The Gourmet Shoppe at The Oberoi, Mumbai, is the place for epicures to get their hands on black and white truffles, foie gras, buffalo mozzarella and speciality pastas. Strangely, though, the store’s quickest seller is the Dorset muesli. The English brand’s five variants are flying off the shelves even before they can be placed there, says the hotel’s executive chef, Matthew Cropp. “I wasn’t too sure if I wanted muesli in the store. But it proved me wrong. It’s expensive (some variants cost almost Rs500 for 540g), but people can’t get enough of it,” he says.
A cardboard box of oats, wheat flakes with raisins, almonds and honey isn’t anyone’s idea of an exotic meal. So, it seems strange that a foie gras terrine has been snubbed in favour of a breakfast cereal in a city that’s always on the lookout for the next cutting-edge gourmet experience. But it’s not just sales of the upper-end Dorset muesli that have hit the roof. India’s muesli market leader, Bagrry’s India Ltd, sold as much muesli in 2006 and 2007 as it did from 2000 to 2005.
We’re waking up to it almost a century after Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner invented muesli in Switzerland at the start of the 20th century. With a range of traditional Indian breakfasts that are both healthy and tasty, such as parathas, idlis, dosas and upma, it’s not really surprising that we didn’t discover muesli long ago.
A few decades earlier, the subtle, chewy oats, crunchy flakes and honey-enhanced flavour of the cereal would have been dismissed as uninspired. Chef and cookbook author Tarla Dalal, who grew up on good old Indian breakfasts, thinks muesli doesn’t have any taste, can be improved with fruits and is eaten because people know it’s good for them.
Besides, it’s popular because you can just tip a carton over into a bowl. Damodar Mall, CEO of incubation and innovation at the Future Group, the parent company that owns Food Bazaar, says breakfast is the meal that is most open to experimentation and external inputs today. “The maximum amount of processed foods and brands are consumed at breakfast,” says Mall.
Muesli also wins over the other cardboard-box brekkie—cornflakes—as people are increasingly discovering that the multigrain muesli is better than single grained cornflakes. “Muesli slowly releases energy through the day, unlike cornflakes that will give you a burst of energy just after you’ve eaten,” says Shyam Bagri, chairman and managing director of Bagrry’s India Ltd.
Bangalore-based Avesthagen is trying to ensure that cereal eaters wake up to a bowlful every morning. Today, muesli only has a Rs10 crore-Rs12 crore share of the Rs200-crore branded breakfast cereal market in India. To promote their Avesta Good Earth brand of muesli (with flavours such as chocolate and elaichi), the firm is trying to educate potential consumers. “We found that even cereal-consuming households hadn’t heard of muesli,” says Sandip Dang, chief executive officer of Avesta Good Earth. The company had bought the Good Earth brand a few years ago from actor Waheeda Rehman, who started the muesli-producing company way back in 1987.
Meanwhile, the crunchy breakfast option is turning up everywhere and finding quite a few takers. At Mumbai’s Crepe Station, there are three or more variants of muesli on the breakfast menu. Restaurant manager Kishan Badei says customers who can’t stomach the George Washington (a mammoth platter of two fried eggs, bacon, sausage, crispy potatoes and more) opt for the muesli. South Mumbai’s Indigo Deli soaks it in milk and refrigerates it overnight before serving it to customers, mixed with yogurt and fruits (see sidebar). Apparently, even former US president Bill Clinton transforms his muesli into this almost pudding-like form.
New Delhi’s five-star hotels serve it up as part of their breakfast menu, with add-ons such as dragonfruit, lychees, pine nuts, figs and currants. At Machan, the coffee shop at the Taj Mahal Hotel, customers have the luxury of choosing from a range of flavoured honeys—ginger, amla or neem—to go with their muesli as part of the breakfast buffet.
There has been some remixing as well. Dalal whips up a Muesli Ice Cream (see sidebar), which she makes from home-made muesli bars. The cereal is on the menu at Has, a recently opened chain of juice bars in Mumbai. But they don’t serve it in a bowl to their morning batch of gym junkies. It’s in the form of a smoothie, powered with banana, strawberries, honey, low-fat yogurt and milk, all pulverized to a thick shake, and christened “breakie”. “It’s the perfect breakfast to go. It’s literally a meal in a cup,” says Avinash Bharwani, director of the bar.
Another muesli meal on the go is the just-launched Muesli Bar from Good Earth. You will find ingredients such as dates, raisins, almonds, cinnamon, cocoa, skimmed milk powder and soya proteins packed into the dense bar, available in three flavours. “Eat two and your 300 calories are taken care of,” says Dang.
But muesli takes care of more than your minimum calorie requirement. Oats and wheat flakes pack in the fibre and are ideal for digestive problems and weight watchers. Oats also lower high blood sugar, says nutritionist Anjali Mukerjee. “A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cancer and age-related diseases, and fresh muesli is a tasty way to start the day with one or two portions of fresh fruit,” she says. This is not counting the benefits of the nuts and dairy products that go into muesli.
If there’s one person who believes in the benefits of muesli, it’s Bagri. Bagrry’s started manufacturing muesli more than a decade ago when he realized his refined wheat flour mill wasn’t providing people with nutritional whole grain. He says the market is picking up because people have now become aware of multigrain cereals. Bagrry’s eight variants such as So Healthy, Sugar Free and Light ‘n’ Crunchy dominate shelf space in most supermarkets.
Bagri’s daughter Divya, who is the company’s vice-president of business development, says that besides being a breakfast food, muesli can be sprinkled on ice cream, spooned over muffins and cakes before baking, or simply had as an evening snack with a cuppa.
It’s also not too difficult to make your own. “Mix your choice of wholegrains such as oats, cornflakes, wheat flakes, bran, and add nuts and spices and sweeteners,” says Mukerjee. Store this dry mixture in an airtight container and eat with your preferred add-ons.
She recommends this for people who may have special dietary needs. “It gives you the option to avoid specific foods. If you are allergic to almonds, you can omit them and instead add dates, cashew, walnuts or pistachio,” she says. “But it’s not a good bet for somebody with lactose intolerance or gluten allergy.”
There’s no option like muesli if you need a healthy brekker on the double. If the mild flavour doesn’t jump-start your day, take Dalal’s advice: “Eat one chilla or paratha as well as your muesli. This gives an otherwise tasteless breakfast some masala.” Or, there’s always the George Washington.
Indigo Deli’s Muesli
25g dry fruits
25g fresh fruits
Soak oatmeal in milk overnight. Mix together the jaggery, yogurt and honey. Make sure there are no lumps of jaggery, strain if required. Add the soaked oats to the jaggery, honey and yogurt mixture. Keep it refrigerated till you serve. Cut the fruits into brunoise(finely diced into approximately 1/8-inch cubes) and roast the nuts. Add them to the muesli. Serve cold.
Tarla Dalal’s Muesli Ice Cream
For the granola bars:
1 cup crushed cornflakes
1 cup quick rolled oats
1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashew nuts), chopped
1 tbsp melon seeds (charmagaz)
1 tablespoon raisins
1 cup sugar
oil to grease
For the ice cream:
2 cups milk
1 cup milk powder
1 cup (100g) fresh cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
For the granola bars:
Lightly roast the oats, nuts and melon seeds and keep aside to cool. When cooled, mix together the cornflakes with the nuts, toasted oats, melon seeds and raisins. Add the sugar to a heavy bottomed pan and melt it over gentle heat, stirring continuously till the sugar has caramelized to a light brown. Remove from the fire, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pour this mixture onto a greased marble or stone surface. Using a large greased rolling pin, roll it out lightly to form a square of approximately 8”x8”. While it is still warm, cut out rectangular bars of 1”x4”. Let it cool, crush into small pieces and keep aside.
For the ice cream:
Combine all the ingredients and whisk well till the sugar dissolves. Pour into a shallow container. Cover and freeze till it is semi-set. Churn in a blender till all the ice crystals break down and transfer into a shallow container. Add the crushed granola bars and mix lightly. Transfer into a shallow container, cover and freeze till set. Scoop and serve.
Arjun Razdan contributed to this article