I recently held a granola tasting (as mentioned here:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/662611 ). The following are the results. To read my introductory remarks, links to producer's web sites, photos, a couple recipes, and better formatting, see the expanded version on my Slog, at http://jimleff.blogspot.com/2008/11/g...
Love Grown Foods: "Sweet Cranberry Pecan"
The most darkly-roasted granola we tried. Old-school, but awesome finesse. So rich and hearty. Surprisingly tart cranberries!
Made to Crave: "Maple Pecan Granola" (gluten free
)Toasty, and the only granola with a really long, seductive aftertaste. Another flavor-packed oily/salty/sweet granola, but not as decadent as Early Bird's. High quality nuts. One of only two granolas with serious depth.
Early Bird: "Farmhand's Choice"
This is the granola whose recipe the NY Times once published - an instant classic. It's a voluptuary experience; sweet, salty, flavor-packed, and so glisteningly greasy that it almost tastes fried! Not for the first time, the panel felt obliged to ponder how, exactly, one defines "granola". I'd like to have tasted their Aloha (mango and macadamia) and Jubilee (cherry and pistachio) flavors, both of which have their devotees, but was unable to find any.
Another deep, three-dimensional granola, this one with particularly beautiful balance between cereal and add-ins. All the latter (especially the sheets of dried coconut and terrific hit of ginger) are of exemplary quality.
Great texture, very adult, dry flavor and aroma (smells like Korean barley tea). Very crisp yet not greasy. High quality nuts - though it could use more of them.
Love Grown Foods: "Cinnamon Apple Walnut"
Has the aroma of a crusty old Vermont health food store. Classic old-school granola, slightly cloying yet ascetic. The panel loved the spicy/sweet flavor, but some found the bits of dried apple overly chewy.
Made to Crave: "Old Fashioned Granola" (gluten free)
Granola-as-Rice-Krispies-treats. Luxurious buttery aroma; refined and restrained grain flavor, optimal salty/sweet balance. This one should probably be eaten dry.
Ola!: "Vanilla Almond"
Good quality cinnamon in perfect proportion. The sweetness is equally calibrated, as is the almost subliminally salty undercurrent. Nothing fancy, but highly enjoyable.
Ola!: "Cranberry Orange Pecan"
Not as perfectly balanced as the Vanilla Almond; this one's flavor is a bit mamby-pamby, and the texture was a tad too chewy/sticky for some. Still, two tasters voted it among their top three.
Back to Nature (Madison, WI): "Sunflower And Pumpkin Seed Granola" Available at Whole Foods
True vanilla flavor, and a warmly vibrant sweetness skillfully balanced by salt and lots of earthy seeds. This old school granola, made with a knowing touch, didn't rate particularly well, but it suffered unfairly because we'd only sampled this oddball flavor - and the gripe was that it had so many seeds. I'm betting Back to Nature's more conventional flavors would have showed better.
Bakery on Main: "Extreme Fruit and Nut Granola" (Gluten Free)
Stretches the definition of granola. Really, it more resembles those squiggly, crunchy Indian snack melanges, with weirdly shaped flakes, seeds, and any number of unidentifiable add-ins. The simple sweetness and the artificial butter flavor turned off several tasters (one dismissed this as "Buttery Pebbles").
Bakery on Main: "Nutty Cranberry Maple Granola" (Gluten Free)
A bit less sweet, but still pretty whacky!
Les Blank's Granola (homemade)
Divisive! This is a phenomenally quirky granola, with tons and tons of bee pollen, and an almost overwhelmingly complex meaty flavor that delighted some and perturbed others. Unfortunately, it did not survive shipping well, and was reduced almost enitrely to powder. I think this granola would have been more widely admired if its texture was in the proper condition, though a few deemed it irredeemably bitter from the bee pollen and generally overstuffed with non-harmonious ingredients. Still, it was the favorite of one taster, who beamingly insisted that it had "utterly broke through my preconceptions of granola."
Bear Naked: "Fruit and Nut"
A classic, clean-tasting old-school granola that's not too sweet or extreme in any way. Excellent balance. No negatives, just not very interesting.
Eli Zabar: "E.A.T. Granola"
Lacks flavor and warmth, especially in the finish, and the dark-hued cereal is surprisingly short on roasted grain flavor. This, the most expensive granola, was favored by no one.
Nice aroma of quality wildflower honey, but a bit dull. One taster really disliked it, comparing it to "a stale vegan monstrosity cookie from a health food store."
Galaxy Granola: "Not Sweet Vanilla"
Good balance, but a vaguely prim, spelt-y vibe.
Galaxy Granola: "Vanilla Almond Munch"
Overpowering marzipan flavor and aroma, like Italian Christmas granola from some alternative universe. We loved the high quality little almonds.
Trader Joe's: "Pecan Praline granola"
~Raisiny, simple, little grain flavor, hard yet uncrunchy.
Note: everything's relative. The following are actually pretty good, but couldn't compare to some of the more extraordinary products. In fact, while "The Baker" was unanimously voted down, two of our panelists had long deemed them their favorite producer.
Chappaqua Crunch: "Original"
Terrific quality raisins, but the cereal's dull and rather chalky/dusty
Chappaqua Crunch: "Blueberries & Bananas"
Again, dull, chalky, and dusty...plus we really disliked the perfumed-up banana chips.
Dorset Cereals: "Fruit, Nut, and Fiber"
Dull and austere ("When I get hypertension, this is the sort of thing my doctor makes me eat," said one taster)
Raspberry Fields Forever: "Raspberry Granola"
The group agreed that this tasted like weirdly soggy hippy pie crust made with marshmallows and cod oil. Not that anyone's actually ever tasted such a thing, of course.
The Baker: "Original Pecan"
Medicinal, scorched flavor.
The Baker: "Honey Oat with Almonds"
Overly sweet and undistinguished. Didn't love the chewy texture.
ARRIVED TOO LATE TO INCLUDE
La Campagne (Milwaukee, WI)
Best chewy granola I've tried. Beautiful harmony, love the ultra-tart cranberries. Flavor like a great oatmeal cookie. Ironically, they also sell oatmeal cookies - which are merely ok!
Granola Jo (Oswego, NY)
Crumbly/chewy, and that's good because there's something about this granola's flavor, with its deep, dark, honeyed tones, that would be lost with a crunchier texture. You want to spend time slowly working on it, extracting and appreciating the wonderful balance.
Busy Bee Granola (Inverness, CA)
Unappealing soggy/soft texture, a bit over-sweetened (and the chewiness concentrates that sweetness on one's palate), and an unsubtle wallop of cinnamon.
I unfortunately couldn't get my hands on any Lizi's Granola from UK.