Saturday, September 24, 2016

Review: 2016 Pumpkin Spice Cereals

Fall is now officially here, so it is finally appropriate to review the three new pumpkin spice cereals that have hit the grocery aisle in recent weeks. Pumpkin spice has quickly become the trendy flavor for this time of year, almost to the point of overkill. Nevertheless, at least so far, this has come to be the foundation of comfort foods preparing us for the cooler, darker days ahead.

Last year I reviewed the first ever such cereal, Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. I was thoroughly impressed, and it remains one of the highest rated cereals I have ever reviewed. Apparently Kellogg has re-released this cereal this year (although I have not seen in any stores yet), but my intent this time is only to review the newcomers to the market: General Mills Pumpkin Spice Cheerios, Kellogg's Special K Pumpkin Spice Crunch, and Quaker Life Pumpkin Spice. This will be one review, but of these three cereals.

Taste. Of course, the whole point of these cereals is the taste. People crave the pumpkin spice flavors (usually comprised of such spices as nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves), and these products had better deliver. The challenge that cereal makers have is creating a recipe that highlights the special flavors, but without being overwhelming. For the most part, these three cereals do that, finding a good balance using varieties of existing high-profile cereals on the market. If I close my eyes and taste, the pumpkin spice theme definitely is there, but to varying degrees. Probably the most disappointing is the Cheerios, as in my assessment the cloves are much too pronounced (and I'm not crazy about cloves). The Life edition provided the greatest surprise, with a strong kick of spice on first bite. The Special K seemed to have the best balance of flavors, with the leftover milk in the bowl providing a great treat in itself. One other point of interest, the Cheerios was the only one of the three listing actual pumpkin puree as an ingredient. RATINGS: Special K (5), Life (4), Cheerios (3).

Texture. In many ways texture should not be a big surprise since two of the cereals (i.e. Cheerios and Life) are almost identical to their originally flavored sibling. The woven Life squares are lightly crunchy, but soften as they bathe in milk. Cheerios the same. The Special K version emphasizes "crunch," which is largely achieved by a light sugar coating of the flakes. Overall, it is the latter that shines - the crunchy flakes hold their own even after sitting in milk for 10 minutes. RATINGS: Special K (5), Cheerios (3), Life (3)

Experience. These cereals are all about the experience, which includes the taste, but incorporates so much more. As indicated earlier, they tap into our emotional needs as we enter autumn. So, to a certain degree they all achieve this, with their fall colors and images on the boxes. But, it is Cheerios that really stands out. The predominately orange box stands out, and more importantly the cereal itself (partly due to the fact that they use real pumpkin) has an orange tinge. Life and Special K don't go these extra miles. RATINGS: Cheerios (5), Life (4), Special K (4)

Nutrition. This discussion sometimes kills the fun, but in the end food should provide nutritional value, pumpkin spice cereals included. Life Pumpkin Spice comes closest to retaining the value of original Life: slightly more protein than many cereals, and a reasonable amount of sugar. The other two definitely work on sweetness, almost hitting 30% of weight in the form of sugar. Beyond that, they all emphasize whole grains, are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and are free of artificial flavors. RATINGS: Life (4), Special K (3), Cheerios (3)

Overall. If you want the full pumpkin spice immersion this fall, then incorporating one of these breakfast foods will be worth it. In the end, they all come out pretty close, but none can beat out Mini-Wheats Pumpkin Spice. If you have to choose from these three new ones just one go with the Special K. I would encourage you, however, to try all three, because, remember, these are limited edition cereals. In a few months they will no longer be available and you might miss the opportunity. Of course, by that time you will also be so tired of pumpkin spice in your life that you'll be ready for something different! RATINGS: Special K (4), Life (4), Cheerios (4).

(Review protocol here)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Could milk-coated cereals be the future?

Scientific research and development is always trying to discover new and better ways of doing things, and this applies to food science as well. An interesting and relevant project coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture might form the future for food products. They have been working on milk-based packaging for food, that could also be used to spray on foods such as cereal to form not only a protective coating, but added nutrition as well.

In this video from the American Chemical Society the technology is explained, and they mention how they have tried this on Wheaties. One of the benefits they noted is that the milk protein coating actually keeps the cereal crunchier; but there are many yet answered questions: What is the nutritional value? How does it taste? And, probably most important, will consumers accept this as a new way to eat cereal?

Regardless whether this works or not, it is great to see innovations that could potentially revolutionize the way we eat, cereal included. The future could be less packaging waste, more convenience, and less soggy cereal!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cereal by the numbers

I came across an interesting article this week on the website, data-driven thoughts, the work of data analyst, Erik Rood. He explores a wide-range of topics, all centered around looking deeper into the numbers.

A few months ago Rood tackled the issue of our favorite breakfast food in his article, "The golden age of cereal." The most fascinating insight from this analysis is that "nearly half of all cereals last less than 5 years before being discontinued." In other words, manufacturers are trying all kinds of recipes and ideas, but most do not succeed. In fact, the pace of new cereals introduced is increasing, illustrated by the fact that "the majority of cereals have been launched in the past ~10 years (over 1/3 of all cereals."

The article is brief, without too many more great discoveries, although his table of cereals and the time that they have been on the market, is a great resource. Rood also offers a few reflections based on this data as to how cereal companies might reverse declining trends.

Check it out. It's a short, interesting read!