Thursday, March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023

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Stakes sweet in cereal ranking


The month is called “March” for a reason: because it’s a slog.

What better way to plow through than with a cold, crunchy bowl of breakfast cereal? A perfect snack day or night, cereal has played an oversized role in my life above almost any other food item. I am, therefore, thrilled to present to you the highly scientific, unimpeachable and 100 percent correct L.A. Times Breakfast Cereal Power Rankings. These rankings deal solely with cereals on the sweet side of the spectrum, as comparing Lucky Charms to, say, Fiber One wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Nonsweet cereals will be judged in a future ranking.

This meant making some choices, however — Froot Loops? That’s obviously a sweet cereal. Life? More difficult to judge. Cereals that were on the border that I ultimately decided did not go in the sweet category: Life, Honey Bunches of Oats, and Kix, among others. I ranked these cereals based on 1) taste and 2) quality of cereal milk the tasty 2 percent dregs from a consumed bowl.

1. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Sure, I could have come in hot and anointed Peanut Butter Puffins or something No. 1, but why pretend? In the words of Spandau Ballet, I know this much is true. No, it’s not earth-shaking to pronounce Cinnamon Toast Crunch the best-tasting cereal on the market, but it’s also a capital-F fact. CTC is sweet, spicy and has a decent amount of salt to give it complexity (if anything, I’d like a teeny bit more). While it sogs relatively quickly, the soft pabulum that remains is still tasty, and sloughs off just enough of that cinnamon and sugar to make a satisfying bowl of cereal milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 3

2. Honey Nut Cheerios

Honey Nut Cheerios, of all the cereals I tried, had the most depth and character. It is the Sean Penn of cereals — it may or may not be your cup of tea personally, but it’s hard to deny the dedication to the craft. Oaty, crunchy and with a clean sweetness that doesn’t linger. Sure, the company may have fumbled its attempt to save the bees by inadvertently encouraging some consumers to grow invasive plant species, but I’ll overlook it.

Cereal milk ranking: 9

3. Cocoa Puffs

Sonny is the first in a series of beleaguered cartoon creatures who love a particular cereal and are routinely tortured by groups of terrible children. In the case of Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, he really wants to get away from Cocoa Puffs but can’t escape the munchy, crunchy, chocolatey taste.

Cocoa Puffs has a lot to offer any cereal aficionado, with great texture and a deep, chocolate flavor. And a healthy amount of the puffs’ epidermis comes off during the course of a bowl to create a serving of very good chocolate milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 2

4. Golden Grahams

Shout out to Golden Grahams for having, for a short time, a drop of honey as their mascot, marking one of the few times a major brand made a mascot of loose, uncontained liquid.

Golden Grahams are low-key a very strong cereal. Pretty good plain out of the box, they have a toasty, satisfying crunch. And while they are majorly sweet, they manage not to be cloying.

Cereal milk ranking: 12

5. Reese’s Puffs

Can you go wrong, ever, with chocolate and peanut butter?

The chocolate flavor in these definitely takes a backseat to the peanut butter, but both shine through sufficiently to overcome the slightly unpleasant oiliness of the texture. That texture is, I surmise, why the cereal milk is slightly disappointing – dried and powdered flavors go into solution quickly, making for a better cereal milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 16

6. Chocolate Frosted Flakes

This was a pleasant surprise. I don’t care for regular Frosted Flakes and didn’t expect much from these, but they’re very good. They taste basically like chocolate-covered Corn Flakes and, unlike regular Frosted Flakes, aren’t as granularly sugary. These impart just the right amount of chocolate to the milk, creating a superlative cereal milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 1

7. French Toast Crunch

French Toast Crunch certainly wins the award for cutest cereal — each individual piece looks like a tiny piece of sliced bread. That alone earns it tons of points. The taste is good, too — intensely maple syrup-flavored and leaving a pleasantly sweet milk bath in its wake.

Cereal milk ranking: 5

8. Cocoa Krispies

Snap, Crackle and Pop, the Rice Krispies elves, were introduced to the world by Kellogg’s in the 1930s.

Cocoa Krispies is honestly the underachiever of this bunch — while still good, I wanted them to be better. The satisfying snappy, crackling, poppy texture is still there, but I found most other chocolate cereals to be more chocolate-forward. Nevertheless, chocolate is chocolate, and chocolate is good.

Cereal milk ranking: 7

9. Cracklin’ Oat Bran

These are like dense Duraflame logs. Cracklin’ Oat Bran chunks are solid, deeply sweet and oaty, and are seemingly immune to the effects of milk. After five minutes of sitting in the bowl, these babies were virtually unchanged. This is one of the few cereals that’s actually better out-of-the-box as a snack than with milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 17

10. Golden Crisp

This cereal is notable for a couple of reasons: one is the super smooth Sugar Bear mascot.

Golden Crisp cereal has an astounding amount of sugar per serving: 16 grams, more than any other cereal I tried (by comparison, Froot Loops has 10 grams). The puffed wheat nuggets are certainly too sweet, as you might imagine, but it interestingly doesn’t all leach out into the milk. In fact, just the right amount of sweetness is imparted, creating one of the better cereal milks in this survey.

Cereal milk ranking: 4

11. Apple Jacks

I’m going to admit right now to being biased against fruit-flavored cereals. Of all the ways you can sweeten a cereal — honey, chocolate, a cinnamon-sugar mixture — fruit is the least appealing to me. Why? Because unless it’s dried fruit in a bowl of muesli, the fruit is inevitably artificial tasting.

Apple Jacks is definitely the best of a bad situation, because it’s somewhat mildly flavored and doesn’t try to do too much. Instead of packing your mouth with many different semi-convincing fruit flavors, it plies you merely with apples and cinnamon.

Cereal milk ranking: 14

12. Corn Pops

Corn Pops are totally average. They are the most average. They are 5 foot, 9 1/2 inches tall and named Dave. They really liked the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” for some reason, and think Dan Brown novels are “perfectly entertaining, for what they are.”

These puffed corn pieces, lightly sweetened, are good enough to appeal to just about anyone, but not really good enough to be anyone’s favorite cereal. They are simply there. And they’re fine with that.

Cereal milk ranking: 8

13. Froot Loops

I want to like Froot Loops more than I do, primarily because I like the erudite aloofness of Toucan Sam (voiced by Paul Frees, who also did Boris Badenov), who confidently follows his prominent nose to delicious fruit flavors.

If only the fruit flavors were as delicious as promised. Fruity cereals generally lead toward an intense artificial citrus flavor and smell, bordering on cleaning fluid. Not my thing.

Cereal milk ranking: 19

14. Frosted Mini Wheats

Frosted Mini Wheats are interesting if only because they’re not really crunchy at any point during the eating cycle. They begin slightly chewy, then disintegrate to a wheaty pap in milk over the course of five or 10 minutes. Frosted Mini Wheats are essentially tiny milk sponges that load up on liquid by way of the surface tension created by the thin strands that comprise each individual wheat.

Cereal milk ranking: 13

15. Raisin Bran Crunch

Raisin Bran Crunch disappoints me if only because it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It’s too sweet. The distribution of raisins is always a crapshoot. The bran flakes are never quite crunchy enough and rapidly turn to mush within the milk.

Cereal milk ranking: 10

16. Honeycomb

Honeycomb was a little confusing to me. I’m not sure I’d ever eaten a bowl before these rankings. First off, they’re enormous. Each individual hexagonal piece is thick, and about as big as a quarter. The texture is airy, like meringue, and the taste is strongly of corn. It’s lightly sweet, but I don’t taste a lot of honey. The mildly syrupy milk that remains, though, is pretty tasty.

Cereal milk ranking: 6

17. Trix

All the Trix Rabbit wants is some Trix cereal, OK? Rabbits don’t have pockets and, therefore, can’t carry money and, therefore, can’t buy Trix. So they have to rely on the kindness of children to, every now and then, toss them the odd berry-, lemon-, or grape-flavored piece. But do the children help the Trix Rabbit? No. No, they don’t. It’s enough to break your heart.

As is, frankly, the taste of this fruity mess of a cereal.

Cereal milk ranking: 21

18. Frosted Flakes

Frosted Flakes has one of the great cereal mascots, Tony the Tiger, who taught kids that cereal “brings out the tiger in you,” namely by giving you confidence and making you good at sports. While Tony’s basso profundo, voiced impeccably by Thurl Ravenscroft (“You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) may have soothed, his cereal never really caught on for me. They’re essentially too-sugary Corn Flakes, overly sweet.

Cereal milk ranking: 18

19. Fruity Pebbles

This is the only cereal that elicited an audible “whoa” when I opened the bag. The smell hits you immediately: a bright, citrusy odor, like fake fruit candy and Lysol. Their color is close to neon. The same flavor is imparted to the milk, something akin to freshly mopped hallway.

Cereal milk ranking: 23

20. Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries

I’ll just say that this cereal is sweeter than a 7-Eleven Slurpee poured over a DVD of “A Walk to Remember” and sticks to your teeth in an unpleasant way but is somehow made fractionally better by the addition of Crunch Berries, which taste nothing at all like berries.

Cereal milk ranking: 22

21. Cap’n Crunch

I’m not really sure where Cap’n Crunch, with his giant John Bolton-looking mustache, went wrong. Sure, he looks like every other naval captain with a giant Napoleon hat who’s dedicated himself to discovering the secrets of Crunch Island. But something happened along the way.

What else is he keeping from us? Good cereal, for a start. Cap’n Crunch is so breathtakingly saccharine and so treacly, with an intense, cloying aftertaste that sticks to your molars, that I can’t get through more than a few bites.

Cereal milk ranking: 15

22. Lucky Charms

Poor Lucky the leprechaun. Spending his entire life chased and tormented by bratty kids who want to steal his Lucky Charms. Sadly, Lucky Charms, which trades a little bit on that colorful psychedelic appeal, is just not a very good cereal. The problem lies primarily with the marshmallows or, rather, the multi-chromatic horror beads that attempt to pass as marshmallows.

These dusty, dry little bits of chalk squeak softly between your teeth. Not even the whimsy of purple horseshoe and unicorn-shaped balloons, or a Lucky Charms-flavored IPA, can save this cereal. The murky, blue-gray milk that sits at the bottom of the bowl looks like standing water but doesn’t taste terrible.

Cereal milk ranking: 11

23. Cookie Crisp

What happened to Cookie Crisp? Was it always this bad? As a kid, I remember Cookie Crisp essentially being a bunch of tiny cookies in a box — not exactly the breakfast of champions, but pretty tasty at the very least.

Something has seriously gone awry. These taste nothing like cookies. There’s some brown sugar and an unpleasant chemically aftertaste, but little else going on.

Cereal milk ranking: 20