The early bird gets the worm — and also the granola. If my alarm is set for any time before 8 a.m., I am rewarding myself with a bowl of the crunchy, sweet stuff.
But not all granola is created equal. There are the classic oat and honey combos that we often crave, but also creative iterations with flavors that rival those found in a local bakery.
During a recent trip to Australia, I hit up famed Singaporean pastry chef Janice Wong’s 2am:dessertbar at the brand new W Sydney. They offer a six-course dessert tasting menu with cocktail pairings and, to my absolute delight, one of the first dishes was an oat-heavy panna cotta with oat milk ice cream — an elevated nod to my favorite breakfast treat.
“I wanted to curate a menu that was unique, creative and unexpected,” Wong shares after I asked her about the innovative dining experience. “The Bubble (oat) dish is one example of this. It was specifically designed to be vegan-friendly, and using oats has the added benefit of providing texture and flavor in a premium way.”
While I can’t nosh on gourmet desserts every day (womp, womp), I certainly can find bags of granola with more exciting ingredients. That said, unironically, Wong advises shoppers to keep sugar content in mind while searching for the perfect option.
“Look for the quality of ingredients,” she suggests. “Some dried fruits are very sugary, so I look for (less sugary) ingredients such as dried blueberries, wolfberries and huckleberries.”
Whether you’re snacking on granola straight out of the bag, eating it like cereal with milk or using it to top an aforementioned panna cotta, one thing’s for certain: It’s a product worth having on hand 24/7. So I fielded recommendations from food industry experts and bought an array of grocery store options to sample. Here’s the best of the best.
Best Overall: Nature Valley Oats and Honey Crunchy Granola
Gone are the days of opening a Nature Valley granola bar and having to hire a cleaning service to pick up every last crumb. The familiar flavors of this iconic snack can be found in the company’s small but mighty line of granolas. Of course, O.G. oats and honey is the most recognizable (and arguably the most celebrated) with a harmonious balance of sweet and salty that makes it the perfect bite. But don’t shy away from trying their dark chocolate or cinnamon varieties, which have also earned rave reviews from Nature Valley’s most devoted fans.
Best Budget: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola
At less than $4 a bag, this peanut butter cup-inspired blend will certainly become a pantry staple. But it’s coming from Trader Joe’s, so don’t bank on the flavor sticking around for too long. I haven’t seen my beloved bag of vanilla almond granola on shelves for a while and am convinced that it’s now found a permanent home in a retired grocery store items graveyard. RIP.
Best Gourmet: Michele’s Granola Lemon Pistachio
I never thought a tangy granola was what I lacked in my snack arsenal until I stumbled across this lemon pistachio variety from Michele’s Granola. It’s a perfect summer indulgence to brighten parfaits or top lemon-poppy seed pound cake, but my preferred noshing style is straight from the bag, poolside and with a glass of ice-cold lemonade. I am a self-proclaimed “basic,” after all.
Best Chocolate: Nature’s Path Love Crunch Dark Chocolate and Red Berries
This tastes like a chocolate-covered strawberry, but in granola form. And with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it may just be my preferred dessert option … if I had a significant other to gift it to me, of course. But since he is nonexistent, there is no better time to treat myself and fall in love with my one true soulmate: Nature’s Path granola, apparently.
Best Innovative: Good & Gather Vanilla Confetti Granola
Good & Gather has found a way to incorporate the flavors of classic desserts like strawberry shortcake, salted caramel and cookies and cream into its robust line of granola, but its vanilla confetti takes the birthday cake — literally. Chock-full of rainbow sprinkles and vanilla, it will remind you so much of Funfetti frosting that you’ll do a little happy dance as you eat it.
Best Grain-Free: NuTrail Cinnamon Pecan Nut Granola
Grains and sugar? Don’t need ‘em. Or at least that’s what you’ll be thinking as you scarf down this cinnamon pecan recipe from NuTrail. Boasting sunflower and pumpkin seeds, coconut, almonds, pecans and a touch of cinnamon and salt, it’s the perfect topper for yogurt, smoothies or ice cream if you’re pining for something a bit more decadent.
Best Healthyish: KIND Healthy Grains Raspberry Granola with Chia Seeds (Set of 3)
It has “healthy” in the name, so it must be healthy, right? Right. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves to feel better about most eating choices. Luckily, KIND delivers with a fiber-heavy, lower-sugar granola that touts five supergrains (oats, millet, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa), as well as potassium-filled raspberries and heart-friendly chia seeds. And like Michele’s lemon-pistachio offering, it’s the subtle tartness that keeps customers coming back for more.
If there’s one fruit that is most welcomed at my breakfast table, it’s the ever-so-powerful (and Janice Wong-approved!) blueberry. The fiber-packed spheres provide me with the energy boost I need to conquer the day and not crash by lunchtime. So it comes as no surprise that Purely Elizabeth knocked it out of the park — er, bowl — by adding hemp, coconut sugar, sunflower seeds, puffed amaranth, quinoa flakes and chia seeds to create this complexly delicious blend that tops most granola “best of” lists.
Best Classic: Bob’s Red Mill Classic Granola
Bob proves that a no-frills, vanilla-forward, oat-exclusive granola never goes out of style. It’s also the most versatile of the bunch and can be used to top baked goods or served with your favorite milk or milk alternative. Good on you, Bob, for always delivering in taste, price and ingredient simplicity. Never change.