This plant-based granola is made using dates and hazelnuts in place of refined sugar and oil. It’s also chocolatey, crunchy, and works equally well as a stand-alone snack, or as a topping for your favorite chia pudding/smoothie bowl/yogurt.
Let’s talk about carbs for a minute. As a die-hard, lifelong carb lover, I’m here to tell you that not all carbs are created equal. Somehow, evidence that refined carbohydrates contribute to obesity and other chronic health problems has been twisted to suggest that grains are bad for you. It’s not ok and it ends here.
For a long time, I didn’t fully appreciate the nutritional difference between whole grains and refined ones. My mindset was more, “carbs are a tasty treat that I indulge in even though I know they are bad for me. Whole grains are a little better, but only marginally, so why bother.” With all the high-protein-crazed, Paleo/Atkins/Keto messaging out there, it’s easy to get this one scrambled.
It wasn’t until I read Dr. Michael Gregor’s How Not to Die that I began to fully appreciate that whole grains, far from being fattening, are actually linked to healthy body weight.
Whole grains have a host of health benefits: they contain many nutrients including fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals like iron and zinc. Consumption of whole grains has been linked to protection from some of our most common killers, such as heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.
Only Superfoods, Please
In addition to oats and millet, this granola contains only healthy, whole, plant foods: dates, hazelnuts, flax seeds, and cocao nibs.
Hazelnuts are rich and flavorful and are famously combined with chocolate to form the Italian Gianduja. In America, we may be most familiar with this flavor profile from Nutella. Although it’s delicious, Nutella’s top ingredients are sugar and palm oil. So if you want a chocolate-hazelnut breakfast that’s good for your mouth AND your body, this granola is a better option.
Hazelnuts are high in protein, healthy fats, and vitamin E, and may protect against cell damage, lower cholesterol, and reduce insulin sensitivity. Although nuts are high in calories, research has consistently shown eating nuts is linked to weight loss.
Next up, flax.
Lignans are found in higher concentration in flax than in any other food and may protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Flax also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which you’ve probably heard of in regard to fish. Purported to help with arthritis and depression, among other things, flax provides omega-3’s without the risks of eating fish. One important thing to note about flax is that it’s much better to eat it ground rather than in whole seed form for maximum nutrient absorption. You can buy it already ground (also known as flax meal) or grind it yourself in a coffee or spice grinder.
The chocolate component in this recipe is cocao nibs, which are minimally processed pieces of cocoa beans, without any additives. Cacao nibs have a deep, intense chocolate flavor, and are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They also provide a nice caffeine buzz with your morning coffee!
I’ve written about dates in a previous post, but to recap, dates are a healthy alternative to refined sweeteners, because they contain fiber and antioxidants, and are relatively low-glycemic.
Now, let’s talk about what’s not in this granola recipe: namely, refined sugar and oil.
Granola is one of those foods that gets touted as healthy, but it’s usually not. Supermarket granola brands may contain 17 grams of sugar per serving, not to mention oils high in saturated fat and scary additives. The internet is full of recipes that swap in olive/coconut oil and honey/maple syrup, but these aren’t that much better. Ultimately, it’s healthier to eat whole foods than extracted or refined ones. I certainly don’t begrudge a treat from time to time, but if I’m going to eat a “healthy” food like granola, I want it to actually be healthy.
This whole food, plant-based granola recipe is ACTUALLY good for you.
And it tastes so good! It’s super crunchy, not too sweet, and has that classic chocolate-hazelnut flavor.
Prior to creating this recipe, I had played around with a couple of combinations, but they weren’t quite right. The main issue was texture.
What I really want from my granola is big chunks. I find granola that is too crumbly very disappointing. I want to reach into the jar, grab a handful of pieces that look like broken cookies, and crunch into them. I don’t want to wind up with a bunch of loose grains sticking to my hand… but I will lick them off when the occasion arises. Clearly, I’ve had a little too much experience eating granola straight from the container.
The first time, I blended dates and nut butter with water and had a nice sticky sheet tray going, but I baked it at too high a temperature, and needed to take it out of the oven to prevent burning. The flavor was good, but the texture wasn’t as crispy as I wanted it.
The next time, I simply blended dates and tahini (I was working on a variation for sesame granola with matcha chia pudding, which I will revisit at some point) without water, hoping to eliminate softness, but this was a mistake. I wound up with a bunch of oats and sesame seeds that weren’t stuck together.
This time, I nailed it. The secret? Low and slow.
I know that a 6 hour baking time may seem like a lot. But many of us are quarantined and #stayinghome right now, so… there’s no time like the present?
This is definitely a project you need to plan for. But it’s very low maintenance- you don’t have to check on it often, since there’s no risk of burning at 200°F. And your house will smell like chocolate the whole time. This would also work great in a dehydrator, if you have one.
I made a coffee-banana chia pudding to go with this, but I’ve also served it over a smoothie bowl, and I can’t stop snacking on it, straight out of the jar. If you don’t have hazelnuts, sub in another nut- I bet pecans would be awesome! You could also use nut butter or tahini: decrease the amount to half a cup, and don’t soak it, just mix it in after the dates are pureed. And you could use quinoa or amaranth instead of millet, or just use more oats.
Recipe: Whole Food Chocolate Hazelnut Granola
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup millet
½ cup cacao nibs
¼ cup ground flaxseeds
1 cup hazelnuts
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup water
Pinch of salt optional
1 tsp vanilla extract optional
Place dates, hazelnuts, water, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Soak for at least 10 minutes, or overnight. Blend/process until smooth.
Preheat oven to 200°F
Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands. Add date/hazelnut mixture and mix until fully incorporated.
Spread granola on a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Bake for about 6 hours, mixing with a spatula every hour or 2, until granola has reached desired crispness.