High Fructose corn syrup is in just about everything these days! One of the major benefits from starting to make our own snacks is the removal of this product from our daily consumption. As much as I knew that high fructose corn syrup probably wasn't the greatest thing for us to be eating, the effects of this product were virtually unknown to me until I began looking for ways to make our snacks at home.
When we first started removing packaged products, granola bars were one of the first to go. They were an easy product to just stop buying without impacting the daily goings on of our household. Both Jules and the Spicy Barracuda love a quick snack and the accessibility of granola bars so I had to find an equivalent substitute.
What is one of the main ingredients in most all store bought granola bars? High Fructose Corn Syrup. It just plain tastes good! However, high fructose corn syrup makes up nearly half of the sweeteners used in processed foods and is found in everything from sodas and fruit juice to crackers and cereal. Due to being six times sweeter than cane sugar and made from highly subsidized corn, high fructose corn syrup is significantly cheaper for commercial companies to use.
The catch is our body does not process high fructose corn syrup in the same way as sugar. Fructose is processed in our liver, and once there it triggers the liver's release of fat cells, called triglycerides. High triglycerides put us at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and for putting on - and keeping on - weight. Scientists have also shown that the sweetener doesn't send the same "I'm full" message to the brain as happens when we consume sugar. This adds to the amount of unnecessary sugary snacks we consume.
Statistics and Information acquired from Grub:
Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry
Honestly, the first batch of granola bars were a bit of a disaster. They were uber crunchy, rock hard, crumbly things that the Barracuda diligently ate. He exclaimed their greatness as he does most anything Mommy makes (except broccoli slaw) in sentimental loyalty, but I knew the truth. Jules is not quite as humoring as the Barracuda and wouldn't go near them at all! A revision was necessary and quick!
After much internet research and dozens of recipes, I began to look much more at what they were doing, rather than what they were made out of. I know the ingredients our family likes, it was how to combine them so that the granola bars wouldn't be incredibly crunchy and would still stick together. It appeared to be a very simple ratio of sweet chewy goo to dry ingredients. Another attempt and the results were significantly different. Jules loves them now and the Barracuda has a hard time deciding between granola bars and his favorite breakfast of apple cinnamon oatmeal.
The dry ingredients don't matter. It is completely up to the tastes of your particular family. We like oatmeal, rice krispies, peanuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, and rough chopped mixed nuts. Other great add ins are wheat germ, flax seeds, coconut, and pumpkin seeds. This is a great way to get rid of odds and ends left in your pantry! The most helpful thing I have found is bulk trail mixes which come in tons of different varieties. You can find them with chocolate pieces or beloved M&M's, fruit and nut bits (our favorite so far) , salty pretzel combinations, and all sorts of stuff. They usually have a wide range and balanced variety of tasty snackworthy ingredients. These are wonderful when it comes to the flavored part of the granola because you don't need much of each ingredient just a balance of lots of little stuff. The trail mix also helps with variety if your family winds up loving this recipe as much as mine. We usually get about 3 cups of the trail mix and that will last for 3 batches of granola bars. The cost varies depending on which mix you get, but normally it is between 2-5 dollars a pound.
As much as possible, I get the mixed nuts/peanuts/oatmeal without roasting, oil, or salt. It isn't necessary for this recipe because the ingredients are covered in sticky sweet goo which overpowers everything else. If you are totally a salt fiend go ahead, but my guys don't miss it.
The ratio I've found to work is 7 1/2 cups dry ingredients to 2 1/2 sticky goo. These are approximates; it really won't matter if they aren't exact.
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups rice krispies
1 cup peanuts
1 cup steel cut oatmeal
1 cup trail mix
2 Tblspns Cinnamon
Delicious Sweet Goo Ingredients
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 stick butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
The honey and peanut butter can be the super cheap stuff. The flavor isn't impaired at all and it is significantly more cost effective. They are designed to bind the bars together, but allow enough oil for them to not become a granola brick.
Thoroughly mix your dry ingredients together in a gynormous bowl and set aside. (A clear Pyrex bowl works wonders because you can see through on all sides.) On low to medium heat combine brown sugar, honey, butter, and peanut butter in a sauce pan. Stirring with a wooden spoon I found worked the best, though a whisk would work too if you don't mind creating more dishes to clean. Make sure the heat is high enough for the ingredients to begin to melt together, but not so high it scorches them. You are basically trying to combine all of these ingredients together to become a very sticky caramel-like substance.
When the gooey stuff is well melted and combined (about 5 minutes) and beginning to bubble slightly, remove from heat and dump into the bowl of dry ingredients using the wooden spoon to scrape as much from the pan as possible. Immediately put dish soap and water into the sauce pan to soak. (The first time I made the mistake of allowing the goo to dry in the pan....It wasn't pretty or easy to remove. Lots of soaking, lots of scrubbing.) Mix the dry ingredients and goo together really well, making sure there aren't any pockets where the dry ingredients are hiding. This is why the clear bowl is so helpful.
Line an 11 x 13 pan with parchment paper, leaving a small amount of overlap so you can pull up on the parchment to remove the granola bars. Be sure to also grease the parchment; they are virtually impossible to get out without this! Firmly press the granola goo mixture it into the pan. I used large ziplog bags as gloves to smash the granola goo as tightly as possible into the bottom and corners of the pan. Let the pan sit for 4-6 hours or until the granola has completely cooled! I usually come back to them a couple of times to smush them down firmly again. The smushing is how they stay together, but are still chewy. When they are totally cooled, pull up on the parchment to remove the granola bars in one large granola brick.
Press down firmly with a knife to cut the brick into bars. Don't saw! They will fall apart. I put all the bars into a large ziplock and place them in the pantry. Some people wrap them individually in plastic wrap to grab and go snack.
This recipe makes one large ziploc full of granola bars, which is about how many we go through in two weeks. Sometimes, I make two pans at the same time so that I don't have to wait the 4-6 hours of cooling time twice. The heating and mixing doesn't take long at all (maybe 30 minutes?). They are a wonderful replacement for the store bought version of granola bars and I've noticed us start to eat them instead of cookies as well. You can increase or decrease the amount of sugary goo depending on how your family likes them, but I highly doubt they will miss the high fructose corn syrup!