I just love granola. And not because I now live in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, I know the stereotypical visions of people eating a snack with all of the flavor of cardboard as a survival tactic while on long hikes, stopping only to hug a tree or two along the way, right? Far from it!
For me, granola conjures up the comfort of a warm bowl of oatmeal in my grandma’s kitchen, the sweetness of dried fruit that I loved snacking on as a kid and the surprise of various spices that keeps my adult palate intrigued. It is filling without being fussy.
As a Dietitian, I find the idea of mixing whole grains with fruit and nuts or seeds as pure genius. Essentially, granola is a rare food that can combine sweet, savory, and crunchy while supporting the plant-based way of eating that is undeniably proven to promote health.
So yeah, I’m a fan. What’s even better is the many forms and flavors that granola can take on. That’s why I’m on a quest to find the best!
Today, I’m taking on granola in its pure form – loose, like a cereal. While I love combining the individual raw ingredients and custom making a granola to suit my mood for the day, there are times when I have to get real. I (and you) don’t always have time to make things from scratch. So, I wanted to test some of the pre-made granolas on the market.
Fortunately, I had this idea formulating when I was sent a free sample of Ladera Granola (no, they didn’t pay me to write a review, only to enjoy a free sample their product – no strings attached). To be fair, I added a few other granolas to the taste test – one that is a local granola from my closest farmer’s market, and two others that you can find on many store shelves nation-wide.
Along with a discerning taste panel (my kids), we had a blind taste test – well, not blind to me, but my kids had no clue which brand was in each bowl. While all of the granola samples were tasty enough, we found a clear winner. Here’s what our taste buds thought and how we chose to rank the four brands.
Bear Naked – I’ve long been a fan of this company and their granola, but I have to admit that this particular flavor ranked lowest. The granola had a very plain flavor punctuated with sweetness from cranberries. Bear Naked has recently introduced this higher protein line, which derives its extra protein from soy protein isolate – not the natural source I would have liked to see in a granola. Because of this and it’s lackluster flavor, it gets the lowest rank. This variety contributes 140 calories per 1/4 cup with only 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of sugar. I have seen this brand available in most major grocery stores, even Target, at a range of price points. This 11-ounce bag was priced at $4.88 (that’s $0.44 per ounce, which is the cheapest of the sampled granolas).
Hammer and Tuffy’s – This is a farmer’s market favorite for me. But before you start to leave a comment in vain, you can order this granola online too. I added it to the taste panel because I wanted to compare the flavor and texture of commercial granolas made in large-scale processing plants versus a small-scale variety like this one; the kind you would envision made with the attention to quality that you might think the big name guys wouldn’t be able to have. Surprisingly, the difference wasn’t as significant as I would have thought. Of course, I like the idea of supporting the local guy who supports my farmer’s market too. The Red Tractor Blend flavor is $9.95 for an 16-ounce bag (that’s $0.62 per ounce) and runs 130 calories for 1/4 cup with 3 grams of protein and 7 grams of sugar. It has an added benefit of using gluten-free oats, if that’s your thing, and some organic ingredients. The flavor is slightly nutty with a hint of salt. Overall, a really nice balance of wholesome goodness.
Kind – I’m a big proponent of Kind granola bars, not just for their yummy taste, but mostly because they have limited ingredients, all of which are pronounceable real food items. The granola we sampled was their Oats and Honey Clusters variety and it was most noticeable that this granola was definitely in bigger “cluster” pieces and super crunchy, making it a much easier snacking option than the rest. It seemed to have a real nutty, almost peanut butter flavor, which is something I liked. This brand is also very easy to find at major retailers with a variety of pricing as low as $5.99 for the 11-ounce bag (that’s $0.54 per ounce). While the nutrition facts label reflects a 1/3 cup serving size, I’ll keep the comparisons the same by giving you the stats based on a 1/4 cup serving – which would be 98 calories, 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of sugar – impressively light compared to the rest.
Ladera – I have to say that I was surprised. I’m not easily swayed by the samples that I often receive on my doorstep, however this surpassed many homemade granolas I’ve tasted in the past. In fact, that was my comment after my first bite – that it tasted so fresh and homemade. This granola was distinctly loose, making it suitable for topping on yogurt or eating as a cereal, but a little messier to snack on…although I wasn’t afraid to try! The flavor profile was more complex than some of the other granolas, showcasing the natural goodness of the oats with a perfectly paired cinnamon finish, not to mention the caramelized almonds and pecans. With slight embarrassment, I had to admit that this granola was better than some of the home-made versions my kitchen has produced in the past. I haven’t gone so far to caramelize nuts in my own granola recipes, but after tasting this granola, I’m thinking it might be worth it! My son even said “kids don’t always like oats, but this will make them like it.” Since this is a relatively new brand, it might be a little harder to find. Of course, you can order directly from their website and if you are lucky enough to live in California, you can check out the store finder on their website to see which stores near you carry the granola. It costs $8.99 for a 12-ounce bag (that’s $0.75 per ounce; note online orders require a min of 4 bags per order) and weighs in a 150 calories for 1/4 cup serving with 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of sugar. Delicious!
If there is a brand that you have found in your own quest, I’d love to hear about it. If you are still on the hunt, I encourage you to try one of the brands listed above. I think you’ll be happy you did!
As for the homemade variety, I’m excitedly testing some recipes now. If you’ve got a recipe that you think is among the best (loose granola, bar or ball), let me know. Even if it isn’t featured in the my Granola Part 2 post- all about homemade granola, I’d be happy to add any (healthy) recipes to my Granola Pinterest board.