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Granola is a breakfast food and snack food, popular in the Americas, consisting of rolled oats, nuts, honey, and sometimes puffed rice, that is usually baked until crisp. During the baking process the mixture is stirred to maintain a loose, breakfast cereal-type consistency. Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates, are sometimes added.
Besides serving as food for breakfast and/or snacks, granola is also often eaten by those who are hiking, camping, or backpacking because it is lightweight, high in calories, and easy to store; these properties make it similar to trail mix and muesli. It is often combined into a bar form. Granola is often eaten in combination with yogurt, honey, strawberries, bananas, milk, blueberries and/or other forms of cereal. It can also serve as a topping for various types of pastries and/or desserts. Granola, particularly recipes that include flax seeds, is often used to improve digestion.
The names Granula and Granola were trademarked terms in the late 19th century United States for foods consisting of whole grain products crumbled and then baked until crisp; in contrast with the contemporary invention, muesli, which is traditionally not baked or sweetened. The name is now trademarked only in Australia and New Zealand, but is commonly referred to as muesli. The trademark is owned by the Australian Health & Nutrition Association Ltd.'s Sanitarium Health Food Company in Australia and Australasian Conference Association Limited in New Zealand.
Granula was invented in Dansville, NY, by Dr. James Caleb Jackson at the Jackson Sanitarium in 1894. The Jackson Sanitarium was a prominent health spa that operated into the early 20th century on the hillside overlooking Dansville. It was also known as Our Home on the Hillside; thus the company formed to sell Jackson's cereal was known as the Our Home Granula Company. Granula was composed of Graham flour and was similar to an oversized form of Grape-Nuts.
In 1951, Willie Pelzer moved from Germany to Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, to work the sugar beet fields. After noticing the lack of variety rolled oats was used for in food, he began experimenting to find a better and more appetizing way of enjoying rolled oats. Ultimately, Pelzer came up with granola and started his own family-owned business by the name of Sunny Crunch Foods Ltd. in the 1970s. Working as the CEO and President, Pelzer's company specialized in granola cereals, granola and protein bars, fibre products, meal replacement products and health food item. Sunny Crunch Foods Ltd. grew to have worldwide distribution and became one of Canada's most respected health foods manufacturer. Pelzer is now known as the founder of "crunch granola."
A similar cereal was developed by John Harvey Kellogg. It too was initially known as Granula, but the name was changed to Granola to avoid legal problems with Jackson.
The food and name were revived in the 1960s, and fruits and nuts were added to it to make it a health food that was popular with the hippie movement. At the time, several people claim to have revived or re-invented granola. A major promoter was Layton Gentry, profiled in Time as "Johnny Granola-Seed". In 1964, Gentry sold the rights to a granola recipe using oats, which he claimed to have invented himself, to Sovex Natural Foods for $3,000. The company was founded in 1953 in Holly, Michigan by the Hurlinger family with the main purpose of producing a concentrated paste of brewers yeast and soy sauce known as "Sovex." Earlier in 1964, it had been bought by John Goodbrad and moved to Collegedale, Tennessee. In 1967, Gentry bought back the rights for west of the Rockies for $1,500 and then sold the west coast rights to Wayne Schlotthauer of Lassen Foods in Chico, California, for $18,000. Lassen was founded from a health food bakery run by Schlotthauer's father-in-law. The Hurlingers, Goodbrads, and Schlotthauers were all Adventists, and it is possible that Gentry was a lapsed Adventist who was familiar with the earlier granola.
In 1972, an executive at Pet Milk (later Pet Incorporated) of St. Louis, Missouri, introduced Heartland Natural Cereal, the first major commercial granola. At almost the same time, Quaker introduced Quaker 100% Natural Granola. Within a year, Kellogg's had introduced its "Country Morning" granola cereal and General Mills had introduced its "Nature Valley."
In 1974, McKee Baking (later McKee Foods), makers of Little Debbie snack cakes, purchased Sovex. In 1998, the company also acquired the Heartland brand and moved its manufacturing to Collegedale. In 2004, Sovex's name was changed to "Blue Planet Foods."
"Granola bars" were invented by Willie Pelzer and have become popular as a snack, similar to the traditional flapjack (oat bar) or muesli bar familiar in the Commonwealth countries. Granola bars are usually identical to the normal form of granola in composition, but differ vastly in shape: Instead of a loose, breakfast cereal consistency, granola bars are pressed and baked into a bar shape, resulting in the production of a more convenient snack. The product is most popular in the United States and Canada, parts of southern Europe, Brazil, Israel, South Africa and Japan. Recently, Granola has begun to expand its market into India and other southeast Asian countries.
A variety of the granola bar is the "chewy granola bar." In this form, the time during which the oats are baked is either shortened or cut out altogether; this gives the bar a texture that is chewier than that of a traditional granola bar. Some manufacturers, such as Kellogg's, have been shown to prefer usage of the terms "cereal bar" and "snack bar" to refer to them.