We’ve all heard of study after study condemning sugar in its various forms (HFCS, etc.) as the culprit behind obesity and other health-related issues. But the alternatives are sparse; amid the refrain of farm-to-table types and other health-conscious groups are official statements questioning the health of sucralose (Splenda, etc.). We held out hope that Stevia — a natural, plant-derived sweetener — might hold some of the answer for those hoping to balance a sweet tooth with a healthy lifestyle.
We can’t claim to be anti-Frankenfood warriors, but our near obsession with Stevia has continued since experimenting with Stevia-sweetened sodas. First, we’ve transitioned to using Stevia extract as our go-to coffee sweetener (the concentrated kind from Trader Joe’s, naturally, which has 622 servings in a tiny, tiny bottle, and comes with a most minute measuring spoon with which to dole it out). But recently, with the wider distribution of Lily’s Stevia-sweetened chocolate, the potential for the natural sweetener to creep into our diets as a matter of course may have taken another step.
Lily’s launched its chocolate bars in 2012, and announced in January 2013 that the bars would be available nationwide. Despite the company having a local (Santa Barbara, CA) connection, we were even so blissfully unaware of them until a random perusal of the chocolate section at our local Whole Foods.
Lily’s has four varieties: original dark chocolate, coconut dark chocolate; crispy rice dark chocolate; and dark chocolate with almonds. At about $4 a bar, it’s a tough sell for bargain shoppers; of course, the “bargain shopper” and “Stevia consumer” Venn Diagram would likely show little intersection. Nonetheless, it’s cheaper than other Whole Foods’ chocolate section stalwarts, like the offensively priced (yet admittedly usually delicious) Vosages bars.
We would have sprung for one bar, if only to please our readers, yet the bars were on sale for $3 apiece, so we ponied up for two: original and coconut. Here’s what we found.
First, to be clear, it’s not purely stevia sweetened. The bars contain some of the sugar alcohol known as erythritol (as do many stevia sodas), which presumably helps round out the taste and mitigate the common “bitter licorice” or “wintergreen” effect that stevia can carry. Sugar alcohols are commonly used in sugar free products and are known to cause upset stomachs (maltitol is generally considered the worst offender) and, in some cases, spike the insulin, despite the fact that they aren’t actual sugar. To put the amount of erythritol in Lily’s bars in perspective, a serving carries about 6 grams of erithrytol, while an equivalent amount of See’s or Hershey’s Sugar Free Dark bars have about three times that in sugar alcohols, largely maltitol. So Lily’s bars are less likely to affect your digestive process.
Lily’s are also high in dietary fiber, which makes the “net carbs” pretty low, obviously catering to the Ketogenic Diet / Atkins/ South Beach crowd. (See below for a copy of the packaging’s nutritional info section)
Whatever the case, the bars are good — quite good, actually. It does have that somewhat muted sweetness on the tongue that non-sugar sweeteners tend to have, but the flavor is spot-on; the “original” compares favorably to See’s regular, “sugared” dark chocolate products (our go-to favorite for a balance of quality and affordability). And if you dig coconut, then the chocolate/coconut fusion should be to your liking as well; no “soapy” effect, like many coconut flavored products have; this is nice and tropical and sweet, and even has some of that coconutty texture (which some hate, but if that floats your boat, you’ll find it here). Better than Coconut M&M’s (which we also liked).
Final verdict: we tried it so you don’t have to, but we think you should. Especially if you’re counting calories (these have about 25% less calories than regular chocolate as well), are worried about artificially sweetened products, or are on a carb-restricted diet. Lily’s is as good as any chocolate in its weight class.