Milk, sugar, bowl. The American love affair with cereal dates to the late 19th century, when John Harvey Kellogg, a surgeon and health spa owner in Michigan, and C.W. Post, one of his former patients, developed a version of granola and Grape-Nuts, respectively.
Cereal sales dipped in recent years — until last year, when Americans fell in love again with cereal during the quarantine. About $12 billion in cereal — 3 billion boxes — will be purchased this year in the U.S. The most popular brand? Honey Nut Cheerios.
Today is National Cereal Day, and there’s no better time for this ranking of the 25 best cereals. It’s an abridged version of the original post, where 101 cereals were sampled and ranked.
I visited 12 supermarkets, went through two gallons and two half-gallons of whole milk, and remarkably after all that sugar, my blood pressure stayed the same. No emergency room visits were necessary.
We have done six supermarket food showdowns; the others are frozen pizza; pasta brands; snacks; ice cream; and pasta sauces.
An under-the-radar Post cereal, Great Grains Raisins, Dates & Pecans was better than expected. I came in believing pecans don’t belong in cereal. But they don’t elbow out the other ingredients, and it all makes for a sweetly satisfying mix.
With a propellor-headed alien/spaceman/smiley face as mascot, Quisp eventually beat out Quake — both introduced by Quaker Oats in 1965 — in the battle of outer and inner space cereals. Quisp is crunchy corn pops shaped like miniature flying saucers, or was that just my massive sugar intake talking?
No, Millville cereal is not made in Millville, N.J. It’s a brand of Aldi, the supermarket/convenience store chain (Trader Joe’s is owned by the brother of Aldi’s owner). Another Cocoa Krispies clone, and they do snap, crackle and pop in milk. And the chocolate tastes like real chocolate. This was one of the surprise hits in my cereal showdown.
Annie’s came in No. 2 in our frozen pizza showdown, and did well in the cereal aisle, too. Cocoa Bunnies boast a much more distinct chocolate taste than say, Dark Chocolate Krave, and the combination of oats, corn and rice make for a tasty combo. Hopefully, you have nothing against eating cute little bunnies.
“Original Antioxidants” is not exactly a catchy cereal come-on, but Kellogg’s Smart Start is one of those good-for-you cereals that actually tastes good. Crispy, crackly flakes with just enough of a sugar kick.
Bear Naked, makers of cereal, granola and snacks, is a division of Kellogg’s. The chocolate in the Chocolate Almond Clusters tastes like chocolate, and the multi-grain flakes are big, the kind you can really sink your teeth into.
Mueslix is a relatively-unknown cereal that has nevertheless retained a strong following 30-plus years after its introduction. It’s made of barley, whole grain oats and wheat, raisins, dates and almonds, and unlike most of the raisin-studded cereals in this sampling, the raisins were right in the first pour. No need to dig around in the box.
Ignore the goofy slogan — “The cereal that floats your oats!” Organic Frosted Oat Flakes is another Annie’s standout, with crunchy flakes and a tasty oat/wheat flavor. Add a touch of sugar, and you’ll be happy.
America can never get enough of its honey oat cereal, apparently. Oats & Honey — nice, simple name — was my favorite of all the Wegmans cereals sampled, a warm and fuzzy combination of two familiar flavors.
We all know firemen can cook, but can they make cereal? Rip Esselstyn left his fireman job to team up with Whole Foods as one of its Healthy Eating Partners. Engine 2 cereal is all about eating “plant-strong” — zero animal products, 100% whole grains, etc. Both Big Bowls look kind of weird, with their mix of flakes, shredded wheat, raisins, walnuts, lentils and more, but it’s satisfying. Wish they just left out the freeze-dried fruit; I want to add my own damn fruit.
No. 1, and don’t you forget it. Honey Nut Cheerios is America’s most popular cereal — $500-million of the stuff was sold in 2019. Amazing what a touch of honey can do. Cheerios is bland; Honey Nut Cheerios is pleasantly sweetened, with the familiar oaty crunch.
W.K. Kellogg messed up, and produced a winner. In a failed attempt to make granola, Kellogg and his brother, John Harvey, flaked wheat, then W.K. later flaked corn, which led to a recipe for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in 1898. Simple and straightforward, proof you don’t have to be all sugared-up and neon-colored to be a great cereal.
Frosted Mini-Wheats, introduced in 1969, is America’s sixth most popular cereal, ahead of Lucky Charms and Froot Loops. There’s no cranberries and no yogurt drizzle on the Original, just lightly sweetened goodness. Great for snacking, too.
There are no grapes in either Grape-Nut Flakes or Grape Nuts; apparently C.W. Post believed glucose, which he called grape sugar, formed during the baking process. The box promises 47% of your day’s whole grains, while the company website says it’s 100%. Make up your mind already.
Cookie-based cereals did not do well in this ranking, but somehow you figured the Girl Scouts would come through. Thin Mints, the cereal, tastes remarkably close to Thin Mints, the Girl Scout cookie, especially when dry. The Girl Scouts have sold cookies since 1917; the cereal was introduced on the 100th anniversary of that milestone. Here’s a former Girl Scout’s review of Thin Mints and Caramel Crunch cereals.
The most gloriously named cereal in this showdown, Organic Sweet Potato Sunshine was my favorite of the Kashi cereals sampled. It helps to love sweet potatoes, which I do (I guarantee you I will never buy white potato sunshine cereal). Marked by a fragrant sweet potato aroma — I don’t care if it came out of some laboratory — with a dash of cinnamon.
Headline on a Fox News 2011 report: Bye-Bye Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Well, Corn Pops is still around, and we’re a better cereal nation for it. It was originally called Sugar Pops in 1951, then Corn Pops, then Pops in 2006, then back to Corn Pops. This hasn’t changed: the sweet corn taste. I could easily eat several fistfuls of them without blinking an eye, or suffering any pangs of conscience.
How can Puffed Wheat and Honey Smacks possibly be from the same cereal planet? The former is surpassingly bland, the latter eminently chewable and snackable. One study called Honey Smacks the sugariest cereal on the market. I don’t care; I want it, and I want it now.
Froot Loops got a lot of love when I asked for readers’ favorite cereals on Twitter. And my first reaction was: Froot Loops? Seriously? Well, it pays to keep an open mind, because the nation’s seventh most popular cereal unleashed the pent-up sugar-deficient kid in me. All the colors of the rainbow, and then some. Pleasantly sugary, if there is such a thing.
The next two cereals may have been my two favorites as a kid, so it’s no surprise they did well here (although another childhood favorite, Cheerios, bombed). Cocoa Puffs were introduced in 1958, and the first commercial with Sonny — “I’m Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!” appeared in 1963. It’s one cereal that hasn’t shrunk in size over the years, and you can’t beat that big fat chocolate-y crunch.
Alpha-Bits, introduced in 1958, will never be mistaken for the sexiest cereal, but there is something about that distinctive sweet oat-y crunch that gets me every time. And with what other cereal can you spell out the entire alphabet? Good luck tracking it down, though. I stopped at seven supermarkets before finally finding it, and the box was practically buried on the bottom shelf.
Hey, silly rabbit, Trix are for kids. If you grew up in the ’60s, Trix was likely on your breakfast table. General Mills made many Trix lovers happy when it re-introduced a discontinued version of Trix, with neon-bright, artificial colors. Score one for those who don’t think every cereal on Earth has to be insufferably all-natural and uber-heathy.
Grape-Nuts contain neither grapes nor nuts (it’s made from wheat and barley), but Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took them along on their way to becoming the first to summit Mount Everest in 1953. If I go on a cereal-eating binge, Grape Nuts is usually where I start. Add blueberries or peaches, and cereal life doesn’t get any better. Update: There was a serious shortage of Grape Nuts earlier this year, but Post expects the cereal “to be back on most store shelves” this month.
THEY’RE GRRRRRREATTT! Tony the Tiger is still with us, despite one ad expert declaring in 1952 that “this tiger concept completely fails to give me a hankering.” Frosted Flakes quickly became an American favorite. Today, it’s the second-best selling cereal, behind only Honey Nut Cheerios. Who was Tony’s original voice? A basso profundo named Thuri Ravenscroft. A classic cereal, just this side of too-sweet.
Italian dark chocolate in a cereal? Hook me up to an IV of it! Love Crunch is part of the Nature’s Path line. The Dark Chocolate Macaroon is an irresistible combination of chocolate and coconut. I could eat these for breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond.
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Peter Genovese may be reached at [email protected].