Streamline your morning routine by learning how to make Bircher muesli any way you like it. Bircher muesli is the perfect make ahead breakfast – this tutorial will teach you how to make perfect Bircher muesli every time and never get bored of it.
Bircher Muesli – the Original Overnight Oats
I’ve been eating bircher muesli, or overnight oats for breakfast for years. I think that I was introduced to them by my aunt. She spent many seasons working in Switzerland as a ski rep, where the hotel breakfast always included a big bowl of bircher muesli.
A jar or tub of bircher muesli is invaluable if you need to travel to work or school, or have an early start and want a breakfast on the go. In my office days I didn’t have time, or especially want to eat breakfast before I left home. The breakfast options on offer from the local sandwich shop, however, were over priced and uninspiring. It’s far easier to make your own oats to grab from the fridge in the morning.
So tomorrow, wake up better. Prepare-ahead breakfasts let you start the day as you want to go on – no fuss, no time wasting.
Delicious and Adaptable
If you haven’t heard of bircher muesli before, I am going to convert you and tell you everything you need to know so you can make your new favourite breakfast again and again.
This recipe is foolproof. You just take oats, mix in your choice of liquid and extras, and leave in the fridge overnight. You can make several days’ worth at once and you are only limited by your imagination.
The oats soften and plump up overnight and gain a soft, almost mousse-like fluffy texture. The flavour will vary according to the liquid you use to soak, and any additions you use.
What is Bircher Muesli?
Bircher muesli is the original European muesli, now sometimes referred to as overnight oats. It originated in Switzerland, and is still very popular in Germany and Switzerland.
It is a simple dish of oats soaked in liquid, usually with some added fruit and left to soak overnight. You can think of it as a no-cook way of making porridge or oatmeal, but bircher muesli is NOTHING like cold porridge: the taste and texture is completely different.
It is named after the pioneering Swiss nutritionist Maximillian Bircher-Benner, who believed that the healthy should make 50% of their diet raw fruit and vegetables. Those who were unwell, like the patients in his sanatorium, should eat a wholly raw vegetarian diet.
Bircher-Benner developed his muesli from a dish he had enjoyed on a walking tour of The Alps. The version he served to his patients consisted of apples, oats, nuts, honey and cream or condensed milk. It’s delicious but in the modern world of desk jobs and heated homes, a little too indulgent for most of us to eat every day.
Bircher Muesli or Overnight Oats?
In practical terms, there isn’t really a difference. Bircher muesli is the traditional name for overnight oats, and is the usual name in German-speaking countries. Bircher-Benner believed in eating fresh, so his muesli would always contain a grated apple.
Hot or Cold?
In the summer, or if we are travelling, have an early appointment or need to catch a train, we make our bircher museli in a pot with a close-fitting lid to grab and go. In winter, we will gently heat it.
With hot or warm bircher museli, the texture is completely different to porridge – it is lighter and fluffier. If you heat muesli, you will probably need to add more liquid to it.
The other advantage of heating soaked bircher muesli rather than making porridge is that if you can use yogurt or kefir to soak the oats, they won’t split or curdle on heating.
Is Bircher Muesli Healthy?
Generally yes! Of course you can load them with honey or maple syrup, which isn’t so good if you don’t burn the calories. I like to add a grated carrot for natural sweetness and avoid the empty calories in honey, maple syrup and other sweeteners.
I don’t buy ready-made muesli, as I like to customise my own so I know exactly what is going into it. Many of the shop versions are surprisingly high in sugar. They can also be quite dusty and contain added milk powder and other things that you simply don’t need. Making your own mix is, of course, also far cheaper.
A big health advantage of bircher muesli is the soaking of the oats.
How Does Soaking Oats Help Digestion?
Soaking the oats helps in two ways.
Digestibility – First, the soaking helps to break down starch and beta-gluten fibres. This makes your oats easier to digest.
Phytic acid and phytates – Oats contain phytic acid or phytates, the coating that keeps seeds intact as they travel through the digestive system. Phytates are there to stop you digesting the whole of the seed. They can therefore reduce your absorption of some minerals, particularly iron and zinc, from the food you consume with them. Soaking overnight will partially break down the phytates.
You can ferment your oats with yogurt or kefir, or even adding warm water, then leaving overnight. If you leave in the fridge, it won’t do as much as leaving them out to ferment, but it does make a difference as it still breaks down some of the compounds that can cause digestive problems.
Can I Use Granola Instead?
Granola is usually sweetened muesli, baked into clusters. There’s no point in soaking it overnight, as it will go soggy and lose the crunch that makes it different from muesli. It is, however, delicious as a topper for your bircher muesli.
What do I Need?
To make bircher muesli, you need to start with some oats. Most people use oats on their own, but if you want to mix it up then add a mix of any of wheat, rye, barley or spelt flakes to your oats. I keep the mix to be about half oats. Then you just add your liquid, fruit (and veg, if you like), and nuts and seeds to taste.
Are the base for Bircher muesli, so the most important ingredient. We like good quality rolled oats. They plump up nicely to become properly soft, but still have lots of texture. Quick oats will make a very sloppy breakfast and we don’t really recommend them
What about steel cut oats?
Steel cut oats are the unrolled oat groats or kernels that have been cut up. They are whole, so will still have the outer fibre of the grain. They are delicious, but will be chewier than rolled oats and have far more texture. If you want to use steel cut oats for your Bircher muesli Id recommend you mix them about 1/3 with regular oats and add some extra.
You can use your choice of dairy or plant milk. We like to swap it around, depending on what else we are adding. I love the tang of goats’ or sheep’s milk with sweeter add-ins. Coconut milk is lovely with tropical fruit.
90% of the time we use our home-made milk kefir, as it helps to ferment the oats and adds a slight fizziness. If you don’t want to make kefir you can buy it at the grocery store. Or read our in depth tutorial on how to make milk kefir.
Again – pick your favourite. We think plain is best, but a good unsweetened fruit yogurt makes a great base.
Both apple juice or freshly squeezed orange juice are delicious with bircher muesli, especially if you aren’t adding in a grated apple.
Ground linseed, flax or chia seeds
Flax and chia seeds are nutritional power houses and are both mucilaginous (one of my favourite words), meaning they become gelatinous when mixed with liquid. This makes your bircher muesli both thicker and creamier. Entirely optional, you can sprinkle them on the finished bircher muesli just before you serve it.
Fruit and vegetables
One of my mantras is to try and add an extra portion of vegetables to every meal. Instead of (or in addition to) the traditional grated apple, try adding grated carrot, squash or parsnip to your bircher muesli. All of these are fairly sweet. We have also successfully used courgette (zucchini), and I’ve been know to make tomato savoury overnight oats, with chopped canned tomatoes or passata! Trust me – it is delicious!
- Add pumpkin, sunflower and hemp seeds before serving.
- I like raw cashews, almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts (cobs or filberts) but you can use any nuts that you enjoy. Toast them first if you like.
- Try adding unsulphured apricots (they make such a difference to taste), dates, figs, cranberries, raisins, currants, and sultanas etc.
To Make Bircher Muesli
Step 1 – You need a scant half cup of oats per person, and an apple between two. Grate the apple, and carrot if you want to use it. Add any dried fruit at this stage.
Step 2 – Pour over the fresh juice of two oranges OR your favourite milk, yogurt or kefir. Or even a mix of all of them. Then put the bowl in the fridge and leave overnight. You need about double the volume of liquid to oats, but it will vary according to the type of oats you are using and the thickness of the liquid.
Step 3 – In the morning, garnish with your choice of fresh fruit, seeds and nuts, and a dollop of yogurt.
Bircher Muesli – Hints & Tips
Can I make vegan bircher muesli?
Absolutely! Just use a vegan or plant milk, yogurt, or kefir for the liquid – or fruit or vegetable juice.
Is bircher muesli gluten free?
This is a tricky one. Technically oats are gluten free, but some people with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance are also sensitive to oats.
Most of the problems with oats and gluten result from cross contamination. With certified gluten free oats the fields are checked for other cereals, and the oats are processed in gluten free factory.
To be safe, ask your medical professional. We bake bread all the time, so I never cook for anyone coeliac in my kitchen. The risk of cross contamination is far too high.
How long does bircher muesli last in the fridge?
With the grated apple and other fruit or vegetables, I’d eat within three days. Otherwise, you can safely leave soaked oats for 5 days to a week. We generally make a batch every two or three days.
Can you freeze Bircher muesli?
Bircher muesli can be frozen. Simply pack into small plastic pots and freeze. Take one out the night before and allow to defrost in the fridge overnight, ready for your breakfast in the morning. On the hottest days, grab it straight from the freezer to eat when you get to work.
How do you store it?
It depends. If we are going to have breakfast at home, we use a small Pyrex dish that we cover with a plate and leave in the fridge overnight.
If I am making bircher muesli for one, I make it in the bowl from which I eat. (I rarely do this, however. I prefer to make a batch.)
If we are going to be travelling, we leave it in a jam jar or Lock and Lock style sealable container in the fridge to just grab and go.
In winter, when we heat our muesli, it all gets mixed up in a small saucepan, covered and left on the worktop all night ready for the morning.
- 1 scant cup jumbo oats
- 2 cups fresh orange juice, milk (dairy or plant), or kefir (your choice)
- 1 apple (grated)
- 25 g Fresh berries or other fruit
- 2 tbsp Yogurt
- Seeds, nuts and dried fruit to taste
- You need a scant half cup of oats per person, and an apple between two. Grate the apple, and carrot if you want to use it. Add any dried fruit at this stage.
- Pour over the fresh juice of two oranges OR your favourite milk, yogurt or kefir. Or even a mix of all of them. Then put the bowl in the fridge and leave overnight. You need about double the volume of liquid to oats, but it will vary according to the type of oats you are using and the thickness of the liquid.
- In the morning, garnish with your choice of fresh fruit, seeds and nuts, and a dollop of yogurt.
Update Notes – Recipe for basic Bircher muesli originally published January 2012. Post republished with tutorial and hints and tips February 2020.