The word “granola” often conjures up images of health-conscious eaters devouring bowls of crunchy grain for breakfast, or stalwart hikers nibbling on tasteless bars to keep themselves moving along the trail. Of course, the slang meaning of the word has come to refer to a left-leaning, tree-hugging, co-op loving environmentalist — in other words, a modern-day hippie. Granola was, in fact, first popularized at the ultimate hippie dippie gathering, the 1969 Woodstock Festival. As everybody knows by now, almost half a million people showed up at that muddy music fest, and there was simply not enough food for the masses. Counterculture icon Wavy Gravy and his group, the Hog Farm Collective, came to the rescue by passing out cups of granola by the thousands.
But what is granola actually? By definition, it’s a type of rolled oats cereal, which also contains various other grains (wheats, nuts, seeds, and sometimes even rice); the concoction is usually baked and sweetened with sugar, honey, syrup, dried fruit, or even chocolate. It’s with these ingredients that the new generation of artisanal granola bakers — fueled by the focus on healthy eating and the obsession with all things local — are now getting creative, mixing and matching a dizzying array of combinations. Mona Sherry, owner of Kingston’s Upstate Granola, loves this flexibility.
“I get really bored making the same flavor over and over,” she says, then rattles off the five granola varieties she sells (maple, pecan, and dried cherry; toasted almond, coconut, and cranberry; gluten-free walnut and cranberry; peanut butter, dark chocolate, and dried cherry; and toasted cashew, coconut, and raisin).
It seems that no ingredient — be it fruit, grain, or seasoning — is off limits these days. Our Daily Eats, an Albany-based company, sells a lemon coconut blend, as well as a raspberry green tea flavor ($32.95 for six 12-ounce packages). Platte Clove Naturals in Saugerties creates a Curry Nut Crunch granola ($27 for three 12-ounce bags). The ever-trendy sea salt has even shown up in several local brands, including Sherry’s peanut butter blend. The cereal’s texture varies, too, being either crunchy clumps, chewy blends, or loose flakes.
And just as there are myriad ways to make this treat, there are also myriad ways to eat it. Consume it in the standard fashion by drowning it in milk or mixing it in yogurt; or you can get adventurous and bake it into a cookie, toss it on ice cream, top off a salad… the list goes on and on. “I had one customer who took butternut squash and stuffed it with the granola,” says Sherry.
But the big question is whether this delicious treat is really as healthy as its reputation portends, or does it have a sinister — or fattier — side? The answer: It depends. Thanks to the oats and nuts, granola is high in fiber, iron, and potassium, which help regulate digestion, blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall heart health. On the flip side, those same nuts — combined with the sugars, sweeteners, and oils — can make a single bowl of granola add up to 600 calories, according to a Food Network blog.
In general, one serving (usually listed as one ounce, or a quarter-cup) contains about 140 calories and about three grams of fat — but this can vary widely depending on the exact ingredients. The best way to keep the calories and fat count down? Opt for smaller portions, and scan the nutrition labels before consuming — not that we were very successful at self-control when we sampled some locally made varieties. We racked up a pretty high calorie count tasting the many different flavors (and licked our fingers in delight afterwards). Read on to see the results of our taste test.
It’s a tough job — but we’re a dedicated lot here at Hudson Valley, so we set out to sample almost 40 different varieties of local granola. Eventually, the frenzied snacking gave way to three winners:
Overall Office Favorite:
Thanks to its crunchy texture, which contrasts beautifully with its smooth buttery taste, this blend was the number-one choice of the majority of our staffers. Luckily, not only is it super tasty, it’s also super healthy. It’s gluten- and soy-free, and meets organic, vegetarian, and vegan standards.
The Cause of a Granola Food Fight:
One bag of this chewy concoction didn’t last more than a day — we devoured it greedily, and rumor has it that we may or may not have pushed each other out of the way for a handful. (Digital Editor Jessica Friedlander was even spied stashing an extra bag in her desk drawer.) Packed with dried apples, raisins, sunflower seeds, rolled oats, rice, coconut, flax seeds, honey, walnuts, cinnamon, and vanilla, one bite is like a delightful taste of Thanksgiving.
Our New Favorite Dessert:
Forget the office vending machine: Whenever we had a craving for a Reese’s peanut butter cup, we grabbed this flavorful granola instead. With a satisfying nutty crunch and a hint of chocolate and cherry, we found it most appealing after lunch; owner Mona Sherry says many of her customers give it to their kids in cookie form. And we’re completely enamored by the charming mason jar that holds it.
Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go
It only makes sense that this Ulster eatery dedicated to healthy ingredients would produce its own granola, which is a delightful mix of oatmeal, flax and pumpkin seeds, almonds, agave nectar, golden raisins, and dried cherries.
Kingston. 845-340-9800; www.bluemountainbistro.com
Though mostly known for its delightful handmade breads, this Valley staple also creates four granola flavors, including a scrumptious apricot and pistachio flavor.
Various Locations. 845-657-3328; www.breadalone.com
Gatherer’s Gourmet Granola
Sandro Gerbini recently added three gluten-free choices to his popular line of granolas — which includes “Squirrel Bait,” a flaky mix of pecans, maple syrup, and toasted coconut.
Platte Clove Naturals
Known to spice up many a salad, the Curry Nut Crunch originated as an entry at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, and now is the company’s trademark flavor.
Saugerties. 518-248-1341 www.platteclovenaturals.com
This four-year-old Dutchess company is best known for its chocolate coconut almond blend, which is billed as “a healthy alternative to an Almond Joy.”
Wingdale. 914-483-8965; www.wholeyoats.net