In the pursuit of the perfect morning muffin recipe—a post on the ever evolving recipe is forthcoming, I promise—I have reached a conundrum when it comes to bran. Should it contain wheat bran or oat bran?
The non-bran aficionados out there might say, “Bran is bran, right? Just use whatever you have on hand.” I would have counted myself among this cohort had I not stopped one day at the co-op and looked at the nutritional information on the back of the bran packages.
What got me going down this path was not the nutritional information, per se, but the price difference between the two types of bran. A package of wheat bran compared to a package of similar sized oat bran was less than half the cost. Now, neither was expensive by any means since these are two relatively basic baking commodities and, in some cases, are actually the byproducts of other food production.
The price difference got me looking at the nutritional differences. I was somewhat surprised since I viewed all bran as interchangeable up until this point. Wheat bran has ~125 calories per cup versus oat bran’s ~230 calories for the equivalent measure. Wheat bran has ~25 grams of fiber per cup versus oat bran’s ~15 grams for the equivalent measure. Advantage wheat bran, right?
Not so fast. As one bran is not like the other bran, one fiber is not like the other fiber. Wheat bran contains insoluble fiber while oat bran contains soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is good for keeping you regular and that is about the extent of things. It is that “roughage” your grandma always told you to eat in order to be healthy. Soluble fiber is a little more complex story. When combined with the liquid in your digestive tract soluble fiber creates a sticky, gel like substance that binds to various compounds and expels them from the body in the same manner that insoluble fiber leaves our bodies. Yes, it helps you spray paint the toilet so to speak.
One of the compounds that this gel like substance binds to is cholesterol. This is why Cheerios get to make heart healthy claims. While it is probably not a healthy silver bullet for your heart it is part of the solution. And hey, is less cholesterol ever a bad thing?
In my recipes I am more likely to add oat bran over wheat bran for the simple reason that I include a lot of wheat bran via whole wheat flour. This way I am taking care of both sides of the bran equation. However, in my most recent muffin recipes I have been splitting the bran 50-50 between oat bran and wheat bran to see if it effects the flavor and/or my bowels. So far so good.
What is your take on bran?