The Invention of Granola
What is the difference between granola and muesli? Is there a difference?
Granola is basically toasted muesli, but its origins lie almost forty years earlier than muesli. It was developed in 1863 in the USA by Dr James Caleb Jackson at the Our Home on the Hillside in Dansville, NY, one of the largest health spas in the world at the time. Jackson came to believe that food was key to good health and served his customers a near vegetarian diet. He created a cereal dish from coarsely ground wholemeal flour that was made into a dough, baked hard into sheets, and then broken into pieces and soaked overnight for eating. He called it Granula, as it was composed of granules.
Enter Dr John Kellogg, superintendent at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan (a sanitarium is an American term for sanitorium). Around 1880 he took Jackson’s idea and used rolled oats for his granula, making it more chew-able. Jackson sued and so Kellog changed the name of his product to Granola and each man trademarked their respective products.
Granola in New Zealand
The first reference to granola in New Zealand newspapers is in 1888. This was possibly Marshall’s Granola, imported from Scotland. It was made from oats and was recommended for use in puddings, porridge, bread dough, scones, and biscuits.
In 1897, Edward Halsey, a baker at Kellogg’s sanatorium, migrated to Australia and began producing a granola from wheat, oats, maize and rye. He shifted to New Zealand in 1900 and manufactured the product in Christchurch for a local heath home. Demand grew and soon the product was manufactured under the name of the Sanitarium Health and Well Being Company, founded by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Melbourne in 1898. (Kellogg was also a Seventh Day Adventist, so by one path or the other we owe a good deal of the packaged cereals we eat today to the healthy living philosophy of this church.)
New Zealand’s first eatery serving granola was probably The Health Food Café that opened in 1901 on the corner of Wellesley St West in Auckland. It was an agent for Sanitarium products, so it’s a fair bet that it was Sanitarium granola being served (with hot milk for 4d or with dates, sultanas and seeded raisins for 6d). Within a few years Sanitarium began opening its own stores in New Zealand’s main centres, each with a health food café attached. Wellington’s Sanitarium café ran from 1905 until 1960.
Kellogg went on to use the idea of rolling grains and developed flaked wheat and corn flakes in the 1890s, creating the packaged breakfast cereal as we know it and making the Kellogg’s brand a household name. In Australasia, Sanitarium gained similar brand recognition when they launched their iconic Wheet-bix in 1930. Granola or granula faded into the background until the idea was eventually picked up again in the 1960s with the hippy movement. Nuts and dried fruit were added, and in the 1970s the first major commercial products appeared on supermarket shelves.
Granola vs Muesli: It’s all a Blur
The name granola has long been trademarked in Australasia by Sanitarium. This may have restricted its use here, which would explain why it does not appear in the authoritative 2005 New Zealand Oxford Dictionary. But perhaps there was eventually no holding back the tide, for even though still trademarked, the word appears on many New Zealand supermarket packets in 2019. Nevertheless, manufacturers (and café owners) often seem uncertain what granola is, and the distinction between granola, toasted muesli or even simply muesli is often very blurry. My working definition is that granola is muesli toasted with oil and/or sweetener to a golden brown colour. It is darker than simply toasted muesli and has more oil and sweetener. Also, following the original concept, it tends to clump together in crisp, crunchy lumps in a way that muesli does not.
Granola: A Health Food?
The word granola, especially in the USA, has been used as proxy for everything to do with going back to nature, healthy living, and alternative lifestyles. When I was in Antarctica in 1991 those who were pushing for better environmental practices, or simply wanting to opt out of the bacon, eggs and sausages Scott Base breakfasts, were referred to as ‘granolas’. However, granola is not as healthy as its reputation suggests. Coating the muesli with those two old junk food favourites, oil and sugar (as honey or syrup), for toasting creates something more tasty than muesli but with far higher calories. So consume in moderation.
And if you want to make your own, this engagingly written Guardian page by Felicity Cloake offers plenty of useful advice (and a recipe) that accords with my own thoughts.
As with my other pages, the café and restaurant reviews below are ranked roughly from best to worst. This is based not just on the taste of the food, but also the total experience of how it is presented, the service, standard of coffee, ambience and value for money. It’s all a bit subjective (some people get a buzz out of a packed, noisy café, others prefer to have the place to themselves), but I have tried to be consistent in my subjectivity. See my home page for the top ratings by individual factor.
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The Top Picks:
Eatery no longer exists (or for Leeds St, no longer offers granola)