superfood granola

superfood granola

I cannot believe I had never made my own granola before. Seriously, what took me so long. I remember making it years ago at a college bakery job, but I can’t even recall what I put in it, and it probably wasn’t the healthiest of ingredients. Granola is one of my favorite foods, but I have yet to find a brand that I am completely satisfied with. I’ve always thought I should just make it for myself, and despite knowing it would probably be easy, I just avoided it for some reason. This recipe has done the trick, it is quick and easy and soooo delicious.

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I love granola and as I mentioned, I always struggle to find a packaged version that I enjoy. I’ll spend 20 minutes in the cereal aisle reading nutrition labels, and comparing ingredients and prices. After pacing back and forth, I’ll settle on something momentarily then decide it has too much refined sugar, or I see the word hydrogenated and get scared away. After all that time, I often walk away empty handed. I’m quite finicky about my granola. Of course, I would like it to have whole and healthful ingredients, with few refined sugars and high quality fats, but my granola troubles go beyond that. Flavor is always a limiting factor. I like it simple, where a hint of honey or maple highlight the nutty flavors of the grains, nuts and seeds, but that’s about it. And nowadays there is always some flavor or extract taking over my tastebuds, and generally leaving me disappointed. Then there is texture, which I think is key. A lot of the so called healthy versions are often just crumbled oats that don’t hold together and satisfy the crunch that I’m looking for in my morning. Or it's so dang hard I feel like I'm going to chip a tooth. What took me so long to just start making it myself!

I know many people avoid granola all together because of its high fat content. And it’s true, granola is a high fat food. But, when you are making it yourself you have the power to choose your fats, and in this recipe most of the fat comes straight from the source... whole, all natural nuts and seeds. When you are eating whole foods, the natural fats and whole grains leave you feeling full and satisfied so you don’t need to eat as much. (Although I must admit, I’ve been having a hard time controlling myself and have had granola for a few too many meals since I made this batch). It’s always important to read those labels, because many of the low fat versions (of many foods) are laden with sugar to keep you coming back for more. So, don’t assume that the marketing on the front of packages is all you need to read, be sure to look at the nutrition labels to really know what you are putting into your body.

Without getting into too much detail, here are some of the nutritional highlights of the ingredients I’ve chosen.

According to the American Heart Association, oats have the highest percentage of soluble fiber of any grain. As a whole grain, they are low on the glycemic index, which means their sugars are absorbed slowly by the bloodstream and they help maintain stable blood sugar levels.  Sunflower seeds have a high concentration of protein, iron, fatty acids and minerals, and have no cholesterol or sodium. Sunflower seeds are one of the best sources of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage. Pumpkins seeds are high in iron, protein and fiber, and contain most of the essential B Vitamins.  They are also a good source of minerals including calcium, magnesium and potassium. Little sesame seeds hold their own as well, packing in loads of copper, manganese, calcium and other essential minerals. Hazelnuts add a rich and toasted flavor to this granola. They are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, and full of vital vitamins and minerals. I choose to add goji berries to this granola, mainly because I haven’t used them much and wanted to experiment with them. In the past I would have added dried cranberries to something like this, but I’ve come to realize that it is nearly impossible to find any that aren’t loaded with added sugar. Goji berries are a rich source of both vitamin A and C and contain 18 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot build on its own.

Choosing the right sugar for a recipe can be quite the challenge. There is a lot of controversy over what is best when it comes to sweeteners. And, in addition to choosing the best quality, you must consider the physical state of sugar itself and what effect it will have on the texture and quality of your final product. Brown rice syrup is one of the least processed commercially available sugars. It is derived by culturing rice with enzymes in order to break down the starches. The liquid is then strained off and cooked down until a thick, sweet caramel consistency and flavor is reached. Brown rice syrup also contains much more complex sugars than its white counterpart, making it slower to digest, thus mellowing out the sugar rushes and crashes associated with highly refined sugars. When purchasing brown rice syrup, choose organic brands if possible that only contain brown rice and filtered water. One of the beauties of honey is that, if bought raw, it is completely natural and unprocessed. Because of this, it isn't stripped of its nutritional value during processing like many other sweeteners. Honey is rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc.

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Take my advice when it comes to granola, and make your own! You have the flexibility to adjust the types of grains, seeds, nuts, and berries based on your preferences, and you always know what you are getting. Plus, it's also much cheaper than any box of granola if you get the ingredients from the bulk section of your natural foods store. So, do yourself a favor and whip up a batch of this! Don’t be silly and wait as long as I did.

The Recipe

  • 3 c organic rolled oats
  • 1 c raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 c raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ c raw sesame seeds
  • ½ c raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ c goji berries
  • ¼ c organic coconut oil
  • ¼ c organic brown rice syrup
  • ¼ c raw local honey
  • 1 T vanilla
  • large pinch of salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 300° F. In a small bowl, mix together all wet ingredients (coconut oil through vanilla). In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except goji berries). Pour wet ingredients over dry and use your hands to mix well and coat all grains/nuts/seeds with the wet ingredients. Add salt and give it a final mix.

Cover 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly distribute the granola mixture among pans, making sure it is in a single, thin layer. Place in oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes (possibly longer). Mix once or twice throughout the baking process to ensure it is baking evenly, but don’t over mix. If you are like me, you will want large chucks in your granola which happens when you don’t stir too much while baking. Remove from oven when golden brown in color. The granola will still be loose and soft until it cools. When completely cool, add goji berries, break up into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Important note: My oven has been temperamental lately, and the temperature will fluctuate considerably while I cook. This happened while I was baking this particular batch of granola, so I don’t know the exact cooking time because I had to adjust for the fact that my oven temperature spiked to 400° and then dropped to 200° before coming back to 300°. So, check granola every 10-15 minutes (and more frequently towards the end) to ensure that you end up with a beautifully golden and delicious granola.