The year 2020 started off with a bang, by which I mean that KIϟϟ bassist Gene Simmons promptly tweeted about putting ice in his cereal.
“Anyone else put ice cubes in their cereal?” he inquired on January 1st, with a bizarre duo of accompanying imagery. One photo showed a robed man, presumably Simmons, wielding a large spoon just above a shallow bowl of Oreo O’s, which was littered with ice cubes. The second photo featured a close-up of the iced cereal, except this time with exactly five Frosted Shredded Wheat rectangles added to the fray.
And you know what? That was the least confusing thing to happen to cereal lately.
Maybe you’ve heard: Cereal is in a weird place. Breakfast cereal as we knew it is dead. At first, brands responded with healthier options, designed to compete with the green juices and avocado toasts of the modern world. When that didn’t really work, they reversed course and went in on sugar, in a big way. Now we consumers must reckon with the results of both crazes. As of January 2020, it’s possible to purchase such delicacies as Jolly Rancher Cereal and colorful cereal loops flavored like marshmallows in a baffling ode to Peeps, in the very same aisle as high-protein, “fiber twig”-filled concoctions like Kashi.
Because I have a taste for this kind of madness, here I’ve reviewed 18 specimens found in the wilds of nearby cereal aisles. I’ve placed them along a highly scientific spectrum of healthy-seeming to straight-up dessert, and spent days tabulating* the grams of added sugar present in each. (*I merely copied this figure directly from each box.) And since, depending on your personal predilection-slash-own brand of issues, milk-softened cereal is either incredible or horrible, I also measured “time until soggy” for each. Please send my Nobel via email, as I hate to put on pants. Now grab your alt-milk and let’s dive in.
CEREAL FOR BIRDS
Here lie cereal blends marketed as “fiber-filled,” “reasonable to eat during dry January,” and everything in between.
1. Raisin Bran
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 9 grams
Overall Vibe: Raisin Bran is healthier in spirit than it is in practice, with sugared raisins serving as its most appealing feature. I would eat sugared raisins out of a vat of trash. The bran flakes are boring, which makes sense—they’re bran flakes! And they’re presumably why the cereal’s allowed to call itself good for hearts. Together, the raisins-and-flakes thing really works in a bus-to-camp, granola bar sort of way, though a bowl of Raisin Bran and milk would benefit immensely from a pinch of salt.
Time Until Soggy: Six minutes.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Raisin Bran is represented by a delightful little round boy in the form of a cartoon sun with portly arms bearing shovels of raisins. According to a very reputable website I found called “Mr. Breakfast,” he is named Sunny. That’s a wildly uncreative name for a cartoon sun, but it’s not his fault, so sure, Sunny can come to the party.
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 0 grams
Overall Vibe: There’s little in this world less sexy than a stout box of whole grain cereal purporting to be an excellent source of fiber. Yet, you’d be crazy to let that deter you. If you’ve never tried microwaving Grape-Nuts with milk, then topping them with brown sugar and a big pat of butter, you really haven’t lived. But I’m not here to shame you about that. I’m here to tell you how they taste au naturel, which is how I started describing cereal with cold milk roughly 30 minutes into tasting dozens of varieties alone in my home. Au naturel Grape-Nuts are roughly one trillion times more delicious than the sum of their parts: They’re malty, crunchy, and somehow vaguely buttery in the absence of butter. Hold my purse, I’m going back for a second bowl.
Time Until Soggy: Half an hour? One year? I lost count. A long while.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Grape-Nuts have no mascot, and need no mascot. But should they ever need a mascot, I volunteer.
3. Kashi GO® Original
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 6 grams
Overall Vibe: Kashi GO used to be called Kashi GOLEAN until it rebranded in June 2019, presumably in a nod to how alarming it is when a box of cereal that tells you in all caps to lose weight. It’s still the same stuff it’s always been, which in its original flavor means a medley of seven grain honey puffs, “crispy soy protein grahams,” and those fiber twigs I mentioned. The milk-and-bowl experience is perfectly fine: neither sweet nor salty enough, but stiffly crunchy in a way that signals virtue and promises longevity.
Time Until Soggy: Thirty-four minutes that I’ll never get back.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? If Kashi GO had a mascot, it’d be the sort of party guest on everyone’s case about using a coaster, and proclaiming loudly that it’s not drinking tonight because it has to get up early for a 20-mile bike ride. Pass.
4. Magic Spoon Frosted
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 0 grams
Overall Vibe: Magic Spoon is a direct to consumer cereal, as in the only one here you can’t buy in the Gristedes under your apartment. It launched in 2019, “inspired by the flavors and nostalgia of Saturday-morning-cartoon cereal” but updated to be a “guilt-free treat.” (The basic idea: Take the sugar cereals Gen Z and millenials love and make them keto.) The Frosted variety is visually evocative of Cheerios in a snow-drift, and tastes like cereal in the way those bodega protein brownies taste like brownies. The overall effect is just fine, with some Stevia overtones.
Time Until Soggy: Infinity.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Magic Spoon’s box features a large wizard dressed in ski clothes riding a multi-colored bunny—ideal for any gathering.
All hail the classics—you know ‘em and you kind of love ‘em, so long as your mom’s not making you eat a bowl of ‘em before you hit the road for second grade.
1. Original Cheerios
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 1 ⅓ grams, which notably beats a lot of the Cereals for Birds
Overall Vibe: Original Cheerios are grainy and savory, but in a not-bad way, like when you quietly dip a pinky into a jar of baby food that’s not intended for you but end up liking it.
They’re only as strong as their weakest link, so if you serve them with a plasticky kind of alt-milk, you will not enjoy them—but if you dignify them with 4% or Oatly, you’ll find them worthwhile.
Time Until Soggy: Nine minutes.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? The now businesslike Cheerios box apparently had a mascot back in the 1940s, “a little girl named Cheeri O’Leary.” I would not invite Cheeri to a party, as she is a child.
2. Corn Flakes
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 2 ⅔ grams
Overall Vibe: Much as I hate to endorse anything edible with the word “flakes” in its name, there’s something irresistible about these humorless shingles of milled corn, frolicking about in a bath of cold milk.
Time Until Soggy: Exactly four viewings of this Meg Stalter video.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Cornelius Rooster, as he is purportedly called, is on a mission to get consumers to “Wake up, up, up” early in the morning, so he’d be a huge bummer to drink with.
3. Rice Krispies
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 2 ⅔ grams
Overall Vibe: The crazy thing about Rice Krispies is that they do in fact Snap, Crackle, and Pop when they touch liquid, like Pop Rocks in a mouth, or a live wire in a swamp. Each granule of puffed rice is equal parts toasty, malty, and restrained. Said Krispies enhance the flavor of whatever you drown them in—they bring out the sweet notes of dairy milk, or the cardboard-y ones of unsweetened soy milk.
Time Until Soggy: So few minutes that I wouldn’t be surprised if their targeted Instagram ads were all for Hims.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Snap, Crackle, and Pop would probably be hosting the party!
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 8 grams
Overall Vibe: Life Cereal is nothing like its namesake, in that it’s completely unvaried, devoid of all trauma, and one serving of it seems to never end. It is, however, similar to its namesake in its unexpected sweetness and satisfying crunch.
Time Until Soggy: Somewhere between minute seven and minute nine of the The Other Two episode in which Molly Shannon does ecstasy at her teenage son’s birthday party.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Life’s original mascot was a fictional boy named “Little Mikey” and I can’t stress enough that I don’t socialize with kids.
Quick, imagine “Kiss” by Prince just started to play! These sugary cereals are exciting and feisty, and they will make you nostalgic for a time before you knew the phrase “net carbs.”
1. Froot Loops
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 9 grams
Overall Vibe: Froot Loops are iconic and perfect. They taste distinctively like chemically flavored froot, which is only a problem if you hate fun.
Time Until Soggy: These puppies hold out a surprising 20 minutes.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Toucan Sam is a speaking toucan who can surf; I would not only invite him to a party, but I might leave with him, too!
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 10 grams
Overall Vibe: Trix presents the opportunity for a cereal fruit salad, and I think it’s worth acknowledging that one of those fruits is called “grapity purple.” Another, “wildberry blue,” has a dubious pink center amidst what looks like a cerulean flower, and fellow children of the 90s will recall it once came in disconcertingly colorful yogurt form. Food dye qualms aside, each globule of processed starch is exquisite regardless of its classification, and they join forces for a full bowl experience that’s a little bit corn-forward and a lot sugary, with an only slightly regrettable aftertaste.
Time Until Soggy: Nineteen minutes sharp.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? The Trix rabbit is single-minded, persistent, and sly as fuck. I would ignore his texts asking if I was in town that weekend.
3. Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 12 grams
Overall Vibe: CTC very accurately replicates the positive attributes of a full-sized slice of cinnamon-sugar toast, down to the neat ribbing on the back of each square in a show of grill marks, so points for intellectual honesty. The result is a nice mix of sweetness, granular texture, and crispness that surrenders into shards when met with gnashing incisors. I would happily consume it at any time of day, with or without milk, near or far from sweatpants.
Time Until Soggy: Roughly 21 minutes, which is a lot longer than actual cinnamon toast would stay crispy in milk, so hats off!
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Cinnamon Toast Crunch takes the postmodern approach of using the cereal itself as a mascot, meaning sentient squares of CTC attempt to goad you into consuming them using gurgling baby noises and unexplained extra-long tongues. It’s creepy, and not at all fit for one of my parties.
4. Cap’n Crunch
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 17 big ones (I’m getting bored of typing “grams”)
Overall Vibe: What even is the shape of each Cap’n Crunch piece? A pillow with sutures? A hand muff? I suppose nobody has done a deep dive because the cereal itself is so agreeable: savory-sweet like sunshine distilled, or something Trader Joe’s would sell as an ambiguously labeled spread. Sure, it still has that unsettling mouthfeel you remember from smoking weed and eating Cap’n Crunch in college, but you know what makes it go away? Eating another bowl.
Time Until Soggy: The way in which Cap’n Crunch goes soggy—essentially turning into a churning froth from the outside in—is lightly terrifying, and evocative of the scene in the Breaking Bad pilot in which Jesse dissolves a body in Hydrofluoric acid. But anyway! Forty-five minutes until fully limp.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Cap’n Horatio Magellan is an elderly gentleman with distinctive eyebrows who fronts as a U.S. naval captain but may actually be a French commander, so I’d probably ask him to bring the wine.
5. Lucky Charms
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 12 g-r-a-m-s
Overall Vibe: Breaking news that sometime between when I last ate it in 2003 and today, Lucky Charms added three new unicorn shapes to the mix. Otherwise, it is largely the same. The marshmallows absolutely slay, granted they have an aftertaste of “I wouldn’t go on a date without brushing my teeth first.” The starchier shapes remain as boring as watching a documentary with someone who knows a lot about the topic and pauses regularly to fill you in on additional backstory.
Time Until Soggy: The marshmallows start to turn into neon sugar foam around minute 11. Their oaty counterparts hold out until the 18-mark, at which point all the dye begins to seep into the milk, creating a thick, blue-grey sludge.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? This is a tough one! Lucky the Leprechaun, a.k.a. Sir Charms, a.k.a. L.C. Leprechaun, can fly, which is sick, but he often steals. I suppose I’d invite him to a party if it weren’t in my own home.
6. Cocoa Puffs
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 12 Gs
Overall Vibe: If loving these crunchy, kibble-like orbs makes me more akin to an ancient house pet than a human, then slap a leash around my neck and force me on a walk around the block. Cocoa Puffs, in all their sweet-but-not-saccharine, chocolate-but-not-really glory, are a platonic ideal cereal.
Time Until Soggy: Cocoa Puffs shed their outermost chocolatey layer, and with it, some of their exoskeleton, within seconds, but shockingly take closer to 45 minutes to go slack all the way through—and even then, they retain some chew.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Like Sonny the anthropomorphic cuckoo bird, I too am cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, so I feel we’d have a lot to talk about.
COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS CEREALS
These bad boys are the opposite of a cleanse. They’re your friend who invites you out drinking on a Monday. They’re Whole30’s worst nightmare. They’re absolutely bananas.
1. Twinkies Cereal
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 16 whole grams
Overall Vibe: Twinkies cereal is pellet-like, oddly powdery, and lacks “créme” filling, which is why I’m as shocked as you to announce that it’s actually kind of enjoyable to eat. The flavor is straight marshmallow and sugar mash-up, and that turns out to not be a totally bad thing.
Time Until Soggy: One Yoga with Adrienne session.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? No word yet on whether “Twinkie the Kid”—a speaking snack cake that stands upright and dresses like a West World visitor—is onboard to rep Twinkies in cereal form, so no need for me to reiterate a third time that I do not party with minors.
2. Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts Cereal
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 16 whole grams, again
Overall Vibe: Pop Tarts Cereal seem at first blush like they couldn’t possibly contain actual filling—the best part of a pop tart—and then they do contain filling. An exciting jam filling to be specific! And okay, the end result’s predominantly very cloying thanks to a funfetti shell, but it’s an architectural feat worth celebrating, especially after you’ve been burned by Twinkies Cereal.
Time Until Soggy: A cool 23 minutes.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Milton the Toaster is a try-hard, but it comes from a place of well-meaning. He can totally come.
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: 10 ½ grams to keep you on your toes
Overall Vibe: Compared to cereal shaped like Twinkies, Krave is an old hat, having hit shelves in 2012. They’re the exact same size and shape as Pop Tarts Cereal, except with a graham-colored exterior, and chocolate filling. Is the chocolate filling a thrilling prospect? Absolutely. Is there enough of it? No there is not.
Time Until Soggy: Twelve minutes on the dot.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? There’s no mascot to speak of, which is a relief because my party’s getting kind of crowded!
4. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios
Added Sugar Per 1 Cup: Undisclosed, but 1 cup has about 10 ⅔ grams total sugar, so they’re no angel!
Overall Vibe: I live for a choc-PB pairing, so was as thrilled about this novelty flavor as most people are about their own engagement. In practice, though, these remixed Cheerios lean way more toward peanut butter than chocolate, just like Reese’s Puffs—which is fine, but not evocative enough of the real-life pairing to live up to my dreams.
Time Until Soggy: A few minutes longer than Original Cheerios, which is both disturbing and intriguing.
Would I Invite the Mascot to a Party? Stop trying to get an invite, Cheeri.
Have a hot (or cold) tip for our Snacks Critic? Leave a comment or send her a note at email@example.com.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.