Monday, November 1, 2010

Oat cuisine: how much would you pay for muesli?

Not long ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she had just spent $90 buying 3kg of muesli (granola) online. I was more than a bit stunned- why did she need to buy muesli online when there are heaps of mueslis on the shelves at the supermarket? And what did they put in $30-a-kilo muesli that wasn't in my apparently adequate under-$5-a-kilo muesli from Aldi?

After a quick Google, I discovered that in Australia there are almost as many muesli varieties available online as there are on a given supermarket's shelves. There are even companies that make custom muesli mixes to order (eg here, here and here...). Evidently many Australians take their breakfast seriously!

It got me thinking- what makes muesli taste good? And more importantly, does muesli become better the more you spend on it? And so my Great Muesli Taste Test evolved.

A few tentative enquiries to friends and cousins revealed that I could assemble a crew of curious tasters (Thanks!). A trip to the supermarket got me a range of mueslis that all fitted the "natural muesli" description, and a few enquiries brought me three donations of gourmet muesli (This Growing Life's budget doesn't stretch to minimum-spend-$75 purchases!) And an evening in front of Four Corners game me time to de-identify my ten candidates into ziplock bags.

The tasters were asked to give each muesli a rating from a standardised scale where, for example, 0= "This was so bad I couldn't eat it" , 4="I didn't really like this muesli but I would buy it if the price were right", 9="this muesli is great and I would definitely buy it", etc. They were also asked to specify anything they particularly liked or disliked about the mueslis. The tasters ranked their anonymous muesli samples, and the results between tasters were surprisingly consistent.

Budget mueslis: Under $2/500g
Coles Smart Buy Muesli- this no-name, no-fuss muesli with sultanas, dried pineapple and banana chips didn't do much to arouse the tasters. One commented that it was surprisingly fruity for something that looked grey, while the "evil banana" sealed its fate for two of the five tasters. Average score 5.2.

Golden Vale (Aldi) Fruit and Nut Muesli- this is my every day muesli, but the tasters found it bland, boring, and were unconvinced by its "tropical theme". Average score 4.2.

Low cost mueslis: $2-3/500g
The Muesli Company Premium Muesli- the consensus on this muesli was summed up in the comment "lots of fruit and seeds- a nicely balanced blend". Its average score 6.8 belies its popularity, and it would have scored 7.75 (and been outright winner) if we ignore the date-hating taster's big thumbs down to its sliced dates.

Lowan Swiss Muesli- this was described as a "good basic muesli", though some objected that it was too sweet or had a strange taste. Average score 6.

Mid-range mueslis All $4.99/500g
Carman's Natural Bircher Muesli- Carman's is a brand that seems to get a lot of word of mouth promotion- I was put onto it by several enthusiasts. The tasters all enjoyed its cinnamonny flavours- a trademark Carman's aroma- though there were comments that it was too rich for every day and a bit goopy in the mouth from all its sesame seeds (denture-wearers beware!). With an average score of 7.5, it was equal most popular.

Just Organic (Aldi) Cranberry and Almond Muesli- this muesli uses finer oats than most of the others, and also stands out with a large volume of puffed wheat. The tasters' consensus was that while there was a large volume of additives, they were very limited in variety. Average score 5.8.

Specially Selected (Aldi) Continental Natural Muesli- the third competitor from the Aldi stables was the most popular with "heaps of fruit, nuts and seeds", and was only criticised for containing whole almonds ("a bit of a mouthful") and too much banana for a banana-hater. Average score 7.5.

"Premium mueslis" $10-11/500g
Whisk and Pin Leura Natural Muesli- this was easily the most visually appealing muesli, with a range of oversized chunks of dried fruit and nuts, including mango slices, whole wild figs, dried oranges and cashews. However, these impressive elements were also this muesli's downfall, with it being declared a mouthful, tough and too chewy. Our tasters were certainly keeping breakfast time practicalities in mind, and with an average score of 4.2, Whisk and Pin's muesli was the shock loser of the night (equal with Golden Vale).

Willow and Stick Natural Muesli- this gourmet muesli was repeatedly praised for its fruit and nut mix, and cinnamon flavour, though there were less favourable comments related to its fruit being a mouthful and it being a bit rich. Still, with an average score of 7.2, it was joint runner up in the popularity stakes.

Brookfarm Natural Macadamia Muesli- our tasters liked the macadamias and cranberries, but criticised this muesli for being soft, flaky, sweet and rich. With an average score of 7.2, it was a close second-favourite.

Putting this information graphically to show the spread of scores for each sample:
The budget mueslis were the worst performing category, but mueslis from the other price ranges fared equivalently. The two most popular mueslis overall were the mid-range Carman's and Specially Selected, ranking just ahead of Willow and Stick and Brookfarm, all of which received universally positive rankings. Interestingly, though, Carman's and Brookfarm both received comments along the lines of "nice, but too rich for every day". The rest of the mueslis had their scores split between the "like and dislike".

The surprising dropout of the day was the premium muesli from Whisk and Pin. It was certainly the best looking product, with large chunks of dried mango, whole dried figs and wedges of dried orange. But these impressive inclusions were Whisk and Pin's downfall, with the consensus being that it was too hard to eat.

So what do I conclude about muesli?
Firstly, if our results are anything to go by, while budget (<$2/500g) mueslis skimp on taste, above this price range there is little to be gained in the pure taste by paying more. The two mueslis topping the overall scores were from the mid-range Carman's and Specially Selected, scraping ahead of two of the three premium mueslis, Willow and Stick and Brookfarm.

Of course, average scores don't show whether a muesli was liked by all but one of the tasters (as was the case for The Muesli Company's Premium Muesli). The highest individual score of 9, meaning "this muesli is great and I would definitely buy it" was awarded by two different testers, to two mueslis- Willow and Stick Natural Muesli and The Muesli Company's Premium Muesli.

Of course, our results also don't say anything about the value of factors other than taste, like organic ingredients or appearance. But at the end of the day, I don't feel inclined to rush out to shop online for gourmet muesli. The mix-your-own mueslis sound like a fun gift, and I may yet venture into the mid-range priced mueslis, but that will do me.

What about you? What is your favourite muesli, and would you shell out online for breakfast?

Declaration: mueslis from Whisk and Pin, Willow and Stick and Brookfarm were generously donated by the companies on request.


ilipilli said...

You crack me up!!

We have been a Carman's family for a while now. Bircher muesli with plain Gippsland Dairy organic yoghurt (unsweetened) and some mango or strawberries, or banana and maple syrup... yum! Has done us every morning for years. I usually pack mine up at home and eat it an hour later at work and it's even better by then.

_vTg_ said...

LOL- it was fun!

Wow at being organised enough to take breakfast *and* lunch each day- even lunch for one is an effort for me! I do like the idea of soaked-in-yoghurt bircher, though...

Maxabella said...

I don't know whether to hug you or back away slowly... I think I'll go with the hug - what a brilliant job, vtg!!!

We do Sunsol Fruity mixed with Sunsol Original and extra pepitas, pineapple, apricots and flax seed from the pantry. See, I'm always about the 'buy and customise' approach to living. Delish! x

Jamie said...

I love my museli all soggy! I often put plain oats, milk, vanilla yoghurt and sultanas in a bowl to soak while i take the kids to school. When I get home i add frozen blueberries. Bliss!

Another variation I love is oats, milk and vanilla yoghurt soaked. Then add grated green apple and linseeds.

_vTg_ said...

Thanks M- I tried buy and customize for the cheapo Aldi muesli (after realising it was simpler than making my own mix)- with a dash of cinnamon, a few flax seeds and a bit more fruit it was pretty good. When I remember I still throw in the cinnamon, but otherwise the other consumers in the house didn't mind. Now the boys have deconstructed it and we just buy extra dried pineapple ("yellow dings") and pawpaw ("red dings") and throw it wherever it's needed...

Anonymous said...

I used to love muesli, but as a result of my efforts to cut down on sugar for the whole family, I find that my taste has changed and most of the commercial brands are too sweet for me now. I think the kids still love sweet stuff, but that's too bad, they'll just have to eat what I eat. So we make our own bircher muesli now.

Anonymous said...

After living in muesli paradise (Germany) as a child, i went through a decade of strange looks from people who consider a bowl of milk coffee with a cookie (croissants on the weekend) an appropriate 'meal' to start the day (France)
Yes, they made the 'bird food' joke..
I say the better Aldi mueslis are good value for taste and believe they go ok nutrition wise too.
i don't think spending 90$ on 3kgs of muesli automatically makes you a better person but any muesli is better than what Kelloggs and Co. are pushing on us!
But of course, my 5yo isn't too keen on the healthy crisps. i hope he gets there though, he likes muesli bars (altho he won't get any for his 'nut-free' future school in the lunchbox anymore.. hmm)

Be A Fun Mum said...

So interesting!! 90 bucks... far out. But I do like a particular type of muesli now I come to think of it.

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