The best muesli is homemade: it’s cheaper, healthier and it has precisely the amount of the type of fruit and nut you like.
Muesli is about 120 years old. It was created by Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss physician, to promote healthy diet amongst patients in his hospital. That’s the first muesli myth knocked on the head: ‘Bircher’ is not a type of muesli. It is sometimes, and was originally, called Bircher muesli for its inventor.
It did not in any way start its life as an oats breakfast dish. Dr Bircher called it Apfeldiätspeise – apple diet food – because it consisted of a couple of small apples, core and all, chopped up and mixed with one tablespoonful each of oats, nuts, condensed milk and lemon juice.
Even though I’m not sure about the apple core, I think it sounds rather tasty. It wasn’t served only at breakfast either – Dr B’s patients would have his Speise as an appetiser before every meal.
The Speise subsequently morphed into muesli, from Old German Mues meaning mush or purée. Which suggests that those who maintain Bircher muesli was the original overnight oats, might be onto something. If Bircher’s recipe was prepared overnight, it would have certainly turned mushy in the morning.
These days anything goes: commercial muesli, apart from being expensive for what it is, can contain all kinds of dried fruit, plenty of nuts, seeds, bran, cherries, berries and even chocolate.
With or without sugar, gluten free or not, with the kinds of cereals Dr Bircher had never ever heard of, it is commonly consumed with milk, yoghurt, their respective non-dairy alternatives, or juice.
Except for The Weather Man who eats his dry.
Why make muesli at home?
Why should you want to make it instead of grabbing a box off the supermarket shelf? One reason is above: it is relatively expensive.
A 500g box of a good quality brand costs about £3.50 while rolled oats are 90p for the same amount. Dried fruit and nuts marginally add to the price, but still, making a tub of muesli at home is enormous value and a saving.
Secondly, you will know exactly what goes into it. Alpen Original boasts to contain 100% natural ingredients but there is sugar, skimmed milk powder, milk whey powder and salt in the ingredients list.
When you make it at home, not only will you skip the salt, sugar and whey (WTF is it anyway?), but you can also make it exactly to your taste. Hate seeds? Omit them. Love variety? Make it a mix of different cereals.
On top of that, it’s the easiest thing to prepare and takes literally a minute if you don’t need or want to chop the nuts and apricots. Far quicker than making your own granola which, incidentally, is nothing else than toasted muesli.
I like mine with yoghurt and sometimes I prepare it the night before, but I don’t mix it all up – I let the yoghurt sit on top of the muesli only to be stirred together in the morning. Even if the original was a mush, I prefer a crunch to sogginess.
What proportions of oats to fruit in muesli?
My recipe is contemporary, with an assortment of seeds, fruit and even some citrus peel. All it takes is mix it all with cereal flakes. But how much fruit to nuts to oats?
I know some people maintain there can never be too many raisins in hot cross buns but this is supposed to be a healthy, balanced breakfast, without a sugar overload (albeit naturally occurring). I think a good ratio is:
By volume: 4 parts cereal flakes to 1 part dried fruit to 1-2 parts nuts and seeds
By weight: 400g cereal, 180g nuts and seeds and 140g dried fruit
The difference obviously comes from nuts and fruit being heavier than cereal.
A little bit of effort made to toast the nuts is completely worth it, as toasted nuts taste incomparably better. But if you’re in a rush or can’t be bothered, add them raw.
And I wholly encourage you to make like Dr Bircher ordered and chop up some fresh fruit into your bowl of homemade muesli.
More breakfast recipes
Nothing like brioche for an indulgent breakfast. This one is with plums and a cinnamon crumble topping.
If you prefer your breakfast in a liquid form, here’s an oats and banana smoothie with chia seeds.
Porridge doesn’t have to be oats: hulled millet is as delicious, especially with honey.
More oats recipes
Oats and seeds together also make everyone’s favourite savoury biscuits: oatcakes.
Porridge bread made with overnight soaked oats and seeds is tender and mildly sweet. And it’s easy to make.
Baked buttermilk oatmeal is basically baked porridge, with a lick of your favourite jam at the bottom of the dish.