How to Make Healthy Granola, According to Our Test Kitchen
Pictured recipe: Grandpa's Homemade Granola
Why make homemade granola when you can just buy it at the store? We've got plenty of good reasons to keep the packaged stuff on the shelf. While granolas (and granola bars) have a reputation of being healthy, the store-bought versions are often loaded with sugar and calories. If healthy granola is what you're after, then making it yourself is the way to go. Plus, your granola will never be fresher (or more enticing!) than when it comes out of your oven wafting with the scent of toasted oats, nuts and spices. Making homemade granola is about as easy as it gets, and there's room to get creative when you mix and match add-ins and flavors.
Healthy Granola Recipe Ingredients
Here's what you'll need to make healthy homemade granola.
Oats are at the heart of every good granola recipe. Oats offer plenty of fiber, which may help cut your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. For granola, choose old-fashioned rolled oats. They're thick, sturdy and hold up well in the oven. While oats don't contain gluten themselves, they are often processed with wheat products so if you are avoiding gluten, look for oats labeled gluten-free.
Nuts add crunch and, well, nuttiness to homemade granola. No nut is off-limits. Walnuts, pecans, almonds and even macadamias or hazelnuts make good additions. If your nuts are whole, you may want to chop them up a bit to avoid larger pieces. Nuts offer plenty of healthy fats and flavor, but they can overwhelm your granola if you add too much. A good rule of thumb is 1 part nuts to every 5 parts oats. And if you want to avoid nuts entirely, you can! There are plenty of other add-ins that work well in homemade granola.
To give your granola even more flavor and crunch, you can add seeds like pepitas or sunflower seeds. Chia seeds and flaxseeds, while smaller, can also add texture and flavor (not to mention more fiber). Coconut flakes are also a nice addition, and you can even add cereal (think crispy, low- or no-sugar versions like crisp rice cereals). And remember: You don't have to pick just one add-in! Keep these add-ins in check by following the same ratio you used for the nuts: 1 part add-ins to 5 parts oats. If you've skipped the nuts, you can add a little more.
Oil, Sweeteners and Flavorings
Granola gets its crunch from oil and its sweetness, in part, from sugars like honey, brown sugar or maple syrup. Because the oil and sweeteners are often liquid, you can combine the two and stir them into the mixture together. For oil, choose one with a neutral flavor like grapeseed or avocado oil. You can also use coconut oil, which imparts a nice tropical note, but keep in mind that it will add saturated fat. For both oil and sweeteners, don't go overboard. About 4 tablespoons oil and ½ cup sweetener is all you will need for around 6 or 7 cups of granola. With oil and sweeteners, you can add flavors like cinnamon, vanilla or almond extract. But even if you skip the extra flavors, don't skip the salt! Even a pinch can bring out the flavors of your granola.
After you've baked and cooled your granola, you can add dried fruit. And again, get creative! Any dried fruits, from raisins, cherries and cranberries to chopped dried mango and even crystalized ginger and dates work well. Dried fruit adds tart, sweet flavors and a soft chewiness to contrast all the crunch. It also adds additional sugar, so keep your hand light: We recommend no more than 1 cup per 6 to 7 cups of baked granola. Be sure to add the dried fruit after the granola has cooled completely to prevent sticking.
Granola Baking and Storage Tips
Here are a few baking and storage tips to make sure your granola is perfect:
- Spread your granola out evenly on a parchment-paper-lined baking pan. The parchment makes transferring your granola to a storage container much easier. If your granola is piled high on one pan, use two baking pans or cook it in batches so it cooks evenly.
- Cook your granola at a lower temperature, around 300°F or so, so the granola has time to crisp up without burning. Your granola will bake for about an hour or so. Stir it around once or twice while it cooks.
- Your homemade granola can be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 4 weeks. Before transferring it a storage container, make sure it has cooled completely.