Is low calorie granola possible?

July 31, 2010 at 9:57 pm (breakfast, Cook's Illustrated, unrated, Website / blog)


I really like granola, but I usually don’t eat it because it’s very high calorie and doesn’t fill me up at all.  I could easily down 800 calories of the stuff for breakfast.  So I stopped  buying “Knüspriges Muesli” (crunchy muesli, which is what they call Granola here in Germany).  But then when I went to visit my friend Sarah in Israel last month I enjoyed eating her homemade granola for breakfast every morning.  It’s calorie dense but very filling. She gave me the recipe but I’ve since misplaced it.  So I made up my own recipe based on a number of  random granola recipes I’ve come across this month.  Bittman posted a no-oil recipe at the New York Times,  I came across a pretty basic recipe at Chow.com, Martha Rose Shulman posted her own healthy granola recipe, and I came across a granola recipe on the blog Smitten Kitchen.  I didn’t follow any one of the recipes, but used them collectively for inspiration.  Here’s a table comparing the ingredients and cooking times/temperatures.  All the recipes are normalized for 3 cups rolled oats:

Ingredient My recipe Smitten Kitchen Bitten Rose Shulman Chow.com Cook’s Illustrated Sarah’s
Bran 1/4 cup wheat bran + 1/4 cup germ 1 cup oat bran 3/8 cup wheat bran + 3/4 cup wheat germ
Salt 3 small pinches pinch dash 1/4 – 3/8 tsp. (optional) 1/4 tsp. kosher
Cinnamon 1 tsp. pinch 1/2 tsp. 1 -1 1/2 tsp.
Nutmeg 1/4-1/2 tsp.
Coconut 1 cup 1/2 cup (opt) 1/4 cup (opt) optional 1/2 cup
Nuts 1.5 cups pecans/almonds 1/3 cup sliced almonds (1 oz) + 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 1 cup mixed nuts, seeds 1/2 cup chopped almond, pecan optional 1 cup walnuts + 1/2 cup blanched almonds 3/4 cup sliced almonds
Seeds 1/3 cup pepitas (1.5 oz) 1/4 cup ground flax optional 1/4 cup sesame  + 1/4 cup sunflower 3/4 cup sunflower seeds + 3/8 cup sesame seeds
Brown sugar, Molasses 1/3 cup light brown + 1 Tbs. molasses 1/3 cup dark brown 3 Tbs. brown 1 Tbs. molasses
Honey, maple syrup 2 Tbs. honey, 2 Tbs. maple syrup 1/4 cup mild honey 1/4-1/2 cup honey or maple syrup 1/4 cup honey 1/3 cup honey 4 Tbs. honey, 4 Tbs. maple syrup 3/8 cup honey or date syrup + 3/8 cup water
Oil 1/4 cup 1/4 cup 1/6 cup 1/4 cup 1/3 cup 1/2 cup
Vanilla 1 tsp. 1.5 tsp. 1 tsp. 3/4 tsp.
Dried fruit 2 3/4 cup 1/2 cup (opt) 1/2-1 cup raisins (opt) optional 1 cup raisins
Cooking 375, 20-30 minutes 375, 30-35 minutes 350, ~30 minutes 325,45-60 minutes 300, 20-30 minutes 325, 15 minutes ??

A few comments from the authors of these recipes:  The nuts are sometimes added after baking, sometimes before.  Shulman and Cook’s Illustrated say to heat the liquid ingredients in the microwave.  Shulman says she stopped using wheat germ because it cooks quickly and thus burns and sticks to the pan. She also suggests lining the baking sheets with parchment. Smitten Kitchen says that adding too much oil gets in the way of clumping.

In all the recipes any dried fruit is added after baking, to keep it from getting dried out. But apparently the moisture in the dried fruit makes the granola soft after a couple of days. The Smitten Kitchen recipes says that in the freezer it stays crispy for months.  Bittman, however, says to store the granola in the fridge. Personally, I’d rather just add fresh fruit to my granola and skip the dried fruit altogether.

When I tried out my version of granola I stupidly just poured the liquid ingredients right into the dry ingredients, without mixing them all together first.  The molasses in particular just clumped up.  As a result, some bites tasted much sweeter than others.  I cooked my granola for 15 minutes at 375, and it didn’t look very browned, so I cooked it for another 15 minutes.  Although it didn’t look burnt at that point it tasted over-roasted.  Next time I think I’d use a slightly lower temperature and make cook it for less time.

Smitten Kitchen suggests using flaky salt, but I couldn’t detect it in the granola, so next time I’d just use regular salt.

The final taste of my granola was good, but a little too sweet.  Next time I’ll leave out the sugar.  Also I think that so many nuts, while tasty, was not necessary.  I’d just use 1 cup of nuts next time.  I’ll add 1/2 cup of coconut instead.

The Alnatura brand oat granola has pretty similar stats to  my “to-try” recipe.  The ingredients:  Whole grain oat flakes 64 %, cane sugar , palm oil, coconut 6% , extruded rice flour  (rice flour , barley malt , sea salt) , whole wheat flakes, sunflower oil, wheat syrup, honey, sea salt.  I wonder why they add rice flour and whole wheat flakes?  I wonder what wheat syrup is?  I wonder whether palm and sunflower oil are better or worse than refined canola oil, which is what I used?

The stats for my granola are not very different than for the granola I buy here at the store.  Even for a quite small serving (about 50g, or 1/13 of the recipe), the granola has 250 calories, and is pretty high in fat and sugar.  Even when eaten with soymilk the granola is only about 11% protein.  I wish there was a way to make higher-protein granola.  Any ideas?  (I don’t really like peanuts in my granola.)

Serving Size: 50 grams
Amount Per Serving
Calories 248
Total Fat 14.3g
Saturated Fat 1.1g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 23mg
Carbohydrate 26.2g
Dietary Fiber 4.3g
Sugars 10.4g
Protein 6.2g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium    5% Iron 11%

Update Aug 14, 2010:  I made the “to try next time” Granola, e.g. 2/3 cup wheat bran, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1.5 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/2 cup coconut, 1 cup pecans/almonds, 1 Tbs. molasses, 2 Tbs. honey, 2 2/3 Tbs. maple syrup, 3 Tbs. oil, 1.5 tsp. vanilla.  I baked at 350 for 25-30 minutes.   I accidentally used salted almonds.  I also burned my pecans a bit again.  Pecans are so fragile!  The granola came out too salty and not sweet enough.  Derek wouldn’t eat it until I added a little maple syrup to his bowl.  I’m also not sure that the addition of grated coconut adds all that much.

I think next time I’ll not use salted almonds, reduce the salt to 1/8 tsp.,  cut the coconut to 1/4 cup, increase the pecans to 3/4 cup (rather than 1/2 cup), and increase the maple syrup and honey each to about 1/6 of a cup.  I might also try cutting the oil back to 2 Tbs. and increasing the wheat bran to 3/4 cup, but that’s maybe too many changes all at once.  I didn’t notice the cinnamon and nutmeg at all, so I might increase those amounts too.  Finally, I wouldn’t mind it if my granola were a bit more clumpy.  I’ve heard that adding water can help with the clumping.  If I get ambitious I might try adding some water in with the oil and sweeteners.  Or maybe it’s the brown sugar + water that creates clumping?  Maybe instead of increasing the honey/maple syrup I should add back in some brown sugar?  To increase the iron levels maybe I should try subbing some of the almonds/pecans for pepitas/sesame seeds or dried mulberries?  So many things to try!

Update Dec 24, 2010:  This time I doubled the recipe and went back closer to my first try:  3 cups oats, 3 cups 5-grain rolled cereal (including oats, wheat, rye, spelt…) , 1 1/3 cups wheat bran (2.72 ounces), 1/4 tsp. salt, 4 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg, no coconut, 1 1/2 cups pecan halves (5.25 ounces), 1 cup whole almonds (5.04 ounces), 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 3 Tbs. dark molasses, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup date syrup (you could use honey), 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 Tbs. vanilla, 2-3 Tbs. water.   I cooked it at 350 for 30 minutes, but it still seemed damp rather than crisp, so I cooked it a bit longer.  I think I overcooked it again, though.  As soon as I took it out of the oven it crisped right up, despite seeming quite damp at first.  This recipe is very dark tasting, partly from the over-roasting and partly from all the molasses.  It was plenty sweet and not too salty this time.  Adding the water didn’t seem to help it clump at all–just made it take longer to cook.  It might have made the sauce a bit easier to distribute amongst the dry ingredients.  Although I increased the cinnamon and nutmeg, I still couldn’t taste them distinctively.

To try next time:  6 cups rolled oats or other grains, 1 1/2 cups wheat bran (3.07 ounces), 1/4 cup ground flax seed, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1.5 Tbs. cinnamon, 1 tsp. nutmeg, no coconut, 1 1/2 cups pecan halves (5.25 ounces), 1 cup whole almonds (5.04 ounces), 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tbs. dark molasses, 1/2 cup date syrup (or honey), 1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey), 1 Tbs. vanilla, no water.  Cook at 350 for 25 minutes.

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11 Comments

  1. Hanaleah said,

    I feel the same way about granola being way too high calorie and very yummy. I’ve started mixing granola with a regular bran flake cereal. It makes the stuff lower calorie, but I still get the essential yummy granola flavor.

    • captious said,

      Good idea, but I’m not sure I can get bran flakes here, at least not without tons of sugar.

  2. Hanaleah said,

    I thought of something else to help a small portion of granola be more filling. Instead of dried fruit, (which is very calorie dense and not very filling) why don’t you try cutting up a banana into the bowl? I find bananas really fill me up in the morning!

  3. captious said,

    Yes, notice what I said in my post: “Personally, I’d rather just add fresh fruit to my granola and skip the dried fruit altogether.”

  4. Nikki said,

    try adding hemp seed for extra protein, add it in the end and dont bake it in and store the granola in the fridge!

    • captious said,

      Thanks Nikki! That’s a really interesting idea. I can’t get hemp seeds in Germany, but I actually happen to have some in the freezer. Apparently they are 27% protein. They have a pretty mild taste so I think they might work well in granola. But cold granola… I don’t know if I would like that. I suppose I could just add the hemp seeds after the fact.

  5. Ashley said,

    I usually do up to 50 min at 300.. a low roast so it’s crispy but not overbaked. 🙂

  6. Donna said,

    I add some vital wheat gluten to my granola, which helps increase the protein. I also blend up 3-4 bananas, use about 4 T of coconut oil – melted – and bake it at 325 for 40 minutes, stirring every ten. The bananas help add sweetness and it’s the crispiest, most lovely granola! Mine usually ends up around 4 calories per gram, 4 1/2 if I add chocolate chips!

    • captious said,

      Donna, do you use any other sweetener than the bananas? How many cups of oats/other ingredients are in your recipe?

  7. Rina said,

    For more protein: Try adding ground flax seed…acts as a good binder as well.

  8. Rina said,

    Oh and instead of olive oil, use organic virgin coconut oil…it is high in calories, but coconut oils health benefits outweigh the calorie issue. In fact, if you read up on it, it is supposed to AID in weight loss.

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