Munster, Germany (dpa) - Muesli may be celebrating its one hundredth birthday this year but the alternative breakfast cereal is certainly not showing its age.
Loathed by children of health-conscious parents but adored by sports enthusiasts, muesli has served as a status symbol for a whole generation of cereal fans and apostles of healthy living.
Muesli was invented by the Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who in 1900 presented what at the time was considered a revolutionary mixture of fruit and soaked oats to a group of experts. Reactions ranged from bewilderment to out-and-out ridicule. Undeterred, the doctor went on to lay the foundation for a new movement for healthy nutrition.
Karl-Josef Groneur, a professor of nutritional science at the ecotrophology department of Munster University, believes muesli is well-suited as a nutritional meal in the morning and at lunchtimes.
"It contains a lot of vitamins as well as the basic nutritive substances - fat, carbohydrate and protein - in ideal proportions," he reveals.
That said, it is important to get the right mix. Muesli is usually eaten with milk or yoghurt but shouldn't contain too many nuts (high in fat) or a lot of sugar. "When it's prepared well, muesli has enough fibre to help prevent heart disease and cancer," says Groneur, "and it's very filling, so it won't make you fat."
However, it is not enough to buy just any packet marked with the word muesli to guarantee a healthy breakfast. Consumer protection organisations advise caution when buying muesli bars or children's snacks. As the Bonn-based consumer information service, aid, warns: "They do not contain muesli, they are sweets."
According to aid experts, as a rule, these products contain too much sugar and very little roughage, vitamins or minerals. The German consumer protection centre in Bavaria urges members of the public to read the list of ingredients printed on packaging very carefully.
The muesli sold in modern supermarkets bears little resemblance to that proposed by Bircher-Brenner 100 years ago. The doctor favoured a mixture of three tablespoons of oats, which he had left to soak overnight, one tablespoon of condensed milk, the juice of one lemon and a grated apple, which he then topped with a sprinkling of ground almonds.
This unlikely-sounding concoction has since given way to an almost infinite number of variations on the original muesli theme. As Groneur points out, "that is the big advantage of muesli. The basic cereal base can be adapted to suit every taste by adding fruit, nuts or chocolate."
In the summer months, the German union for environmental and nature preservation advises muesli fans to store their breakfast in a sealed container in the fridge if they want to avoid undesirable converts to their particular mix. Moths are especially partial to a healthy snack and their gossamer threads can ruin the contents of a whole packet in no time at all.