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Trail Mix 101

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Happy Trails (Mix) To You!

(By: Special Feature Writer Steve Dwyer of Cook County Farm Bureau)

“The History of Food research team traces the origination of trail mix—a combination of dried fruit, grains, nuts, and sometimes chocolate—to the ancient nomads. Makes sense as they certainly had to traverse a few trails on their journeys and in doing so had to travel light.

Ancient nomads had the need to create portable high-energy snacks that withstood weather, did not require cooking nor weigh them down too much. The practice of drying food for preservation purposes was practiced by many ancient cultures and cuisines, and these foods were relatively easy to obtain.

Trail mix is considered an ideal snack food for hikes, because it is tasty, lightweight, easy to store, and nutritious, providing a quick boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruit and/or granola, and sustained energy from the mono- and polyunsaturated fats in nuts.

As time marched on, so did the trail mix, which is also linked to a food known as “gorp,” which is nutritious, high-energy snacks composed variously of nuts, seeds, dried meats, dried fruits & berries and candy.

Ancient travelers, explorers, pioneers, hunters, soldiers, hikers, scouts—anyone needing a lightweight carboload—have enjoyed some version of this portable treat. Native Americans ate trail mix foods, too, and taught the Voyageurs how to make pemmican.

Take a Hike

Food historians generally place first the commercially manufactured products called trail mix/gorp in California when Harmony Foods and Hadley Fruit Orchards, both located in California, claims to be the first to market a product with this name. The claim is that trail mix was first invented in 1968 by two California surfers who blended peanuts and raisins together for an energy snack.

However, trail mix is also mentioned in Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel The Dharma Bums as the two main characters describe their planned meals in their preparation for a hiking trip. The recipe for trail mix is most likely European in origin, where it has been known as a snack under various names in various countries since the 17th century.

California being the home to trail mix makes sense, given the plentiful availability of locally dried fruits (raisins, dates, etc.) and California’s reputation for marketing natural foods. Today’s American trail mix and gorp typically do not contain meat products, but rather the recipes range from home-made favorites to pricey gourmet pre-packaged items. They can be as healthy or sodium filled/fat-laden as any other food. It all depends upon the ingredients.

World According to Gorp

The word gorp, a term for trail mix often used by hikers, may stand for “good old raisins and peanuts.” “granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts,” or “gobs of raw protein.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1913 reference to the verb gorp, meaning “to eat greedily.” A gorp picker can be a term used for a person who will only eat certain things out of any mixed food.

Trail mix has some food “cousins” so to speak. One similar food that can be linked to it is Chex Mix, a type of snack mix that includes Chex breakfast cereal (sold by General Mills and founded by Eric Osman) as a major component. There are several commercially produced varieties of Chex Mix, as well as non-commercial, homemade versions of the snack. Though contents vary, the mixes generally include an assortment of Chex cereals, chips, hard breadsticks, pretzels, nuts or crackers. Recipes for homemade Chex mix are printed on Chex cereal boxes and are available online.”

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