Despite being a big fan of honey slathered on toast (as I’m sure you can imagine), muesli (slathered with honey) is probably my favorite way to start the day. I was thinking recently that I didn’t know how muesli came to be a staple on the Australian breakfast table: where did it come from and what is its history? Little did I know, this magical breakfast dish has an unusual past.
Muesli is over 100 years old, introduced into hospitals in around 1900 by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner. Over his career, Bircher-Benner realised that patients needed a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables. He saw this as an essential part of therapy and recovery. Because of this, the doctor devised a dish that could be served with a lot of apples! Muesli was, therefore, called the “apple diet dish” or Apfeldiätspeise. The muesli itself would carry the fresh fruit, and was inspired by a humble meal he and his wife had once eaten whilst hiking in the Swiss Alps. This original recipe was simply a small amount of oat flakes and water with chopped apples, lemon juice, condensed milk or cream, honey and chopped nuts.
The name “muesli” appeared later, and derives from the German word meaning “puree”. The first commercial muesli originated in Switzerland in the 1950s. The story goes that a baby-food company, Somalon, was struggling financially. They contacted the Bircher family and received permission to manufacture a product that we still know today as Birchermüesli. The original Bircher muesli was soaked overnight with water and lemon juice, and then eaten with yoghurt. The product was launched in 1959 and within a year had been exported to Germany, Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the USA.
Muesli in its modern form became popular in Western countries from the 1960s as part of increased interest in health foods and vegetarian diets. However, in the 1970s, a new type of muesli was introduced by Somalon called “Crunchy Muesli”. It was a little less healthy, scrumptious and toasted in sugar and oil; a product that showed similarity to American wheat-based granola.
Today, muesli is consumed widely across the world. Back in Switzerland and Germany, it is eaten day and night, even as a light evening dish called Birchermüesli complet. It can be found in natural, soaked and toasted forms. And with an increased global interest in health-conscious food options, even toasted muesli is being transformed using different ingredients to make it one of the most appetising and nutritious ways to start the day.
But what about the bees you might say? Well of course, muesli is often toasted in honey, or drizzled in at least. And don’t forget, without the bees much of the fruit and nuts that Bircher-Benner wanted the muesli to carry wouldn’t be around, making bees and muesli a winning combination.