If you love chocolate as much as I do (which is a lot!), say hello to your new favorite granola. Layers of chocolatey flavor infuse each bite—from the cacao powder baked into the oats to the cacao nibs and shards of dark chocolate folded in after baking. It may taste indulgent, but this granola is also strategically packed with brain-healthy nutrients like theobromine and flavonoids. When drenched in almond milk, which I highly recommend, it stays crisp down to the last cluster at the bottom of the bowl. The same just-right balance of pure maple syrup and extra-virgin olive oil that keeps the granola from getting soggy also provides healthy fats and polyphenols. Cinnamon and cardamom bring out the fruit-forward qualities of the cacao and possess impressive anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Cacao nibs are a way to enjoy chocolate as close as possible to its natural state. Raw cacao beans—the seeds of the berry of a cacao plant—are the form of chocolate with the most phytonutrients. Raw cacao beans are too bitter to consume because of their high tannin content (a brain-healthy type of polyphenol), but when fermented and roasted, the nibs are delightfully crunchy and deeply flavorful, like a cross between dark chocolate and freshly roasted coffee.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF with a rack set in the center position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
In a large bowl, stir the oats, sliced almonds, cacao powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt until evenly mixed.
In a medium bowl, whisk together maple syrup, oil, almond and vanilla extracts. Pour over the oats and stir to combine. Transfer to the baking sheet and smooth into an even layer.
Bake, rotating the sheet front to back after 20 minutes, until golden-brown throughout and darker on the edges, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Transfer to a large bowl.
When the granola is completely cool, grate the dark chocolate over the bowl using the large holes of a box grater. Add the cacao nibs and stir until evenly distributed. Add a sprinkle of flaky salt, if you like.
To store: Keep in an airtight container, away from heat and light, for up to 3 weeks.
Note: Because cacao nibs vary tremendously in price and quality, look for a natural brand from a store with high turnover. Look for “natural” cacao powder, sometimes called cocoa powder, too. Natural cacao powder retains more of its antioxidant and neuroprotective powers because it hasn’t been subjected to high-heat, a process called “Dutch-process,” (creates a less bitter, more shelf stable, yet overall less nutritious product).
Created by Annie Fenn, M.D.
Dr. Annie Fenn is a physician and chef who is dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease prevention. NeuroReserve is delighted to partner with Annie to be a part of our advisory team and also to develop brain healthy recipes for Brain Table. Annie is the founder of Brain Health Kitchen, an online resource providing innovative whole foods-based recipes and dietary recommendations that equip people to cultivate resilient, healthy, and nourished brains for themselves and their families. She’s also founder of the Brain Health Kitchen Cooking School, the only school of its kind entirely devoted to teaching how to cook through the lens of brain health. Annie is a frequent lecturer on the leading evidence regarding foods and dietary patterns that reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. She believes that cooking is the best way she knows how, as a physician, to radically improve health.