Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I'll Have A Big Bowl of Sugar and Salt, Please!

NOTE: Great Granola recipe at the end of this post!

I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal (along with the weekly Memphis Democrat – what a contrast!). I get it mostly to keep up with the world; I will probably switch to the NY Times when this subscription runs out. Anyway, I usually skim the front section, skip over the investment section and read the “Personal Journal” front to back. Kind of my version of Wall Street Journal, Light. Which is just a long way of saying that while I read every single book review, author interview and play review, I miss a lot of other, more "serious" stuff.

On Sunday morning, taking a break from the nutritious, high-fiber oatmeal (organic thick rolled oats with apple chunks, sunflower seeds and raisins) I was frying up some bacon to go with our Sandhill eggs. I pulled a stack of newspaper from the recycling on which to drain the grease (no paper towels in this house) and had to find another page when, drippy bacon poised to land, I read the headline that I was about to obliterate: “Kids’ Cereals Saltier, Report Says.” I dumped the bacon on the Dow Jones report and read this:

“Cereal makers that reduce the amount of sugar in kids' cereals tend to ratchet up the salt content to improve flavor, says a report expected to be released Tuesday by Consumers International.

Cereal makers have been under pressure from consumer groups to reduce the sugar content of their kids' cereals, and Consumers International, in its report, "Cereal Offenses," says "manufacturers are likely to add salt to boost the flavor of the product, and may use salt to maintain customer appeal when sugar levels are reduced."

The London-based organization, an umbrella group representing 220 consumer groups globally, focused on products made by two of the world's largest makers of cereal for children, Nestlé SA of Vevey, Switzerland, and
Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich. The group defined children's cereals as those that feature cartoon characters on the packaging, are endorsed by celebrities popular with kids and are advertised on kids' television programming.

A sampling of 100 grams of Kellogg's Frosties Reduced Sugar cereal sold in various countries contains, on average, 25% sugar and 1.5% salt -- more salt than is normally found in potato chips.

Last year, after two advocacy groups -- the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood -- threatened to sue Kellogg for marketing sugary products to young children, Kellogg said it would reformulate certain products. For those products that it couldn't get to taste as good through reformulation, Kellogg said it would simply stop advertising to kids under the age of 12 as of 2009.

Kellogg so far has reformulated its Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies and Apple Jacks cereals. The new formulas began hitting store shelves in June.

The report also takes aim at the overall sugar content of cereals, saying that in many cases, children's cereals contain more than twice the amount considered high by the U.K.'s Food Standards Agency. Nesquik cereal, for example, is made up of 36% sugar, on average -- a higher level than what is found in an equivalent amount of ice cream, Consumers International claims.”

So let's review. When pressured to lessen the sugar content of cereal aimed at children, manufacturers (i.e. Kellogg's, who I just praised here the other day) simply added more salt, sometimes the equivelent to that in potato chips. Additionally, some cereals are as much as 36% sugar, the same amount that is found in ice cream. Who ARE these people? And why are we buying food from them?

Except for a general sense of horror, there is not much for me to add here. However, I am closing with my favorite recipe for home made granola. It is absolutely astounding. The original recipe called for brown sugar but I found that by substituting brown rice syrup I could lower the glycemic index. It might take awhile for kids to get used to the “less sweet” taste, but with dried fruit (raisins, cherries, pears) they might never miss it. Is it as sweet as Froot Loops? Nope. But it won’t make your teeth fall out either. Enjoy!

The BEST Granola EVER
Yield: about 8 cups

3 cups quick oats
2 cups oat flour (if you can't find oat flour you can easily make it yourself by grinding oats in a food processor)
3 cups coarsely chopped raw nuts and/or seeds (I usually use a mixture of almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and coconut, but use whatever tickles your fancy)
1 cup brown rice syrup or agave nectar (the original recipe called for packed brown sugar, which is delicious, but much higher on the glycemic index)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (for a vegan version, use Earth Balance Buttery Spread)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat the oven to 300F.
  • In a large bowl, combine the oats, oat flour, nuts and seeds.
  • In a microwave-safe bowl (or in a saucepan over medium heat), combine the brown rice syrup (or brown sugar), butter and water and heat just until the butter has melted and the mixture is bubbly.
  • Stir everything together until smooth, then stir in the salt, vanilla and spices.
  • Pour this mixture over the oats and nuts, stirring everything well to coat.
  • Let stand for about ten minutes.
  • Spread the mixture out on a large baking sheet, separating it into irregular clumps with your fingers, and allowing space between the clumps for the hot air to circulate.
  • Slide into the middle of the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and stir, gently breaking up the mixture into small-to-medium sized clumps.
  • Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes or so before stirring again.
  • Repeat the bake-and-stir until the mixture is a uniform golden brown and completely dry; this usually takes 1-1 1/2 hours.
  • Cool completely, then stir in any dried dried fruit you want to use.
  • Store in a covered container at room temperature.

A few notes on this recipe: This recipe is a version of The Lip Lady's Granola, published on Melissa Kronenthal's marvelous blog The Traveler's Lunchbox. She had this to say about the ingredients: "Okay, so what exactly makes this granola different? I'm no kitchen scientist, but I can point out the things that seem to have the biggest impact. One thing is the addition of oat flour, which helps the grains and nuts stick together into those much-coveted clusters. Another is the use of sugar; as much I like liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, they seem to produce a tougher, chewier granola. Finally, the right kind of oats are essential. For years I only baked with regular rolled ('old fashioned') oats because that's what recipes called for, but as soon as I switched to the smaller, thinner 'quick oats', the changes were remarkable - clusters formed, everything baked faster, and the texture became exquisitely light and crunchy. If you can't find quick oats where you live - and I have lived in a few places where oats come in one variety only - here's what I would do: pulse rolled oats in a food processor a few times to break them down to about half their original size. It won't be exactly the same but it will come close."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Extending on what you wrote Alline (and a sense of humor is ALWAYS a great addition), just read the labels folks. We *occassionally* treat the kids to an organic, earth-friendly, cereal...primary ingredient(s) SUGAR. It's disguised as evaporated cane juice, and yes it's organic, but it's still sugar. And the kids invariably want to add yet more sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, etc.

You really can't beat a plain bowl of rolled oats, with fruit (fresh or dried), plus a little milk. Sweet from complex sugars, no salt whatsoever, and easy!