Granola has long been regarded as one of the cereal world’s healthy options, with its enduring reputation as a ‘hippie food’ fixing it in consumers’ minds as a virtuous alternative to the high-sugar options in the breakfast cereal aisle. However, the perception of granola as a healthy breakfast food has changed in recent times, with nutritionists warning that the perception of its healthfulness doesn't always match up to reality.
The building blocks of granola are the same ingredients that are lauded as nutritious, staple foods by dietitians, but cereal manufacturers are increasingly being told to make their recipes healthier. So, how did a product consisting mainly of oats, fruit, nuts and seeds become so divisive? Is granola a virtue or a vice?
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss how brands can make responsible changes to their granola products in line with current nutritional advice, and how cereal manufacturers can help brands develop healthier granola recipes.
Wholesome snack …
With oats as the main ingredient, granola delivers large quantities of dietary fibre – in particular, it is high in beta glucan, a heart-healthy form of soluble fibre which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and prevent further cholesterol from being absorbed into the body. As well as beta glucan, oats are a rich source of protein, iron and magnesium, which regulates the function of the heart and may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
With the addition of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, granola packs quite a dietary punch, adding heart-healthy unsaturated fats, protein and Omega-3 to create a breakfast cereal with a complex nutritional profile.
… or sweet treat?
Unfortunately, it’s the sugar content of much commercial granola that leaves a sour taste in nutritionists’ mouths. To get the perfect granular texture and that satisfying crunch, the base granola mix needs to be mixed with a binding agent and then baked. To give flavour, sweetness and texture, the most common binding ingredients are sugar and fat– and, depending on the recipe and the manufacturer, that can be anything from a drizzle of honey and a drop of coconut oil to a slick of palm fat and corn syrup.
With obesity an increasingly pressing concern in the health sector, much has been made by health professionals and nutrition experts of the need to reduce the amount of fat and sugar in everyday foods like breakfast cereals. Granola’s need for some fat and sugar to create its unique clumped texture flies in the face of today’s health guidelines, but it is the functional role played by sugar that is a challenge when developing healthier granola recipes.
How can granola brands make their products healthier?
Fear not: health professionals aren’t calling for a granola boycott. But the onus is increasingly being placed on food manufacturers to take responsibility for the effects of their products on consumers, with recipe development and marketing key targets for improvement. As well as reviewing their recipes and internal manufacture processes, brands should actively work with their cereal ingredients suppliers to agree on sustainable ways to reduce the sugar and fat content of their products.
A key part of breakfast cereals brands’ role is help educate the consumer in how to consume their products in a healthier way. Portion size is a key example: all too often, consumers are tempted to pour a big bowl of granola for breakfast, when the recommended serving size of around 40-45g is actually much smaller. Brands can also promote alternative serving suggestions for granola that form part of a varied balanced diet, such as using it as a topping for yoghurt or fruit.
How can cereal processors help cereal brands?
At Silvery Tweed, new granola recipes are always developed with sugar content in mind. Our product development team is working to create new products which contain less sugar than comparable products on the market.
We also work to modify existing recipes, so they contain less sugar whilst maintaining their existing appearance, flavour and texture. This is a carefully-controlled process which is done in close partnership with our customers, as the resulting changes can have an impact on the nutritional profile, pack information, and even the product’s marketing.
Our methods for developing healthier recipes vary depending on the needs of our customers. Every case is unique: some customers may be trying to meet a specific threshold so they can legally be defined as ‘low sugar’, while others might reject the use of sugar substitutes in their products.
Typical approaches used by our product team have focused on the removal of sugar to the limit of its functionality, as well as using starches and chicory root fibre to help bind the granola and develop texture. Flavourings can also be used to balance or compensate for any flavour change in the final product.
Often, we find that altering the balance of ingredients in a granola recipe can help markedly reduce its sugar content. One to watch out for is the high levels of sugar in dried fruit: raisins, for example, contain around 60% natural sugar, and quickly add to the overall sugar content of a granola recipe.
Finally, finding ways to alter consumers’ portion volume can be the key to reducing the amount of sugar in a serving of cereal. Incorporating puffed grains into our granola recipes to reduce the density of the granola is one of the ways we do this: portion weight can be reduced, but the volume remains the same, so the consumer can have the same portion size but reduce the amount of sugar and fat they consume. Our partnership with Dutch supplier Unicorn Grains gives us access to the full range of Presco® puffed cereals, which includes rice, spelt, wheat and quinoa – plenty of ways to lighten your customers’ bowlfuls.
Keen to know more about our granola making capabilities? Take a look at our cereal coating services, or get in touch to speak to us about your needs.