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Breakfast/Brunch, Economical, Healthy, Homemade Trials, Quick and Easy, Vegetarian

The Homemade Trails: Granola

by Nick

Betsy and I eat a lot of granola. It’s our go-to breakfast for at least half of the year I would say. In the summers we do smoothies and if it’s really cold I’ll make warm oatmeal, but most times granola is our breakfast situation.

As you might guess, I’ve made my fair share of granola variations over the years and I really think that it’s pretty easy to make at home. Plus, you can customize it to your liking which is nice.

That said, there are a ton of very tasty granola options out there and most of them seem reasonably priced.

So, I thought I would run four different granola variations through my Homemade Trials and see what comes out on top!

My Basic Version

I have a really basic granola recipe that is the base for many variations. You can add to it or subtract from it without too much worry but it’s a great place to start.

Yield
36 ounces of granola
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Basic Granola

Ingredients

  • 6 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Mix oats, almond slivers, seeds, spices, and salt together in a large bowl.

2) Once oat mixture is evenly mixed, drizzle in honey and stir well to combine.

3) Spread out granola mixture on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

4) Bake the granola for 20-25 minutes and stir the granola every five minutes to prevent it from burning. It will most likely cook faster on the outer edges of the pan so stir it well to redistribute the heat.
If the granola is burning or cooking too quickly, turn your oven down 25 degrees and continue stirring regularly.

5) Once granola is baked, let it cool for a few minutes and then stir in dried fruit.

6) Store granola in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three weeks.

The Competition

line up

The line up!

There are dozens of granolas out there, but I tried to pick three that varied in price but were pretty close in ingredients to keep the nutrition and taste competitions fair.

I went with Kroger’s store brand, Cascadian Farms, and a bulk granola from a local store, Vitamin Cottage.

Let’s get right into it and see how these three products stack up with my homemade version!

Time

As always, I’m going to lose time. The granola isn’t hard to make at all, but it does take about an hour from when you start to when the granola is cool and you store it.

Of course, most of that hour is with the granola baking so you can do other stuff, but it’s still work so TIME has to go to the store-bought in this trial.

Cost

I was fairly certain that I would do okay on cost, but then again, I was using some expensive ingredients like almonds, honey, and a few different seeds.

Let’s see how I did!

Not bad! Kroger beat me in per serving costs, but that’s to be expected I think. I destroyed the other two brands. If you don’t think 14 cents per serving is substantial (me versus Vitamin Cottage for example), imagine this: Betsy and I probably both eat 1.5 servings per day for breakfast. That works out to about $25 bucks in savings for us every year if we made homemade rather than buy that brand.

It’s not a huge amount, but it’s something. I think it’s enough to say that MY VERSION wins COST.

Nutrition

Honestly, I was pretty sure this category was going to be a tie. Most of the versions had very similar ingredients.

Let’s take a look.

This was actually one of the more complicated nutritional calculations I’ve had to do and it’s possible I screwed it up. The fact that it is so close to the other varieties makes me think that I probably did it right though.

Calories were all pretty equal across the board, but there were a few categories that I think separated my version: Fiber and Protein. Those are the things I look for in a good breakfast and my version does great in those categories.

It’s a pretty tough call on this one, but I think my homemade version barely wins on Nutrition. 

I could see how you could argue for a tie though!

Taste

test

Testing!

I was super worried about taste. I just wasn’t positive that I would beat out all of these different brands. I knew that I was particularly biased so, as usual, I asked my wife to taste them all.

Her rankings were as follows from her favorite to least favorite:

1) Cascadian Farms
2) Homemade
3) Kroger
4) Vitamin Cottage

Here are my thoughts on this: I think she picked the CF version because it has vanilla in it and she is a vanilla fiend. Also, once I looked at the nutrition information I figured out why the Vitamin Cottage version tastes so bland by itself: NO SALT.

I was happy with second place in this taste test though. I’m going to call Taste a tie. There’s not a huge amount of difference between my version and some of these.

That said, I purposefully tried to mimic some of the flavors in these store-bought versions. You don’t have to do this though obviously and you could easily make a version at home that fit your tastes exactly.

Conclusion

This one is a really tough homemade trial to judge honestly. Time goes to store-bought, cost goes to homemade. Nutrition is essentially a tie and taste can be a tie.

So it seems like kind of a wash to me.

So here’s my rule: If you are trying to save money, homemade granola can be a great way to make sure you have a reasonably healthy and cheap breakfast every day.

Meanwhile, if you are pressed for time, don’t feel bad about buying granola at the store. Just be sure to check ingredient lists and make sure the version is using good ingredients and not too much sugar or salt.

If you can find a store-bought version that you like, buy it! If you can’t, or want to experiment, make it!

What do you all think? Did I call this one right? How often do you buy or make granola?

 

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21 comments on “The Homemade Trails: Granola

  1. I make a similar recipe using maple syrup instead of honey. I love the flexibility of putting in what I want, what I have on hand. Does it sound silly to say I feel good making this for my family. Thanks for confirming, to me, I am doing the right thing!!

  2. Oh heck yes I make my own. I was never a fan of granola. Thought all these years that it was just raw oatmeal with chocolate chips. Sure, I’d take along a bar or two in case I was about to collapse on the hiking trail, but never would I eat granola by choice. Then I decided to make some this past September (click on my name for my recipe). I’m now on my second batch. My recipe is similar to yours. My original recipe called for both maple syrup and honey but I thought it was too sweet so I went with just honey. I prefer that flavor. Also, mine is far more nutty than yours, having almonds, sunflower seed, walnuts and pecans. The pecans are my favorite part. I also added dried cherries in addition to dried cranberries and that made quite a powerful punch! I think also dried blueberries would be a nice addition. In any event, I’ll never go back to those awful boxed granola of my youth. Now I’m looking to make granola bars that a) travel well and b) won’t make me wish I was dead while hiking.

  3. I was surprised the your version had practically the same amount of calories and fat and yet you didn’t use any oil. I’m glad to see that you made a version without the oil. Many recipes I have use oil in them. I am excited to try it. Thanks for the recipe.

  4. I make homemade granola all the time, though I may try your recipe next time as the one I make is higher in fat.

    My six year old is a granola fiend and cost is one of the biggest reasons I make it myself, the other primary reason is that I can customize it. When I make a batch of granola I’ll often keep part of it nut-free–I have to send snacks to school every day for my kids and (since classrooms are nut-free) yogurt with a granola mix-in is better for them and a fraction of the cost of buying the yogurt/granola packages at the store (which are crazy expensive for what they are). Conversely, I will use the plain granola as a base and add extra nuts, a few m&m’s and dried fruit and use it as a “trail mix” to use when I need relatively clean, portable and high protein snacks.

  5. You really bombed on the sodium level, as well as the time factor. Why do you need to add salt at all, and why do you need to bake it? My basic recipe is 1 part VC rolled oats, 1 part VC puffed rice, 1/4 part VC flaked coconut, 1/8 part EACH almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts, pecans and almonds, and 1/8,part dried fruit (either raisins or cranberries alone or a mix of the two). No need to bake, no need for honey/maple syrup/agave nectar, etc. bcz the dried fruit provides all of the sweetener I need. I’d love to do the nutrition calcs to compare my version to yours…what program did you use?

    1. Hey Wanda, that’s a really small amount of sodium. It’s not a big deal and really brings out the flavors in the granola.

      I just used an excel spreadsheet to calculate the nutritional values. I’m sure there are programs that can do it, but I’m old school when it comes to that stuff. :)

  6. This is a great trial! I make granola every couple of weeks, or whenever we run out, really. I’m an eggs and toast girl, but my husband eats granola or cereal and the cost/serving thing is why I do it. I can buy most of the ingredients on the cheap from the bulk food bins and I change up the recipe based on what I have kicking around. Extra flax seed meal? In it goes. Out of sesame seeds? Oh hey look, I have pepitas! Incidentally, have you tried adding cocoa nibs? They are one of my favorite ingredients in granola.

    1. Where can you buy cocoa nibs? I might have to try that! They love it when I add a few mini-chocolate chips once in a while (to mix with yogurt) but your way is probably healthier.

      1. I get them from a place that’s local to me – Taza Chocolate in Somerville, MA. I don’t know if they mail order or not (I think they do) but if there are artisan chocolate makers near you they might sell them, too. I’ve also seen them in health food stores. They’re not very typically chocolatey, really, since there’s no sugar, but there’s a really interesting bitterness to them. I think they taste a little bit like black olives, actually. But in a way that works with granola, heh.

  7. Hi Nick,

    I make granola all the time because its pretty expensive in Singapore. And very sweet. I use 2 tbsps of oil along with the honey and bake until the oats are almost lacquered. Try adding powdered ginger and later crystallized ginger with the fruit. You can come up with so many variations, it’s great!

    1. Hey Radhika, that’s so funny. I’m doing some recipe testing on granola for a cookbook right now and I just made that exact version this last weekend. Ground ginger + Crystallized ginger at the end. Really delicious! Definitely going in the book. :)

      1. PS. It’s actually the granola that is pictured in the first picture… you can see the crystallized ginger if you look closely. :)

  8. Great recipe! I think one thing that might also be worth noting is that you know exactly what is going into your homemade granola.

    I am not sure about the ingredients in the VC or Kroger brands, but I know that Cascadian Farm granola contains maltodextrin (a common food additive). Not really sure if that’s necessarily a bad thing but it’s something to think about, especially if you do consume a lot of granola.

  9. Love your blog.

    Granola is absolutely worth making at home, and I’ve been making mine every summer for the last 20 years or so (when I moved to the UK from the US in the 80s, such exotics as granola were unknown commercially; you could get muesli if you didn’t mind chewing on dry oats, but that was about it…) I also add oil (peanut) and the dreaded salt; my current version contains oats, rye, barley, rice flakes, milled linseed, almonds, cashew nuts, freeze-dried cherries and pretty much every (small) dried fruit known to (wo)man – black raisins/green raisins / cranberries / goji berries / pomegranate seeds / blueberries / mulberries / buckthorne berries – and a few more but I’m too lazy to go downstairs to look in the cupboard right now.

    My most-useful tip is to heat the oil / syrup (I use agave nectar) / flavorings to simmering point in a large wok and then stir in all the dry ingredients (except the fruit) over a low heat before dumping into the baking tray – this ensures maximum coating. My second-most-useful tip is to bake on a low heat for about an hour – stirring about every 20 minutes – and *then* stir in the dried fruit, return to the oven and turn the oven off. If you let it cool in the oven the fruit plumps up without burning!

  10. This looks delicious. However, I was wondering how easily it would be to adjust this recipe into chewy granola bars? Thanks!

  11. I recommend Michele’s Granola (http://www.michelesgranola.com/) if you can find it. Closest to homemade I’ve found and a small, female-owned, and (for me) local business. $5-7 a bag, and now available in bulk in stores around me for about 5.99 a pound. Hunt it down!

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