Episode 9: Granola.

Rolled oats, sesame seeds, almonds, seasoned with lemon zest and brown sugar, heading into the oven

Rolled oats, sesame seeds, and almonds, seasoned with lemon zest, cinnamon and brown sugar, heading into the oven

History:

I rediscovered granola as a good source of carbs and proteins in my quest to snack healthy and evade the candy jar at work. I have resolved to make nutritious versions only.

Fittingly, granola was invented in 1863 by Dr. James Jackson of the Jackson Sanitarium in NY in an attempt to steer Americans away from their cholesterol-laden, meaty breakfasts. The first granola, dubbed “Granula”, was made from bran-heavy Graham flour, rolled into sheets, twice-baked, and crumbled into pieces that had to be soaked in milk overnight before eating. Thankfully for all of us, granula has been through much iteration since.

Ten or so years later, John Kellogg of the Kellogg Company started producing his own granula made out of oats instead of graham flour. He was promptly sued by Jackson and thus renamed his version granola. Other brands sprung up, and granola was a popular until the 1950s when sugared cereals like Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Cocoa Krispies knocked it off on the grocery shelves. In the 1960s fruits and nuts were added to granola to promote it as a health food and popularize it among counter-culture activists and hippies, hence their nickname “granola heads.”

Granola went mainstream again in the 1970s. The first corporate granola “Heartland Natural Cereal” was invented by Jim Matson, an executive at Pet Incorporated of Saint Louis. Quakers, Kellogs and General Mills all introduced their own granola in the next two years. However, nutrition-wise these were just as bad as the sugared cereals, if not worse. Packed with high-fat and high-sugar ingredients, granola these days has a crispy slick and heart-racing sugary buzz. Don’t buy it! I insist that you make your own and save yourself from the stomachache later.

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Science:

Granola is none too complicated. You start with your base (oats), add some nuts, add some seeds, sugar, salt, fat, and throw it in the oven. Afterwards, you can top with chocolate or dried fruits if you like.

One process is of note here though. The Maillard Reaction causes a browning on meats, seafood, and protein laden foods like nuts. It rearranges amino acids and certain simple sugars, which then rearrange themselves in rings that reflect light as to appear brown. Additionally, it produces characteristic smells of roasting, baking and frying. The amino acid molecules and sugars keep reacting in many ways, generating flavor molecules. In order for the reaction to take place, the temperature should be around 330 degrees, or above the boiling point of water. Hence, very wet foods or wet methods of cooking (poaching, boiling, etc) will not result in browning. The nuts undergo the reaction in the oven, coming out more toasty and nutty.

A greek yogurt and fruit accompaniment, or worthy on its own with milk

A greek yogurt and fruit accompaniment, also worthy on its own with milk

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