Our New Favorite Granola Would Be Nothing Without This Japanese Spice Blend

May 11, 2018

Crunchy and crumbly and buttery—could be a lot of things. Say, crackers. Or breadcrumbs. Or granola. The big difference, of course, is sweetness. Crackers and breadcrumbs are salty. Granola is sweet.

Or is it?

If we’ve hung out before, you know that I can’t help but make sweet things savory. I love shaking chili powder onto cold melon. Adding black pepper to pear crisps. Stirring hot sauce into honey.

Crispy seaweed, so many sesame seeds, and a few surprise chili flakes. Photo by Ty Mecham

It was only a matter of time before granola was next. While you still need some sugar or syrupy something-something—otherwise the oats would never clump into clusters—there are a couple workarounds: 1) Lower the amount and add egg white, which acts as a binder. 2) Use a less, well, sweet sweetener. My favorite: mellow brown rice syrup.

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After you’ve adjusted the sweetness, all that’s left to do is have fun. Yes, fun! Add all to taste: dry ingredients with the dry and wet with the wet. Bake until ultra-toasty, cool completely, then sprinkle onto salads and soups—or, my favorite, eat by the palmful as an afternoon snack. Here are some ideas to get started (and a recipe!):


  • Increase the amount of salt!
  • Instead of kosher, use a crunchy, flaky salt, such as Maldon.
  • Stir soy sauce or miso into your wet ingredients.
  • Add crushed snacks, like potato chips or pretzels.


  • Freshly ground black (or white!) pepper: so much of it.
  • Ground spices, like cayenne, mustard, chili powder, hot paprika, or gochugaru.
  • Add your favorite hot sauce to the wet ingredients.
  • Or a spicy condiment, from harissa to curry paste.
Afternoon snacks, get at me. Photo by Ty Mecham


  • Call in the other kind of spicy: seeds, like fennel or mustard; ground, like cumin or turmeric; or blends, like berbere or za’atar.
  • Replace mellow canola with statement fats, like browned butter, olive oil, or sesame oil. Even lard or schmaltz!
  • Shake on some Worcestershire. Lots.
  • Get nutty and seedy. More is better here.
  • Mince lil’ fishes, like anchovies, or cured meats, like pepperoni.
  • Cheese! Low-moisture, hard ones, like parm or pecorino.

Starter Packs

  • Salt and Pepper: brown butter + maple syrup + flaky salt + all the black pepper
  • Everything Bagel: olive oil + brown rice syrup + sunflower seeds + sesame seeds + poppy seeds + onion flakes + garlic flakes + coarse salt
  • For Pasta, Forever Ago: olive oil + honey + walnuts + garlic + anchovies

What combo would you make? Share your ideas in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.