Lactic acid bacteria are a group of bacteria including the genus Lactobacilli and others, who can tolerate a lower pH than other bacteria. They occur naturally on food and in your gut where they help you digest food. They eat up sugars and produce lactic acid. "Probiotic" foods contain certain species of lactic acid bacteria intended to aid digestion and promote healthy "gut microflora."
In steps 4 and 5 I'll explain why we're fermenting and dehydrating as opposed to normal granola which is baked.
For more info on all kinds of fermented food and drink, I recommend the book "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz.
Step 1: Ingredients
Here's what I'm using:
rolled oats - Oat groats that have been rolled flat. Rolled oats are sometimes lightly steamed or baked to pasteurize them, and often have the nutritious bran removed. Since I'm using organic Amish-grown oats, I trust that nothing too weird has been done to them. Quick oats will work fine as well.
raw almonds - Use whatever nuts you like. They don't have to be raw.
raw sunflower seeds
blackstrap molasses - Molasses is the byproduct of extracting sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. There is light, dark, and blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap is the one with the most sugar removed, so it has the highest amount of vitamins and minerals relative to the sugar content. I'm only putting in a spoonful. I think the molasses will be a good food for the bacteria and help it get started fermenting, but that's just a feeling.
stevia - An herb that's really sweet but doesn't contain sugar or calories. I haven't tried it in granola but I like in other stuff.
cinnamon - not in the picture
Other ingredients you might consider:
fruit - dried or fresh. I bet blueberries would be good.
oat bran - this would replace nutrients lost in the removal of the bran from the rolled oats.
Step 2: Smash Nuts, Grind Flax
For the almonds, I'm smashing them into largish chunks inside a bag with a hammer.
I always grind up flax, because whole flax seeds will pass right through you without giving you any nutrition. I use a small coffee grinder. You can also get flax meal (they grind up the flax for you and hike up the price).
I'll leave the sunflower and sesame seeds whole.
Step 3: Mix It Up, Add Water
Stir it up.
Add water - Use non-chlorinated water, because it will kill the bacteria that we are trying to promote. I used tap water that I set out in a bowl for a day to let the chlorine evaporate out. Maybe you have some better water.
Pour water over the dry ingredients until it just covers the surface. In a few hours the oats, nuts, and seeds will absorb some of the water and expand, so the water will not cover the surface anymore. We want a consistency of a thick oatmeal (it basically is just thick oatmeal).
Cover the container with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
Optional - You could add a spoonful or two of active yogurt or soy yogurt to the mix. This would introduce those specific bacteria strains. I think it's unnecessary because the bacteria naturally present on the food and in the environment will do the job, and they are much more diverse.
Step 4: Ferment
As this stuff soaks, Lactobacilli and other lactic acid bacteria will consume sugars and starches producing lactic acid, lowering the pH of the mixture. This acid environment is inhospitable to the bacteria that cause spoilage and food poisoning.
You'll want to let it soak for at least 24 hours, or let it go for as long as a week (maybe longer, but I'm not sure what will happen to it). The longer you let it ferment, the more acidic it becomes and the more sour it tastes. It will begin to smell sour, too. Bubbles may form, because Lactobacilli also create CO2 as a waste product.
You may want to stir up the mixture every day or so, mainly so the stuff on the top doesn't get dry.
At any point along the way, you can just eat this stuff as oatmeal. In fact this is the same way I make oatmeal, I just don't dehydrate it.
-Grains, nuts, and seeds contain phytic acid, a form of phosphate that is not bioavailable to humans (we can't absorb it). Additionally, phytic acid binds up minerals like magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc, and the vitamin niacin. Because of this it is considered an "anti-nutrient." Lactobacilli contain the enzyme phytase which breaks down phytic acid, freeing up nutrients so we can absorb them. According to Wikipedia, lactofermentation is more effective than cooking at removing phytic acid.
-Nuts contain enzyme inhibitors which prevent them from sprouting in adverse conditions (dryness). If eaten in great quantity, this can supposedly strain your digestive system. Soaking the nuts neutralizes the enzyme inhibitor (the nut thinks it's getting rained on).
-Starches are broken down into simple sugars and into lactic acid which are more digestible. It's the same thing that happens in your digestive tract, but this way we get it started in a jar first.
-There's a ton more info out there about why lactofermented food is good for you, but no need to list it all here.
-Lactic acid preserves food. I would expect our end product to stay good for a really long time, but of course I don't know because I always eat them pretty fast (I guess baked granola lasts plenty long as well).
-I like the taste better, you might not.
Step 5: Put the Batter on the Dehydrator
Once you've decided that it's fermented enough, stir it up so the consistency is even, then spoon globs of it onto the dehydrator trays. If you don't have a dehydrator, or even if you do, it would be sweet to build a solar dehydrator. It looks pretty easy to make.
Last time I made this stuff, the dried granola stuck to the trays a bit, so on one tray I'm spooning the glop onto wax paper and poking some holes to let the air circulate. We'll see if that helps. I suppose a nicer dehydrator with Teflex sheets would be ideal for this.
If you wanted, you could just put a portion of the glop on the dehydrator and let the rest ferment longer. You could put more on each day, so you could taste how it changes as the fermentation progresses.
If you were to bake this instead of dehydrating it, it would still be more nutritious and digestible than its unfermented counterpart, but by dehydrating it we get all the benefits that come with not cooking food. Cooking destroys digestive enzymes, adds carcinogens, and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah.
Step 6: Done
The end product is crunchy and tasty. The raisins retained their chewiness and sweetness which is good. This is good travel food. I'll take some on a bike trip. It should keep pretty long, but again I haven't waited long enough to find out.
I would assume that most of the bacteria die without having moisture, so I would hesitate to call this food "probiotic."
-I made one batch with a mixture of rye flakes and oats. It came out tasting like rye bread. I'd like to try that again, adding caraway seeds, onion, and garlic.
-Maybe it could be done with ground up oat groats.
-I'm sure it could be done with several other grains.