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Granola is a type of cold cereal made from rolled oats and an assortment of other ingredients. It was originally a trade name, during the health food craze of the 1800s, when the product was originally developed. Many companies make granola, usually selling it with a health food focus, and most markets stock numerous varieties. In addition to packaged products, consumers can also usually find it in bulk form, and they can also make it at home.
While rolled oats are the core of granola, they are far from the only ingredient. Other grains may be used as well for additional texture and nutrition, and dried fruit is a common ingredient as well. Seeds and nuts may be added as well to elevate the protein level of the granola and change the flavor profile, and it may be sweetened with the addition of ingredients like honey, molasses, sugar, or agave nectar. Individual formulations vary quite widely, with some producers even eschewing the traditional oats.
These ingredients are toasted so that they are crispy, and stirred frequently so that they do not stick together. Some clumping usually naturally occurs, but these clumps are not allowed to get very large. After toasting and cooling, the granola is packed in airtight containers so that it will not become soggy or stale. It is an excellent idea to use an airtight container at home, as well, unless the granola is going to be consumed quickly.
Some people eat granola as a breakfast food, either plain or sprinkled on top of fresh fruit, yogurt, or milk. When made as a health food, it can be an excellent breakfast, since it usually contains a good balance of nutrients and protein to start the day. Others may use it as a quick snack food, since it often elevates energy levels. Hikers and campers tend to be particularly fond of granola, since it packs very well.
In addition to being available in loose form like a cereal, granola is also compressed into bars. Granola bars may not be as heavily toasted as true granola, since they would become hard and unwieldy if they were. Some companies actually make their bars quite soft, so that they are chewy rather than crunchy. Granola bars can also be highly unhealthy, as many producers like to add ingredients such as corn syrup, chocolate, or other sweet, high-calorie fillers. If health is a concern, loose varieties are often a better choice.