The Better Breakfast Cereal: Bircher Muesli
My mom, like many moms, went through a lot of health-food phases, and one that I liked was her Bircher Muesli phase. It was basically this bagged, untoasted cereal blend full of oats, nuts, and some dried fruit, and she would soak it overnight in milk and yogurt. It had an awesome creamy, thick, kind of … for lack of a better word … slimy (did I really just use “slimy” as a positive adjective?!) texture to it, and I loved it. But that phase eventually ended, and I kind of forgot about it. Until about a year or two ago, actually. I had just come across the word “phytic acid” and started my own mom-health-food phase where my nutrition world was thrown upside down, I panicked, rampaged through my pantry and fridge and threw stuff away, cried to my husband that I was slowly killing our children, and curled up in the fetal position in the middle of my kitchen.
So what in the world is this phytic acid that would evoke such a partially fictious, dramatic response? Short answer, it’s “an indigestible, organic form of phosphorus that is found in grains and oil seeds“. Not only is phytic acid indigestible, it prevents the absorption of other nutrients. And it’s in all of your favorite whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. But it’s ok, you don’t have to go curl up into the fetal position and cry and whatever else you are so tempted to leave your computer to do, because:
- phytic acid is *mostly* removeable, and
- I have a first-baby-step solution for you! And it goes back to my mom and her Bircher Muesli.
First thing you should know, not all Muesli are created equal. It’s evolved into two styles: your standard breakfast cereal, served dry with some milk or yogurt (think of it as a raw granola, or sorts) and the original recipe developed by Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner, which is a soaked cereal. One thing to note is that his portion size was very little soaked muesli to a LOT of fruit. And I recommend eating it that way. When grocery shopping, focus on fresh, in-season fruit to top this super filling breakfast.
Now here’s the important part: proper soaking removes phytic acid. Unfortunately not all, but a lot. There are different ways to remove phytic acid from a grain, seed, nut, or legume, but the most effective methods vary, and some are complex. The simplest method is soaking overnight (or even up to 24 hours) in an acidic medium. The ratio is about 1 cup water to 2 tablespoons acid. Freshly squeezed lemon or lime are ideal. Calcium-rich acids (such as yogurt, whey, kefir) actually inhibit the break down of phytic acid, so don’t use them to soak, but you can definitely add them later when you’re ready to eat.
I like to add chia seeds to my Bircher Muesli to bump up the nutritional content, and an added bonus, chia seeds give it a pudding-like texture that I find really pleasant. The interesting thing about chia seeds is that when introduced to a liquid, they create a gel around themselves. This special trait aids in digestion, (and sorry for the gross image) working like a squeegee on your insides. Now you’d think that all of this sounds too health-freaky and frankly, the sliminess you’re imagining is probably grossing you out. But you’d be surprised at the non-sliminess. Think more “jell-o” and less snot. They are a super seed, packed with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese, helps control cholesterol and regulates blood sugar. Ounce for ounce, they’re one of the highest sources of omega-3’s you can find. All in these teeny tiny seeds that we used to use to grow green hair on terra cotta animals back in the 90’s. (did you do that? Am I the only kid that wanted a chia pet?)
Regardless of your 90’s obsession, go soak yourself some Bircher Muesli and you’ll thank yourself.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- 1/4 other nuts and seeds (such as sunflower seeds, chopped almonds, walnuts, etc) optional
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
- diced fruit (such as apples, pineapple, mango, any stone fruit, etc)
- heavy cream, milk, or coconut milk, optional
- sweetener of choice (pure maple syrup, raw honey, and coconut palm sugar are my favorites)
- Combine oats, chia seeds, other nuts and seeds if using, water, and lemon or lime juice in a lidded container and stir to combine. Let sit overnight, preferably at least 8 hours, in the refrigerator.
- In the morning, Divide among bowls and serve with toppings of choice.
- Though oats are naturally gluten-free, harvesting and processing can lead to cross-contamination with gluten, so make sure to buy certified gluten free oats if serving someone with a gluten sensitivity.