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Breakfast cereal

A spoonful of breakfast cereal of the corn-flake type, with milk and strawberry.
A spoonful of breakfast cereal of the corn-flake type, with milk and strawberry.

A breakfast cereal is a food product designed especially to be marketed to consumers as a ready-made breakfast food. Though cereal foods such as porridge are a staple of daily meals in many countries around the world, in wealthier, consumer-conscious nations such as the United States, entire industries have been created dedicated to the sale of specialized products, such as breakfast cereals. Breakfast cereals are generally eaten cold and mixed with milk as opposed to hot cereals like oatmeal, grits, etc.

Breakfast cereals are marketed to all ages. For adults, companies such as Kellogg's, Quaker Oats, and General Mills promote their products for the health benefits gained from eating oat-based and high fiber cereals. Nevertheless, the vast majority of breakfast cereal sold is marketed to young children. Cereal manufacturers have been criticized for manufacturing breakfast cereals with a heavy sugar content aimed at children. Sugar-laden breakfast cereals have been extremely popular with children for decades, and many adults also buy them out of nostalgia (also because they enjoy the taste). Manufacturers often fortify breakfast cereals with various vitamins to allay concerns that their products are not very nutritious.

From bowel relief to sugary treat

Breakfast cereals have their root in the temperance movement in the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Americans were still eating essentially an English breakfast, full of eggs, bacon, sausage, beef, and low on fiber. As such, many people suffered painful and debilitating gastrointestinal disorders. The first breakfast cereal, Granula (named after granules) was invented in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, operator of the Dansville Sanitorium in Dansville, New York and a staunch vegetarian. Despite its high fiber content, the cereal never caught on. It was far too inconvenient, the heavy bran nuggets needing to be soaked overnight before they were tender enough to eat.

The next generation of breakfast cereals were considerably more convenient, and combined with clever marketing, they finally managed to catch on. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh Day Adventist and the operator of the Battle Creek Sanitorium, invented in 1887 a ground up wheat, oat, and cornmeal biscuit for his patients suffering from bowel problems, Granola (initially also named Granula, but changed after a lawsuit). His most famous contribution, however, was an accident. After leaving a batch of boiled wheat soaking overnight and rolling it out, Kellogg had created wheat flakes. His brother Will Kellogg later invented corn flakes from a similar method, bought out his brother's share in their business, and went on to found the Kellogg Company in 1906. With his shrewd marketing and advertising, Kellogg's sold their one millionth case after three years. A patient at the Battle Creek Sanitorium, Charles William Post, also made significant contributions to breakfast cereals. After his 1893 visit, he started his own sanitorium, the La Vita Inn and developed his own coffee substitute, Postum. In 1897, Post invented Grape Nuts and, coupled with a nation-wide advertising campaign, became a leader in the cereal business.

By the 1930s, Kelloggs had invented a puffing gun, inventing the first puffed cereal, Kix. Soon shredding was introduced, yielding Shredded Wheat. Starting after World War II, the big breakfast cereal companies (now including General Mills, who started in 1924 with Wheaties) increasingly started to target children. Sugar was added, and the once-healthy breakfasts looked starkly different from their fiber-rich ancestors (Kellogg's Sugar Smacks, started in 1953, had 56% sugar). Different mascots were introduced, first with the Rice Krispies elves and later pop icons like Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit.

Highlights in the history of American breakfast cereals

Portrait of the Quaker man on the Quaker Oats package created. Updated three times: 1946, 1957, and 1972.
Quaker Oats first packages Quaker Oatmeal in square boxes after years of selling oatmeal in bulk.
Kellogg begins production of Kelloggs Corn Flakes at W.K. Kellogg’s newly formed Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company.
Quaker Oats packages Quaker Oatmeal in now-familiar cylinders.
Kelloggs introduces All-Bran, nicknamed "The Grim Reaper of Loin Chow."
General Mills introduces Wheaties, called Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes during its development.
Kelloggs introduces Rice Krispies.
General Mills introduces Cheerioats, later to be called Cheerios.
Raisin Bran first available in stores.
Kelloggs introduces Sugar Smacks.
Tony the Tiger wins contest over Katy the Kangaroo to become sole spokes-character for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.
Quaker Oats introduces Life Cereal.
Quaker Oats introduces Cap'n Crunch. Kelloggs introduces Fruit Loops.
Quaker Oats introduces Quisp.
Quaker Oats introduces Cinnamon Life Cereal.


See also

About Cereals -- Grains

Cereal crops are mostly grasses cultivated for their edible seeds (actually a fruit called a caryopsis). Cereal grains are grown in greater quantities worldwide than any other type of crop and provides more food energy to the human race than any other crop. In some developing nations, cereal grains constitute practically the entire diet of common folk. In developed nations, cereal consumption is more moderate but still substantial. The word cereal has its origin in the Roman goddess of grain, Ceres. Staple food grains are often called corn.

True cereals

The cereal crops are (in approximate order of greatest annual production):

  • wheat, the primary cereal of temperate regions
  • rice, the primary cereal of tropical regions
  • maize, a staple food of peoples in North America, South America, and Africa and of livestock worldwide; called "corn" in North America and Australia
  • the millets, a group of similar but distinct cereals that form an important staple food in Asia and Africa.
  • sorghum, important staple food in Asia and Africa and popular worldwide for livestock
  • rye and triticale, important in cold climates
  • oats, formerly the staple food of Scotland and popular worldwide for livestock
  • barley, grown for malting and livestock on land too poor or too cold for wheat
  • teff, popular in Ethiopia but scarcely known elsewhere
  • wild rice, grown in small amounts in North America
  • spelt, a close relative of wheat


In addition, several non-grasses that are grown for their seed may also be referred to as cereals. These pseudocereals include (in no particular order):


While each individual species has its own peculiarities, the cultivation of all cereals crops is similar. All are annual plants; consequently one planting yields one harvest. Wheat, rye, triticale, oats, barley, and spelt are the cool-season cereals. These are hardy plants that grow well in moderate weather and cease to grow in hot weather (approximately 30 °C but this varies by species and variety). The other warm-season cereals are tender and prefer hot weather.

Barley and rye are the hardiest cereals, able to overwinter in the subarctic and Siberia. Wheat is the most popular. All cool-season cereals are grown in the tropics, but only in the cool highlands, where it may be possible to grow multiple crops in a year.


The warm-season cereals are grown in tropical lowlands year-round and in temperate climates during the frost-free season.

Cool-season cereals are well-adapted to temperate climates. Most varieties of a particular species are either winter or spring types. Winter varieties are sown in the autumn, germinate and grow vegetatively, then become dormant during winter. They resume growing in the springtime and mature in late spring or early summer. This cultivation system makes optimal use of water and frees the land for another crop early in the growing season. Winter varieties do not flower until springtime because they require vernalization (exposure to low temperature for a genetically determined length of time). Where winters are too warm for vernalization or exceed the hardiness of the crop (which varies by species and variety), farmers grow spring varieties. Spring cereals are planted in early springtime and mature later that same summer, without vernalization. Spring cereals typically require more irrigation and yield less than winter cereals.


Once the cereal plants have grown their seeds, they have completed their life cycle. The plants die and become brown and dry. As soon as the parent plants and their seed kernels are reasonably dry, harvest can begin.

In developed countries, cereal crops are universally machine-harvested, typically using a combine harvester, which cuts, threshes, and winnows the grain during a single pass across the field. In developing countries, a variety of harvesting methods are in use, from combines to hand tools such as scythes.

If a crop is harvested during wet weather, the grain may not dry adequately in the field to prevent spoilage during its storage. In this case, the grain is sent to a dehydrating facility, where artificial heat dries it.

In North America, farmers commonly deliver their newly harvested grain to a grain elevator, a large storage facility that consolidates the crops of many farmers. The farmer may sell the grain at the time of delivery or maintain ownership of a share of grain in the pool for later sale.

Food value -- Health and Nutritional Value

Cereal grains supply most of their food energy as starch. They are also a significant source of protein, though the amino acid balance is not optimal. Whole grains (see below) are good sources of dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, and other important nutrients.

Rice is eaten as cooked entire grains, although rice flour is also produced. Oats are rolled, ground, or cut into bits (steel-cut oats) and cooked into porridge. Most other cereals are ground into flour or meal, that is milled. The outer layers of bran and germ are removed (see grain (fruit) and seed). This lessens the nutritional value but makes the grain more appealing to many palates. Health-conscious people tend to prefer whole grains, which are not milled. Overconsumption of milled cereals is sometimes blamed for obesity. Milled grains do keep better because the outer layers of the grains are rich in rancidity-prone fats. The waste from milling is sometimes mixed into a prepared animal feed.

Once (optionally) milled and ground, the resulting flour is made into bread, pasta, desserts, dumplings, and many other products. Besides cereals, flour is sometimes made from potatoes, chestnuts and pulses (especially chickpeas).

In American English, cold breakfast cereals and porridges are simply called cereal.

See also



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