What Is Trail Mix?
Merriam-Webster is very enlightening as to the definition of trail mix as a “mixture of seeds, nuts, and dried fruits eaten as a snack especially by hikers”. More broadly, it is a mix of dried fruit, nuts, seeds and occasionally candies that provide a tasty array of travel-friendly snacks. Trail mix is lightweight, doesn’t require cooking or cold-storing and if you get the right combo of ingredients, it’s nutritious too. Trail mix could well be the perfect travelling snack.
So where does trail mix come from?
Also known as hikers mix, the term ‘trail mix’ was allegedly first used in 1976. More specifically, the conceptual origins of a snack fit for travelling was perhaps first coined in 1920 by Horace Kephart. Renowned as an avid hunter and camping enthusiast, Kephart wrote a travel guide for Americans interested in traversing through rough U.S. terrain. Among many helpful travel tips, in his guide he suggests packing a bag of nuts, raisins and chocolate as the ideal travelling snack for weary adventurers.
Some other interesting names for trail mix have cropped up around the world. Friends and whanau over the ditch reportedly know trail mix as ‘scroggin’ or 'schmogle’, for perhaps inexplicable kiwi reasons. In northern European countries including the Netherlands, trail mix is known as ‘student fodder’, referring to the quick and convenient nature of rustling up some nuts and dried fruit. While trail mix is an American term, its name has gained popularity in Australia over recent years.
What’s in a Trail Mix?
A classic healthy trail mix can be fairly simple, with just a mix of sultanas, sunflower seeds, pepitas, almonds and cashews. However, switching things up is always a good idea when it comes to trail mix-making. Not just to keep things interesting, but to broaden your nutrient intake from different foods. Adding cranberries or dried apricots to your trail mix gives some extra fibre and polyphenols, as well as making the entire mix a tad sweeter. For a superfood fix, try a bit of goji berry trail mix. The addition of goji berries gives this mix an extra protein hit. While there may be a general template for a trail mix, the options are truly endless if you create your own.
Are There Rules for Making a Trail Mix?
Trail mixes can be as complicated or as simple as you’d like. This way you can make them a sometimes-snack or an all day healthy option. Generally, you want to choose foods that are weather-proof, don’t need refrigerating and are light in the pocket once you hit the road. Any or all of the following can be found in different trail mixes.
- Banana chips
- Coconut flakes
- Carob buttons
- Crystallised ginger
What Makes Trail Mix So Healthy?
The core ingredients of any trail mix are usually nuts, seeds and dried fruit. How in the world can you go wrong with that combo? When I make a trail mix, I like to switch up the ingredients. I usually keep my favourite nuts, but love to experiment with different dried fruits. Dried apple, dried mango and dried pineapple would be a delicious and tropical variation on a classic. Even using freeze-dried fruit would be a wonderful addition to the mix.
Trail mixes are good for so many reasons. Firstly, they’re completely customisable. Even if you buy a ready-made trail mix, you can always add your favourite nuts, seeds, or other snacks to it to make it your own. Typically, trail mixes are high in protein which helps with muscle growth and development. Protein-rich snacks help curb cravings for refined carbohydrates or junk food. Trail mixes are also high in fibre and healthy fats so you’ll feel full and sustained all day. And one of the best things about a trail mix is that they’re super convenient, with almost no preparation needed.
Here’s some commonly found trail mix ingredients and why they’re so good for you.
Cranberries are an unassumingly healthy little berry. They’re very high in a range of health-boosting nutrients. They’re very high in vitamin C, anthocyanins and other polyphenols that help support the heart and prevent cancer. Emerging evidence suggests that cranberries can support the microbiome and gastrointestinal health as well. Other health benefits of dried cranberries include reducing blood pressure, BMI and regulating cholesterol levels. Dried cranberries make a delicious addition to a traditional trail mix for a burst of deep pink sweetness that’s truly good for you.
Dried apricots are a convenient and delicious addition to a trail mix. They are full of antioxidants which are cardioprotective and possess anti-cancer properties. Some of the polyphenols found in dried apricots are also present in prunes. These compounds help to reduce blood pressure and protect the nervous system from oxidative damage. Another wonderful benefit of adding dried apricots to your trail mix is that you up your dietary fibre intake. The fibre in apricots makes them a valuable food for gut health, reducing blood pressure and preventing bowel cancer.
Golden-brown sweet drops of sunshine. Sultanas are an essential ingredient to any trail mix worth mentioning. Sultanas are high in fibre, delicious and juicy and relatively cheap to buy. They have similar health benefits to other dried fruit and being low G.I, they provide sustained energy without a sugar spike. If you can’t source other dried fruit, old faithful sultanas are your go-to fruit for a trail mix. They’re the perfect size to just throw a handful in and go.
For something a little special, freeze-dried fruit is one trail mix ingredient to check out. It adds textural balance and intense flavour that makes a homemade trail mix truly unique. It’s not that common to see freeze-dried fruit in trail mixes, but if you’re making one at home they’re worth the inclusion. Freeze-dried fruit is like a super concentrated ‘dried’ version of the fresh fruit. It has a characteristic crunch yet is very light weight. It creates great contrast to a chewy dried apricot and the traditional nuts or seeds in a trail mix. It travels very well, in fact it could outlast the rest of your trail mix ingredients, if you suddenly decided to embark on a long-distance hike. What’s even better, is that freeze-dried fruit is actually healthy too. A recent study found that 50g of freeze dried strawberry reduced inflammatory markers and improved glucose metabolism in a group of diabetic participants. If you’re longing for fresh strawberries but you’re about to head out for an entire day, try adding freeze-dried strawberries to your trail mix. It really hits the spot!
Almonds are an easy and very healthy choice when it comes to a trail mix. You want to eat foods that keep you feeling full, without weighing you down. Like all nuts, they travel well and tick a lot of nutritional boxes. One excellent quality that almonds possess, is the ability to curb carbohydrate cravings. A study published in Nutrients showed that almonds helped reduce hunger signalling and improved satiety (feeling of being full). Almonds can also reduce cravings for unhealthy and processed foods. So almonds are undoubtedly a great addition to a trail mix, especially if you’re on a long hike or road trip. Almonds are also very high in healthy fats and fibre which are optimal for brain function. Almonds are a sure-fire way to ensure you have a trail mix that will help you stay mentally alert and ready for your next adventure.
Cashews are another easy and delicious option for a healthy trail mix. They have a neutral flavour, with some sweetness that pairs well with cranberries or freeze-dried fruits. Cashews are a great choice for travelling over walnuts for example, which can oxidise rapidly if exposed to heat or light. Cashews are wonderful at helping to improve insulin responses and cholesterol levels. This is great news if you want a trail mix to give you sustained energy with a healthy mix for your day.
Sunflower seeds are a classic ingredient in most trail mixes. They are versatile and have almost no flavour so they pair perfectly with any other nut, seed or dried fruit. Nutritionally, they really do have a lot to offer. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E and have a decent protein profile for their small size. They’re also a valuable source of magnesium, zinc and B vitamins for energy and muscle function. Sunflower seeds also provide natural antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects. Sunflower seeds are a little nutrient powerhouse and great to have in a trail mix.
Pepitas are sometimes known as pumpkin seeds and are a terrific trail mix staple. They’re a great vegetarian source of zinc, which is essential for immune and hormone health. Pepitas are rich in other essential minerals too including chromium, copper and selenium. Pepitas are also high in monounsaturated fats that help promote cardiovascular health and improve arterial blood flow. They’re also the perfect size to pick up and munch on as part of your delicious and nutritious trail mix.
How To Enjoy A Trail Mix
- A delicious late night snack for breastfeeding mums
- Enjoy on a road trip
- A day at the beach
- School lunchbox or in a uni lecture
- Much a handful on the way to yoga or a gym session
- A handbag friendly snack for active outdoor kids
How To Make Your Own Trail Mix
This is my ultimate trail mix recipe. It’s easy, delicious and covers a great range of essential nutrients. It’s balanced well and has all the hallmarks you’d expect with a good trail mix. Feel free to play around with ratios of each ingredient. If you want more almonds instead of peanuts - it’s completely up to you.
- ¼ cup freeze-dried strawberries
- ¼ cup chopped dried apricots
- ¼ cup chopped organic dried figs
- ¼ cup cashews
- ¼ cup almonds
- ½ cup peanuts
- ¼ cup dried blueberries
- ¼ cup pepitas
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- Combine everything in a bowl and mix.
- Divide into two containers, one for now, one for later.
- Store trail mix an airtight container for up to 6 months.
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