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Bowling for Breakfast

Bracha Rosman

Cereal seems to be one of the most popular breakfast foods everywhere. But guess what? Cereal wasn’t always what kids reached for in the morning. What was life like before Cocoa Puffs?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Chocolaty, puffy, crispy, crunchy, fruity, chewy, or frosted — and just plain delicious… Who doesn’t start their day with an overflowing bowl of their favorite cereal? 

Cereal seems to be one of the most popular breakfast foods everywhere. But guess what? Cereal wasn’t always what kids reached for in the morning. In fact, cereal has a very flavorsome history. For starters… bet you didn’t know, a doctor invented it.

Hold the Meat, Please

The first cereal looked very different from the colorful, kid-friendly boxes lining supermarket shelves today. Believe it or not, cereal was first invented to help heal aching tummies. That’s right! Cereal was considered a remedy in the 19th century, during the Civil War, and was known as a health or wonder food. 

You see, before cereal was invented, people began their day by eating meat, lots of it. Can you imagine being fleishig first thing in the morning? However, this very high-protein diet was making people sick and many suffered stomach ailments and digestion problems. Doctors knew things had to change, and they tried to develop a more healthful diet that consisted of fiber.

Go for the Grains

The first cold breakfast cereal was invented in 1863 by Dr. James Caleb Jackson. He called it granula. Although definitely healthier than meat, it never became popular because the bran nuggets had to be soaked overnight to become soft enough to chew. Not very convenient nor very appetizing.

Photo: Shutterstock

While not everyone was crazy about the flavor, or the idea of soaking their food for hours on end, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan, liked the idea of a breakfast cereal. He believed grains were important to maintain a healthy diet. He invented his own improved version of granula, and named his cereal granola. Not a very original choice of a name, but his version was better tasting and a better seller. His success got him thinking and trying new recipes. For six years, John Harvey and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, experimented with different grains. Then, one day in 1894, the Kellogg brothers accidently invented what would change the cereal industry forever.

Big Names in Cereal Boxes

One day, while the Kellogg brothers were busy boiling wheat, they were called away. The wheat stayed out all day and got stale. Instead of tossing it, however, they decided to be frugal and try to save it. What harm could it do? They rolled out the stale wheat and baked it. To their surprise, it cracked into lots of tiny pieces — a tasty, crispy cereal. People liked it so much they asked the brothers if they could order it by mail. After substituting corn for wheat, Corn Flakes were born. The Kellogg brothers had struck gold! Being thrifty had helped them make breakfast history. 

In the same city of Battle Creek, Mr. C.W. Post had some great grain ideas of his own. In 1897, he invented Grape-Nuts (which included neither grapes nor nuts. Go figure.). Regardless of the cereal’s ingredients, Grape-Nuts became a huge hit and is still a cereal best seller today, almost 120 years later. I’m sure you recognize the inventor’s name, as Post is one of the world’s largest cereal companies, with over 60 products. 

The Swiss joined the cereal craze when Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner developed a mixture called muesli. You can still find it in today’s supermarkets. 

The cereal war was on — and continues to this day.

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