This is a review of Cheerios. Not Frosted nor Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. Not Chocolate Cheerios. Not the forgotten Strawberry Banana Berry Burst Cheerios, nor the bygone cult classic, Team Cheerios.
Just Cheerios. The original yellow box. The toasted oat spheres no mom would ever go without packing in a sandwich bag for a toddler who has to sit through church, or, God forbid, some kind of “recital.” The kind of cereal that’s so healthy it has spawned studies and debates about its marketing promises to lower cholesterol. The cereal, I dare say, which every grocery store upon these golden shores sells.
But is Cheerios actually any good?
My personal history with Cheerios doesn’t go back to the days of Rugratism, unless you include sophomore year of college as a temporary return to that phase (in which case, you may actually have a valid point). Mostly exposed to Honey Nut, Frosted, and the occasional Multigrain Cheerio excursion during my youth, I remember switching over to plain Cheerios while on a semester long ROTC inspired “diet” which made me the eating equivalent to a 16th century monk (see: absolutely no fun allowed.) This was in stark contrast to my original ROTC inspired diet of freshmen year, which for breakfast saw me consume an extra-large bowl of Apple Jacks with Granola (to keep it healthy), a whole wheat bagel, oatmeal, yogurt, and usually two or three bananas.
Ironically, my physical; fitness during that freshman campaign far exceeded that of my sophomore year. But that’s another story for another day.
Back to Cheerios. The point is that the one period in my life in which I ate it, I was doing so to be healthy. More a chore than anything else, even then I ate it with fruit, or yogurt, or the occasional “Honey Nut Cut” of 50/50 Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios. Never, ever on its own.
There’s something special about Cheerios poured into ice cold milk*. The O’s crackle. They snap. They pop. More so than most cereals, I’m sure. You can see the bubbles from the milk breaking the surface at what could almost pass for a simmer, with the dynamic dance of milk slowly filtering into toasted oats. As a writer, the living sense of the bowl amazes me. The romantic poet in me, sitting outside on a shady summer afternoon, whispers that it can only be a harbinger of a transcendental cereal experience to come.
It’s not. As my spoon lifts the singing O’s into my mouth, I’m struck by the immense lack of taste. I’m not just talking about sweetness. There is, I think, very little discernible oat flavor. For all the marketing buzz words reflecting some variation of “wholesome,” I don’t pick up any hearty or toasted whole grain taste. It tastes, I hate to admit, like nothing.
The texture, as you well know, borders on mushy when allowed to soak in milk. With no sugar glaze nor protective barrier to stop the flow of liquid into the oats, they degenerate into a mess of insipid rings. Having never eaten cardboard, I can’t say that the grainy-mushy-tasteless texture reminds me of eating cardboard. But I imagine it does.
I’m disappointed, to say the least. But all is not lost. While Cheerios has never adopted a mascot like the Bee of its Honey Nut offspring, the box provides enough reading material to keep me interested. Recently, Cheerios has partnered with the USO to provide a cut-out postcard on boxes that can be sent to families of military members around the world. For each postcard sent, Cheerios will send a buck to the USO, which aids in providing support for not only armed forces members, but their families.
That’s a cause I can get behind, regardless of taste. As for that taste, however, I just don’t understand it. Perhaps it has to be hardwired into our minds as children who are saved from boredom in those little snack bags, but with its delicate crunch and very mild oat flavor, Cheerios just don’t hold any appeal for me in milk or outside of milk. Nevertheless, as a more affordable “canvas” cereal than many of the Organic and Natural brands offer, I can see how Cheerios still offers something undeniably good for you that can be customized your way, with any number of possibilities for fruit or other mix-ins. My favorite way to eat Cheerios? For the time being, I think it’ll be in a 4:1 ratio of the “Honey Nut Cut”, with the Honey Nut playing the former leading role.
- Price: $1.99 (18 oz. box on sale at Mars)
- Ranking: 4/10
- Chances I’d Buy Again: 10% (for the USO charity’s sake)
Food for Thought: Any Original Cheerios lovers out there? What’s your favorite way to geek the O’s out? Which Cheerios flavor do you like best?
*For testing purposes, I used SkimPlus milk, which, despite claiming to have the richness of full fat milk, does not.