Sitting at my table this morning, I dip my spoon into a bowl and scoop up a marriage of homemade granola and almond milk. Island-clusters of oats, nuts and seeds float lovingly in a creamy white ocean. While these two breakfast foods may have just met, they each have long histories that I am hungry to explore.
Almond Milk’s Religious Upbringing
While almond milk has appeared only recently on market shelves in its distinctive boxy tetra packs it actually dates back to the Middle Ages. It was valued for its accessibility (no cow needed) and longer shelf life compared to dairy milk. This vegan beverage makes an appearance in many Turkish and Indian dishes. It comes in handy for cultures where, during certain religious observances, animal products are forbidden. For example, in the Middle Ages, almond milk was commonly consumed during Lent.
Nut milk is so simple to make at home and is healthier than store bought options with all of their sneaky questionable additives, such as, carrageenan. I make it at home every week and use the leftover nut pulp to make granola thereby introducing these long lost lovers in a final embrace. To make DIY nut milk, check out Kate Williams' Homemade Nut Milks article.
Granola By Any Other Name...
The other partner in my breakfast marriage, granola, has a shorter, but more dramatic history. Before granola there was “granula.” In 1861, Dr. James C. Jackson, a devout Christian Abolitionist, invented granula. This cold breakfast cereal was made of graham flour formed into sheets, baked, broken up and baked again. The resulting graham nuggets were so hard that they had to be soaked in milk to be edible. Dr. Jackson was the director of a “sanitorium,” a forerunner of modern day health spas. He combined his Christian faith with his passion for health in his granula, which he claimed would prepare consumers for the Second Coming (and even accelerate its arrival).
Then in 1898, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg created a similar breakfast food of whole grains, which were also baked and broken up into small pieces. He called his cereal granula too. Dr. Jackson threatened to sue Dr. Kellogg for stealing the brand name of his breakfast food, so Dr. Kellogg changed his name slightly to “granola.” Not long, afterwards Dr. Kellogg and his marketing-savvy brother created Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, whose success overshadowed its older sibling, granola.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that granola resurfaced and became popular with the increasing demand for “health foods” in the hippie era. Granola snuck into mainstream culture and was considered to be better for you than the sugar sweetened flakes, pops, and crisps marketed to children. It wasn’t until 1994 when manufacturers were required to label their food packages that label-reading consumers realized the falsity of granola’s claims to health.
Why Isn’t Most Granola Healthy?
When I started investigating store bought granola, I was shocked to discover what really lurked in those colorful boxes. Most brand name granolas are packed with sugar often masquerading by other names such as, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup or oat syrup. Different granola brands also use a variety of oils and I for one want to avoid hydrogenated and palm oils with their high levels of saturated fat. I found that granola can also be packed with fillers such as, soy protein isolate and inulin. While granolas often contain nuts and seeds, which provide good omega-3s, the flip side is that their calories can add up fast. When I decided to find a healthier version of granola I started buying from small companies, but found these took a big bite out of my grocery budget.
So, I decided to save my money and all that time label reading by making my own healthy granola and nut milk!
Nutty Granola Recipe
Recipe adapted from Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Liddon
Makes 6 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 38 to 45 minutes
- Preheat the oven to 275 F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place almond meal in a large bowl. (If you are using nut milk pulp it first needs to be baked for 2-4 hours at 200 F to dry it out). And if you are making the almond meal yourself place 1 cup of almonds in a food processor and process for 30 seconds.
- Chop the walnuts into small pieces and add them to the bowl with the almond meal.
- Add the oats, buckwheat groats, sunflower seeds, pepita seeds, coconut, cinnamon and salt to the large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
- For a chewy dried fruit version combine the dried fruit to the mixing bowl. (I prefer to have a separate jar of dried fruit that I add right before I eat my granola. I don’t like to store unbaked dried fruit with the granola because it makes the granola soggy.)
- Add the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, and vanilla to the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined.
- With a spatula, spread the granola into a ½ inch layer on the prepared baking sheet and gently press it down to compact it slightly. Bake for 20 min and then rotate the pan and bake for another 18-25 min, or until the granola is lightly golden on the bottom and firm to the touch.
- Cool the granola for at least an 1 hour before breaking it apart.
- Store the granola in a glass jar in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
Nut Milk and Granola Workshop July 11, 2015: I will be teaching a fun, hands-on nut milk and granola workshop in San Francisco offered through Learn from Neighbor Classes.