© Con Poulos

You say granula, I say granola. 

April 12, 2017

Cereal sales across the United States continue to decline as more and more people opt for fast-food meals on the go, protein-heavy options like greek yogurt or to skip breakfast all together (these are dire times). Have no fear, though: Mega-sized cereal corporations are still selling billions of dollars of cereal every year and as long as Tony the Tiger is still around to tell you how greeeeaaaat his sweet, sweet candy is, the number of cereal options at your local grocery store won't fall short of 1,000* (*rough estimate) anytime soon.

But how did cereal get so popular in the first place? For that, we have granola to thank.

A century before hippies became associated with granola in the 1960s and '70s, it was a simple breakfast alternative developed by Dr. Caleb Jackson of Dansville, New York in 1863. As a vocal vegetarian, Jackson strongly opposed the lavish English-influenced breakfasts that were still a staple across the United States at the time. As a response, Jackson created a new, purportedly healthier breakfast option made of graham flour to serve at his health spa in upstate New York.

The original product, which he dubbed "granula," was named after the granules of graham flour that comprised it. Granula was made by forming graham flour into sheets, baking until dry, breaking it up, baking again, and breaking it up into even smaller pieces. Eventually, the finished product resembled something similar to modern-day Grape Nuts, which were developed by C. W. Post, a former patient of Jackson's and a future competitor of Dr. John Kellogg's. The dense and chewy granules then had to be soaked overnight in milk before serving, forever tying milk and cereal together. 

Speaking of Dr. John Kellogg, he is credited as the inventor of "granola," after he created a product very similar to Jackson's at the request of Ellen G. White, the founder of the Seventh-Day Adventists. White, another former patient of Jackson's, enjoyed granula at Jackson's spa. As a result, White commissioned Kellogg, whose medical school education she sponsored, to create a similar product. 

While Kellogg's version wasn't exactly the same as Jackson's—Kellogg substituted rolled oats for graham pieces—it was close enough to concern Jackson, which is why Kellogg renamed his product and then trademarked "granola" for himself. Within a decade, Kellogg was selling two tons of his new granola a week and then, in the blink of an eye, kids were eating Oreo-Os and Reese's Puffs for breakfast, which is probably not what either of these health-focused doctors had in mind when they launched the breakfast cereal revolution. 

Coincidentally, at almost the exact same time as Jackson and Kelloggs' quarrel, a Swiss doctor developed another, very similar product known as muesli. Much like Jackson, Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner created his new breakfast food as a healthier option for his Zürich sanatorium patients. The big difference is that granola is traditionally baked, and these days comes loaded with brown sugar and other sweeteners, while muesli is uncooked and tends to be much lower in sugar.

While muesli's texture was originally more similar in texture to porridge—it consisted of rolled oats, grated apples and ground almonds or hazelnuts that were made into a type of mush—today it's a dry mix of oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruit. Still commonly eaten across much of Central and Northern Europe, muesli also has a huge following in Australia and New Zealand, where "muesli" is used almost synonymously with "granola" itself.

Over time, granula, along with Jackson's health spa, ceased to exist, and granola was replaced by Kellogg's most famous creation, corn flakes. However, granola found a new market in the 1960s when hippies rediscovered the rolled oats-based cereal and began customizing it with added dried fruits and nuts. Granola didn't return to supermarket shelves until 1972, when the first major commercial granola, Heartland Natural Cereal, was introduced. As a result, hundreds of flavors, brands and varieties of granola now sit on shelves in every grocery store in America.