In fact, there’s a perverse incongruity between the promise of a gel pack and the actual experience. We look at the package and reasonably expect it to taste, well, yummy. A gel pack contains a lot of the same ingredients as candy—mostly sugar and artificial flavor. Plus it looks like a cute, little, room-temperature version of a Mr. Freeze; hence it should be both tasty and fun to eat, no? Alas, it’s rarely the picnic the package purports it to be.
Nevertheless, gel packs sure are a handy and efficient means of delivering easily absorbed carbohydrates and other nutritional goodies (potassium, sodium) which athletes tend to need in the middle of their sporting endeavors. (For me especially, being diabetic, those tiny pouches of goo are incredibly useful; I’ve always got to be packing carbs on my person, in case of a low-blood-sugar episode, and it’s easy to stuff a couple of gel packs in any pocket.) So, I have tried a lot of them—Hammer, GU, PowerGel, Carb-BOOM. But the only brand of gel pack I can honestly recommend is the CLIF version, and my hands-down favorite (non-caffeine) flavor has to be vanilla. So here are some notes from a recent mid-ride tasting.
First thing you notice about the CLIF Shot is the handsome silver and blue package which features the classy “Litter Leash,” a little safety strap that prevents the tear-off top bit from blowing away when you yank the pack open. (Though I have to admit that first time I ever tried one of these I managed to pull off the whole leash without even opening the damn thing.)
As for the appearance of the actual gel, it’s the typical translucent, mucousy goo that you’d expect. Fortunately, with gel packs there’s not much opportunity to see what you’re actually consuming. The gel tends to get sucked out of the package and down the gullet without spending much time in the naked atmosphere where it can be eye-balled. Just as well.
The aroma is mostly mellow vanilla bean but with slight hints of caramel corn and Halloween Candy Kisses, and a slight overtone of Pop Tart.
In terms of consistency, CLIF gel is some kind of thick, leggier than a giraffe, with a pudding-like mouth-feel that would make Bill Cosby swoon. This gives the package a satisfying squeezability unlike some of the less viscous gels on the market.
But the taste is the real kicker. I detected the distinct sweetness of cane sugar blended in with the subtle vanilla bean flavor. It pairs nicely with a lemon-lime Gatorade and a Toffee Crunch CLIF bar or a buttery California chardonnay with sliced Bartlett pears and some Brie.
The finish is perhaps most generously described as lingering, given that the paste clings desperately to the roof of your mouth. This is my one complaint. The goo hangs around in your mouth like a bad house guest--at least until it's washed down with some liquid. But that's a quibble.
Overall, these Vanilla CLIF Gel Shots are so damn fine that you’ll want to serve them for dessert.