Friday, September 18, 2015

The world's greatest breakfast cereals - One man's (very well-informed) opinion

(NOTE: This is our monthly "Blog Rerun," in which I resurrect a post from the history of this blog that I like, for whatever reason. This one originally ran on February 17, 2012.)

My former News-Herald colleague Marty Gitlin recently co-authored and published "The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch." (You can buy a copy on Amazon, if you're interested.) Marty had talked about writing this book for years, and he finally did it.

I haven't yet read it, but I can personally guarantee that it's one of the greatest books in the history of the universe because it deals with one of the greatest food products in the history of the universe: cereal.

I consider myself something of an expert on cereal. Over my 42 years on this planet, I've just about tried 'em all, from King Vitamin and Quisp to Alpha-Bits and Cap'n Crunch. And you know what? They're all good. Seriously, I've never had a cereal I didn't like...and I include Grape Nuts and Fiber One in that statement.

Did you ever eat a bowl of Grape Nuts? Awesome taste, but they have the texture of scrap metal. Seriously, one serving of Grape Nuts has the potential to rip the inside of your mouth to shreds. But like I said, awesome taste, so the pain is worth it.

Still, Grape Nuts don't make my Top 5 All-Time List of the Best Cereals. Only the elite of the cereal world qualify for inclusion on my list, which is widely recognized as the definitive ranking by cereal connoisseurs the world over (NOTE: That's in no way true, but I thought it would sound good.)

So here, then, is my list of the greatest cereals, in reverse order. If you're an American of my generation, you'll probably disagree somewhat with this list, which is OK. You're entitled to be wrong...

There was this horrible period during the 1980s when many of my favorite childhood cereals decided it would be wise, from a marketing perspective, to drop the word "Sugar" from their names. When I was growing up, every cereal that was worth eating had the word "Sugar" in its name: Super Sugar Smacks, Sugar Crisp, Sugar Puffs, etc. And then of course there were Sugar Frosted Flakes. As Tony the Tiger told us, they're GRRRRRRRREAT! And they had sugar on them. Deal with it. Why did we suddenly decide to fool ourselves by dropping the sugar-themed names? Do you think the cereals themselves were any different? That the sugar suddenly disappeared and was replaced by wheat germ? We may have been hyperactive from our constant intake of corn syrup-based products, but we weren't dumb.

You can't keep a box of Life in our house very long. Between me and the kids, it will be eaten in a matter of hours. Life Cereal is pure happiness packed into tiny squares. The commercial with that Mikey kid didn't hurt, either. One time (this is true) my parents went out of town for Easter weekend and left me home alone. I was 15 years old. Rather than stocking the fridge with food or giving me money to feed myself, my mom simply bought two grocery bags full of cereal  including a big box of Life  and put them out. I ripped through all but two boxes by Monday morning. I kid you not. That was one of the greatest weekends of my life.

Let's be clear on the spelling here: It's F-R-O-O-T. If you thought they were F-R-U-I-T Loops, then you don't deserve to eat these tiny ringlets of delight. One of the pleasures of cereal is drinking the milk that's left in the bowl when the cereal itself is gone. A lot of people will tell you that the chocolatey goodness left in the wake of Cocoa Puffs is the best post-cereal milk. Don't believe them. Try some Froot Loop-flavored milk and then make up your mind.

When I was growing up, my mom would often fix me a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats by breaking each Mini-Wheat into two pieces. I never questioned this practice until I had a bowl of pure, unbroken Mini-Wheats. I can't explain why, but keeping the Mini-Wheats intact enhances the flavor potential exponentially. (I realize that makes no sense. Just go with it.) The problem with Frosted Mini-Wheats is that I can easily  EASILY  eat a whole box in one sitting if I'm not careful. If Life Cereal goes fast in our house, then Frosted Mini-Wheats disappear almost instantly. And it's always my fault.

I know Raisin Bran is on almost nobody's list of top cereals, but it is a clear-cut #1 on mine. To say I love Raisin Bran is to engage in gross understatement. I get almost teary-eyed with joy whenever Terry buys a box. And to be specific, I'm talking about two-scoops-of-raisins-in-every-box Kellogg's Raisin Bran, not that Post or (worse yet) generic stuff. It has to be Kellogg's. The raisins are plump and plentiful, and the bran flakes are crisp and flavorful. But like anything awesome, you can have too much of a good thing. Bran and raisins both have certain, um, bowel-related effects that can be nasty. When I was younger, this wasn't a problem. Now that I'm in my 40s, I can't have more than one bowl at a time. That's just the way it is. If I go for that second bowl, horrible things happen, my friends. Things of which it's not polite to speak in any sort of mixed company. Let's just leave it at that.

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