Saturday, June 10, 2023

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Granola Is Better Than Ever—For Us and the Planet (Plus the 11 Best Ones to Try)


If there’s one word synonymous with a sustainable lifestyle, it may just be “granola.” But here’s how both are changing.

Granola implies earthy, crunchy, the unshaved armpits of a barefooted treehugger. But these are, perhaps, worthy parallels, especially in this new morning of the climate-aware. Pour a bowl of vegan granola for breakfast, as a yogurt topping, or eat it straight out of the box. Then go hug a tree. Better yet: plant one.

What Is Granola?

Today’s cereal aisles are bogged with options. From the classic flakes and Os to everything in between. But there’s no disguising granola. It’s a timeless breakfast staple. But what exactly is granola?

Granola was born out of the 1960s counterculture—the healthy alternative to the cereal aisle laden with unhealthy ingredients. Co-ops and communes alike took to making their own granola too out of silky oats, crunchy nuts, and touches of sweetness from dried fruits, maple, or honey. A hippie staple was born.

Granola is typically an oat-based cluster cereal. Beyond the oat base, there are myriad options to mix in, from the standard nuts and seeds to dried fruits, even chocolate and superfoods. The dry ingredients are mixed together with sweeteners and oil and then baked until crisp and golden. The granola is then broken up into clusters or chunks (or left in larger pieces for granola bars).

Photo by Svitlana on Unsplash

Does Granola Have Sugar?

Granola is often sweetened in one of two ways: maple syrup or honey. They offer a depth of flavor that table sugar doesn’t. But they also help with the binding process and cluster formation. There are other sweeteners used in granola, like brown rice syrup or agave nectar. Some use brown sugar, too. But for a healthier experience, it’s best to avoid granola that uses white sugar or corn syrup. And when you make your own, you can easily control the sugar.

Is Granola Gluten-Free?

The short answer: maybe. The long answer: unless specified as gluten-free, oats can contain residual gluten from equipment or storage shared with gluten-containing grains. For the celiac or severely gluten sensitive, oats that aren’t certified as gluten-free may be problematic.

But some brands are foregoing the oats altogether and making granola with nuts and seeds instead. Labels should be clear indicators, but in some cases (like bulk bins), you may need to contact the companies directly to be sure the product is safe.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

Granola or Muesli?

If you’ve had both you may be quick to notice the difference. Muesli is perhaps best described as unbaked granola (we even include one on this list). It’s rolled oats, dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes seeds. A popular cereal in Switzerland and other parts of Europe, you can easily whip up your own muesli with oats and any add-ins you like—almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, raisins, coconut.

Granola is noticeable through its golden brown clusters, which happen as a result of baking the coated oats. If you’re looking for a less sweet breakfast option, muesli may be the optimal choice there as it doesn’t require the coating of sweetener.

Best Vegan Granola Brands

Just like our meat and dairy aisles are flipping to plant-based alternatives, the cereal aisle is getting a vegan makeover, too. A growing number of brands are launching vegan granola products for every taste preference. You can even find some granola options, like the Sakara Life, boosted with the adaptogen ashwagandha, or Rawcology’s acai-infused granola. This ain’t your grandma’s hippie commune granola, but it darn well should be.

Give these vegan granolas a try.

1. Nature’s Path Caramel Pecan Granola

2. Sakara Life Dark Chocolate Superfood Granola With Brazil Nuts and Ashwagandha

3. Purely Elizabeth Organic Ancient Grain Granola

4. Michelle’s Organic Handmade Granola

5. Erin Baker’s Homestyle Vanilla Almond Quinoa Granola

6. Bear Naked Fit V’nilla Almond Granola

7. Bear Naked Cacao and Cashew Butter Granola

8. Bob’s Red Mill Lemon Blueberry Granola

9. Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed + Flax Granola

10. Kind Peanut Butter Cluster Granola

11. Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli


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