Granola is one of those words that is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it can mean the crunchy oat, raisin and date cluster cold breakfast cereal, or a person who is a hippie at heart. As an adjective, it is descriptive of the hippie or other, more "natural" lifestyles.
This article is primarily concerned with granola as a cereal, although even in its earliest form, there was something of the "hippie" about it. The word granola comes from the word granula, which was the name given to a type of cold cereal made from graham flour and broken into small pieces or granules. It was invented in the mid-19th century by Dr. James C. Jackson.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, director of the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan, invented a similar cereal for the patients following his vegetarian/whole grain regime, and he called it granula, as well. However, Dr. Jackson sued Kellogg for copyright infringement, and Kellogg changed the name to granola. Voila!
The Kellogg's and Post breakfast cereal companies were peddling mostly high-sugared cereals to appeal to children by the 1960s, and when the hippie movement became popular, someone had the bright idea of reviving the granola concept. Taking some elements from "gorp," commonly used by hikers and mountain climbers, both cereal companies produced a product that was much lower in overall sugar. In fact, they often shunned refined white sugar, opting instead for honey or brown sugar for sweetening.
The hippies went wild for granola, and another cereal product started making money for Post and Kellogg's. The more recent emphasis on whole grains in the diet has kept granola cereals popular. Granola bars are also popular, and muffins and breads made with granola cereal are tasty, as well.
Granola comes in as many varieties as there are people making it. It can contain almost any fruit, nut or grain ingredient. Some formulations move more toward the fruit side, while others are nuttier. Most granola formulas have raisins, but some do not. Some granolas are sweeter, and some have cinnamon to spice them up.
Granola can even be made at home, and the ingredients are largely a matter of personal preference. Muesli cereal, an alternative type of granola, is also available. It was also invented in the late 19th century, but by a Swiss physician.
One recipe for granola calls for three cups rolled oats, one cup almonds, one cup cashews, 3/4 cup shredded coconut, 1/4 cup each maple syrup and dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, one cup raisins and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. The wet and dry ingredients, except for the raisins, are mixed together separately, then combined and spread over two large sheet pans. They are cooked at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour and 15 minutes, and stirred every 15 minutes to ensure even browning. When done, the mixture is turned into a large bowl and the raisins are mixed in.
This simple recipe can be easily tweaked to suit the personal preferences of the cook. Pecans and walnuts can be substituted for cashews and almonds, and cinnamon or vanilla flavoring can be added. A basic recipe like this lends itself well to experimentation.
So, granola started out as an experiment, but has ended up as a beloved part of the American diet. Whether homemade or not, right out of the box or with milk, granola appeals to almost everyone who loves cereal.