Granola has long been a food proclaimed by health nuts to be nutritious, delicious, and beneficial for the body. Some forms of it have been looked at with disapproval, due to the fat and sugar content that purportedly add unwanted pounds. This is especially true of many processed versions that are made with unhealthy oils, tons of sugar, and little else.
Never fear though—you can still have your granola! There are a few brands out there that are truly healthy for you, but if you really want to be in control of what you eat, you can easily make it yourself.
What you want to put in your granola is your choice. Once you get a basic recipe down, you can experiment to see what ingredients you prefer. You may even find that you like your own homemade granola better than the store-bought granola!
While most commercial cereals are comprised of grains and sugar, and consequently very little in the way of nutrition, granola has the ability to incorporate many beneficial foods to help your body get through a good part of the day and to be in overall better health. Here are just a few options to consider adding to your granola recipes:
Old fashioned, quick oats, gluten-free oats—what you choose is up to you. I prefer to use old-fashioned oats, as I like the chewier texture. I am on a gluten-free diet, so I opt for the gluten-free version. While oats do not have gluten in and of themselves, conventional oats are cross-contaminated in fields and on production lines with gluten-containing grains, so it is necessary to buy a gluten-free variety if you are truly looking for that option. What you choose to use is up to you and your dietary needs and preferences.
For those not sensitive to gluten, wheat germ can be a good way to pack more nutritional punch into your granola. Wheat germ is a good source of vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, potassium, omega-3s, and fiber, just to name a few.
The purpose for oil in the granola recipes is to help the oats and other ingredients to toast up well without turning into dry, dusty oats. It also adds to the flavor of the granola. What type of oil you choose is up to you and your flavor preferences. Sometimes I opt for whatever is cheapest or just what I happen to have on hand; really, any cooking oil will do the job. Other times, I want to add more foods into the diet to help give our immune systems a boost or just make for a generally healthier breakfast food. My preferred oils are:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil– EVOO adds a savory feel to the granola. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to lower the risk of developing heart disease and many types of cancer. There is some concern about overheating EVOO in cooking, but since the recipe I use is baked at a low temperature, I feel safe using EVOO.
Raw Coconut Oil– My second choice of oil for making granola with is raw coconut oil. Besides the fact that RCO lends a nuttier flavor to the granola, RCO contains lauric acid, which helps the body to fend off viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. It also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure, and has been shown to boost metabolism.
RCO is in solid state up to about 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, your coconut oil may need to be gently heated before measuring for use in your granola recipe. I recommend putting it in a pan on the stove and heating on low until it changes to a liquid state, measuring out the needed amount, and then pouring any remaining oil back into the RCO container.
I do not recommend using RCO in cooking where the temperature will go above 352 degrees, as that is its smoke point, the point in which the oil will start to break down.
Who doesn’t enjoy a little bit of sweetness in their life? I have used honey, brown sugar, and sometimes a bit of molasses in my granola. If you use a sweetener that tends to be wet, keep in mind that you may need to extend the time in the oven. Depending on what else you put into your granola, you might find you can cut back on the sweetener and still be happy with the results.
These add a richness and depth to the taste of the granola, especially if you cook your granola long enough to roast the nuts. Some people might prefer to add their nuts and seeds at the end, after removing the granola from the oven, to preserve the virtues of the nuts and seeds in their raw form. My children prefer the roasted nuts version.
While nuts and seeds do tend to add lots of fat and calories, they carry with them the added benefit of a nutritional boost and a good amount of protein. Most of them contain a significant amount of vitamin E, calcium, iron, many B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. Suggestions include almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), sesame seeds, and flax.
Dried fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants and help to fight off inflammation of the body. In granola recipes, they are usually added in after baking. I have used dried cranberries, raisins, cherries, blueberries, and currants with much success. Here is my basic recipe:
- 4 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup sunflower, sesame, or raw pumpkin seeds
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup honey or ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup oil (I prefer olive oil)
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
- 1 cup nuts (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.
2. Mix dry ingredients.
3. Blend wet ingredients (including the brown sugar, if you are using it)
4. Stir wet ingredients into dry mixture and mix well.
5. Spread on cookie sheets or two 9×13 pans and toast in the oven until slightly brown, stirring every fifteen minutes or so. Check often to be sure it isn’t burning.
6. When the granola is toasted to your liking, remove it from the oven and add the optional dried fruit and nuts while still hot. Stir well.
7. Allow the granola to cool and store in an airtight container.
I have found this recipe to be fairly flexible and forgiving. You may make substitutions as you please (ensuring the quantity is about the same), and it should work out. The only thing I may have noticed a change in at times is the length of time it takes to achieve the preferred level of toasting. My husband prefers his granola to be darkly toasted, while I prefer it to be more lightly toasted. It’s all a matter of preference!
Granola can also be cooked like oatmeal if you would like a hot breakfast. Simply add water and heat until it is to the desired doneness; add milk or cream if desired.
Some of my favorite variations on the above recipe are:
- Chopped or sliced almonds added before toasting, then dried cherries added after it’s out of the oven
- Add chocolate chips, stirring them in after the granola is out of the oven but still warm. With any luck, the chips will partially melt and make your granola chocolate-flavored.
- Substitute part of the cinnamon with other spices, such as ginger and nutmeg, and substitute part of the honey with maple syrup for some fall flavor.
What do you like to put in your granola?