to eat exactly what you recommend. I feel more confident in reaching my fitness/dietary goals.

  9. Sounds Pretty tedious! :)

    What is your favorite over the counter store bought protein bar? Do you think that Cliff Bars could suffice as a good alternative or any of the good organic protein bars?

    • Troy, to be honest I’m not a big fan of brand-name protein bars in general, so I don’t know much about them. I find there are way too many additives in them and the bars are usually loaded with sugars. I’m sure there are some good, all-natural, low-in-sugar ones out there. I just haven’t put in the time to look.

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