I Made My Own Homemade Granola For A Healthier Alternative To The Grocery Store Version

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

Granola is a delicious food with several health benefits — it’s full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Also important: It’s convenient. It’s easy to just throw some granola in a bowl for breakfast or a snack. However, store-bought granola is nowhere near as healthy as it claims to be, and that’s why I finally decided to make my own.

Granola is supposed to be healthy. It’s so associated with health foods that it’s used as a slang description for hippies (e.g., “Ruby doesn’t wear deodorant, she’s too granola.”). Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite that simple.

Store-bought granola is frequently packed with sugar. Don’t believe me? In 2016, the New York Times published an article called “Why Your Granola Is Really a Dessert.”

Per that article, granola has been around since 1863. Who knew? Its original inventor, Dr. James Caleb Jackson, called it “granula” back then, and it was not sweet.

Nowadays, even many homemade granola recipes are loaded with sweeteners. These include maple syrup, honey, or, in many cases, just straight-up sugar. The high sugar content places granola in the category of cakes or donuts — a “junk food in disguise.”

Now, if you want to eat junk food for breakfast, BY ALL MEANS. I myself am addicted to chocolate and will eat it at any time of the day! Unfortunately, I’m also really sensitive to sugar, so even if I wanted to go wild and eat a few fistfuls of sweet store-bought granola for breakfast, I can’t do so without feeling horrendous soon after.

And so I ended up on the internet, searching for sugar-free granola recipes. There are a ton of them, as it turns out. You may also see them under other names, like “paleo granola” or “keto granola.”

I had a few goals in mind. A great homemade granola should be much less sweet than its commercial counterparts, but it should still be sweet enough to eat (sorry, Dr. James Caleb Jackson). It should also be crunchy, and clumpy, and flavorful.

I Frankensteined several of the recipes I found online to create my own version, and I experimented with a couple different ways to get the crunch and the clumpiness without all the sweeteners.

The result? Well, I just had it for breakfast, and it was delicious.

Homemade Granola Ingredients

Homemade Granola Ingredients
Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Every granola recipe consists of a few different types of grains, nuts, and seeds as its base. Some popular options include oats, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

I started down the bulk aisle at the grocery store and came away with oats, pecan pieces, and pumpkin seeds.

In addition to these basic ingredients, you can add other flavorful mix-ins like fruit or chocolate. I opted to add unsweetened coconut flakes, because I love me some coconut. I also used peanut butter.

Many people add dried fruit of some kind, which is a great way to add some sweetness to the recipe without adding sugar. Try chopped dates, raisins, dried cranberries, or dried blueberries. You can also skip fruit altogether if you plan to add fresh fruit to your granola when you eat it — that’s what I did!

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Also, you will have to add oil of some kind. This is what makes the granola get crisp.

I used coconut oil, because again, I love me some coconut. But you can use any oil that you like.

If you choose, you can also add sweetener of some kind, like honey or maple syrup. I skipped this step, since I prefer to just sweeten the granola a bit when I’m actually eating it. That way, I can easily control how much sugar I’m eating.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

And lastly, you’ll need salt and spices. Cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, and pumpkin spice blends are all popular options.

Homemade Granola Recipe

Homemade Granola Recipe
Courtesy of LittleThings Author

I ended up with two batches of granola in the end, each flavored a slightly different way. Neither of them contain any sweetener at all. One definitely turned out better than the other. 

I did some experimenting to see which ingredients helped the granola clump and get crispy the best, so you can follow along with me here and decide what’ll work best for you and your taste buds!

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Here’s a full list of the ingredients I used:

  • 3¼ cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup pecan pieces
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

You’ll also need a large mixing bowl and two sheet pans.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

First, I combined the oats, pecan pieces, and pumpkin seeds in a large bowl. I mixed them with my hands. Note that I left out the coconut flakes — those will go into the mix later!

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Then I melted the coconut oil in a Pyrex measuring glass — I was aiming for ⅓ cup, but I just eyeballed it, honestly. I melted it by dipping the measuring glass into a bowl of very hot water.

I added the cinnamon and vanilla to the coconut oil. I also added a pinch of salt.

This blend was for my first batch of granola: the pure coconut batch.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

While the oil was melting, I heated a couple tablespoons of peanut butter on the stove and added water until it was a nice liquid-y sauce. Again, I just eyeballed it.

This blend was for my second batch of granola, a peanut butter-coconut combo.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

I spread the oats, nuts, and seeds evenly onto two sheet pans.

At this point, I decided to do a little experiment with my two batches. My goal was simply to find out whether peanut butter or coconut oil would make for a yummier, clumpier granola, or whether they might even work better together.

For the coconut batch, I poured the coconut oil mixture over the dry ingredients and mixed it in evenly. For the peanut butter batch, I poured the peanut mixture over the dry ingredients and, again, mixed it up. And then on a third batch, I poured both coconut oil and peanut butter and mixed.

I popped both sheet pans into the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Then I mixed in the coconut flakes and put everything back in for another 10 minutes. Waiting to add the coconut flakes is a good way to ensure that they get nice and roasted but not burnt.

The Results

The Results
Courtesy of LittleThings Author

In the end, I discovered that the best granola was definitely the version with both the coconut oil and the peanut butter mixture.

The version with only peanut butter was fine, but not quite as flavorful. Meanwhile, the version with only coconut oil did not clump whatsoever.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

So I combined the two peanut butter versions into one jar, and it’s my new go-to breakfast!

Warning: This granola doesn’t have any sweetener or dried fruit, so on its own, it’s very dry. I usually eat it with fresh blueberries, cashew milk, and a drizzle of maple syrup on top, and it’s perfection — delicious and filling.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

If you prefer to build in some sweetness from the beginning, I recommend adding either chopped dates or dried cranberries to this recipe. Alternatively, you can add honey to taste to the peanut butter mixture on the stove. Honey also helps the granola clump more easily.

Courtesy of LittleThings Author

Even with maple syrup or honey on top, this granola has all of the benefits of grocery store granola — tons of fiber and nutrients and healthy fats — with just a fraction of the sugar content. And it tastes good, too. Success!