What Makes A Nanaimo Bar Unique?

When you think of Canada's contribution to the realm of desserts, you may think of butter tarts, Beaver Tails, the Coffee Crisp bar, or tiger tail ice cream. All-things-maple may also spring to mind. One of the most iconic Canadian foods, however, is the Nanaimo bar, a no-bake square named for a city on Vancouver Island. Visit any church luncheon, Christmas get-together, or potluck north of the 49th and you are bound to encounter this beloved baked good. Yes, it is as Canadian as poutine. 

It was named "Canada's Favorite Confection" in a 2006 poll conducted by The National Post. Pitted up against "Coffee Crisp, Beaver Tails, Old Dutch chips, Cherry Blossom, McCain's Deep 'n' Delicious Cake, Jos Louis, Tim Hortons Iced Capp, Laura Secord Chocolate, and Mr. Christie's cookies," this British Columbian square was victorious. It easily beat out second-place Coffee Crisp. The Vancouver Sun boasts that the Nanaimo Bar has even had its own postage stamp in 2019, but many said the image wasn't accurate. Apparently, the middle was too thick and not yellow enough, while the base and top were too skimpy. And, when the Obamas hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife for dinner, CBC says they gave a shout-out to America's neighbor to the north by including both poutine and Nanaimo bars on the menu. 

Clearly, the Nanaimo bar has enjoyed several moments in the spotlight, but what exactly is it and why is it special? 

Fans can trek the Nanaimo Bar Trail

The Nanaimo bar is made up of three distinctive parts. The Canadian Encyclopedia offers that the base is a mixture of shredded coconut and graham cracker crumbs; the middle is "custard-flav[o]red butter icing;" while the crowning glory is a topping of classic chocolate ganache. Of course, like all versatile desserts, it has a plethora of variations or "spin-offs" like those that add mint or cappuccino or involve deep-frying the bars. Purists, however, contend that nothing beats the original. "Bake With Anna Olson" star Anna Olson enthused when speaking to the New York Times, "It's an attractive dessert: It doesn't look sloppy, it doesn't look crafty."

That's not all. The Food Network shares that in 1986, Nanaimo's mayor ran a contest to find the best Nanaimo bar recipe. The winner, Joyce Hardcastle, became one of the bar's biggest champions and even landed an appearance on Lynn Crawford's "Pitchin' In." What made her recipe special? Apparently, it's unsalted butter. MonteCristo Magazine adds that the bar was also featured at Vancouver's Expo 86 and has its very own mascot named "Nanaimo Barney." Tourists visiting Vancouver Island city can even trek the Nanaimo Bar Trail, home to roughly 40 locations that sell a variety of desserts. Happy trekking. All that walking should burn those calories.