Take a jar, throw in some nuts, seeds, dried fruit, maybe coconut flakes or dark chocolate bits and done! Eat when hungry. So what’s all the hype about? Why has so much been written about this salmagundi of miscellany?
Well, here’s the thing - trail mix is good stuff - really nutrient dense, full of unsaturated fats from nuts, fibre from dried fruit, high on calories for that quick burst of energy and conveniently lightweight. And actually, its these very qualities that made it popular with hikers. The credit for its origin, way back in the early 1900s, goes to a Horace Sowers Kephart, American travel writer and librarian, who popularised trail mix as the ideal snack for hikers – which is also how it got its name.
Trail mix, scroggin, schmogle, gorp, student fodder, bird food, or whatever other name it is known by is not the important thing. The fact is that this healthy, delicious snack has consumers demanding more and more – it is one of the fastest growing markets in the world.
Confession time – I’m nutty about trail mix. Actually, I love all nuts and seeds with a mad passion. As kids, our Mum used to pack each of us little bags of nuts, raisins, popcorn and seeds for long car rides, plane or train trips. Our house always had an assortment of nuts – no pun intended. In the North, because of the cold winter, homes would stock up on energy releasing dried fruit and nuts. Delhi winter was all about eating roasted moong phali in the winter sun, or roasting chestnuts on a bonfire, gifting (and receiving) dried fruit Diwali boxes. Some things never change and even today, my pantry is well stocked with all kinds of dried fruit, seeds and yes…nuts!! Deconstructed trail mix, if you get my drift…
Years ago, after sampling various store-brought brands, I reasoned that since there’s really nothing much to it, I’d experiment with making trail mix at home. And I discovered that the process takes no time, and it’s actually quite exciting. And much cheaper. And you get to choose all the things you like, and leave out the things you don’t. Need any more convincing?
I’m not getting into the nutritional details, as that would depend on what exactly you put into your trail mix, but I would recommend that you use good quality ingredients it makes a huge difference to the taste and freshness.
So, for the uninitiated, what do you need for a typical trail mix?
- Nuts. Any type works well. I always use a combination, it’s healthier and it’s definitely more scrumptious. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts…whatever you like, and decide if you’d like them raw, toasted or roasted with a bit of oil.
- Seeds. Go for the larger seeds. Pumpkin and sunflower, even watermelon. The smaller seeds don’t work well as they fall through your fingers when snacking.
- Dried fruit. I personally prefer a variety of unsweetened or naturally dried fruit for texture and flavour. But if you like the sweetened variety, go for it! Dried cranberries, blueberries, pineapple, coconut, raisins, cherries, goji berries, kiwi, bananas – so much to choose from.
- Sweet and savoury additions. Whatever catches your fancy, or whatever is in your pantry - dark chocolate bits, cereal, peanut butter chips, granola bits, even gummy bears are all exciting. Or if you’re so inclined, thrown in plain or flavoured popcorn, roasted chick peas, soy beans, mini pretzels, cracker bits, oats, rice flakes or puffed wheat. Or go wild – experiment with jerky.
- Seasonings. Here’s where you can really get creative! Sweet or savoury, the magic of your trail mix is in its seasoning. Olive oil, Worcestershire Sauce, lemon salt, paprika, sea salt, cumin powder, cheese powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, nutmeg and more. The only thing to keep in mind is the sugar and salt content of your mix, and adjust your seasonings accordingly.
How much of what do you ask? This is pretty flexible, after all it’s your personal mix. I generally use a ratio of 1 cup of nuts to 2/3 cup dried fruit, ¼ cup seeds and ¼ cup sweet or savoury additions.
Here are some recipes to get you going. Remember, there are no rules!
Basic Trail Mix
1/2 cup raw cashews} You can toast these in the oven for 10 min at 350F
1/2cup raw almonds} if you prefer, but watch carefully so they don’t burn
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped 80% dark chocolate
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
Mix all of this in a big bowl and then bottle. If you want it sweeter, add 2 tsp of maple syrup or honey, spread on a baking tray to dry and then bottle.
Nut Free Trail Mix
People who have nut allergies need not feel left out, here’s a recipe that uses a variety of seeds. You may need to use a spoon while snacking, as some of the seeds are really tiny.
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup dried berry mix
2 tbsp hemp seeds
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp whole flaxseeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp maple syrup
Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine all the seeds and cinnamon together in a bowl. Drizzle the maple syrup and stir till well combined. Pour over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-13 minutes, mixing around with a spoon half way through. Remove from the oven, add the dried berries and mix. Allow to cool.
Storing trail mix
Finally, the best way of storing trail mix is in airtight glass jars or re-usable zip lock type bags. Most trail mixes last a few weeks, but some ingredients like popcorn will get soft. Don’t try making it in bulk, and since it’s so easy, making smaller batches works best.
If you’re in a hot climate and there are chances of the chocolate melting, store your trail mix in the fridge, like I do in Delhi summers.
Hope you have super fun making your own trail mix, and don’t forget to share your recipes!!