By Richard Lawrence-Allen
Whether it’s as part of a balanced breakfast, or as a quick and easy late-night snack, the nation’s love affair with cereal is clear. Last Thursday marked the UK’s National Cereal Day and, what with our great fondness for nearly all food-based celebrations, we knew we had to join in!
The first incarnation of what would later become one of the Western-world’s go-to breakfast foods originates from America, where Native Americans had first found a way to make ground corn into a palatable food. This boiled cornmeal dish, or “grits” as it is often called today, is still eaten in the South States of America, yet it has never gained much widespread popularity elsewhere. Later, in 1854 a German immigrant by the name of Ferdinand Schumacher popularised cereals as a breakfast food, selling cooked oatmeal marketed as an alternative to breakfast pork. This formed the foundation of what would later become the Quaker Oats Company.
Cereal as we know it today has come on a long way from simple boiled cornmeal and different dried grains, however. The first iteration of the cold cereal close to those that we enjoy today was created in 1865 by a religiously conservative vegetarian by the name of James Caleb Jackson. Jackson ran a medical sanatorium in Western New York and made his cereal from graham flour dough that was dried and broken into shapes. This invention was so hard though that it had to be soaked in milk overnight before it could be consumed and this is how the beloved combination of cold cereal and milk began! Jackson named is creation granula. Dr John Harvey Kellogg, a surgeon who ran a health spa in Michigan, later made his own version of Jackson’s invention, naming granola.
The Kellogg family are now synonymous with breakfast cereal, made famous originally in the late 19th century with their most iconic cereal, Corn Flakes. Corn Flakes were initially created as a happy accident. John Harvey Kellogg’s younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg mistakenly left some cooked wheat to sit while attending to other matters in their sanatorium. When returning, the brothers discovered the wheat had gone stale, but forcing the wheat through rollers, not wanting to waste the expense of the food, it broke into flakes which they then toasted and gave to patients. The result proved very popular with patients and the brothers then repeated this process with various different grains. A patent for this process was accepted in 1896 and the Kellogg’s Company was founded.
John Harvey Kellogg was a Seventh-Day Adventist and believed that bland foods, such as the Corn Flakes that he and his brother created were a way to purge individuals of impure and sexual thoughts. Corn Flakes, thus served both the purpose of treating dyspepsia (indigestion), but also reduce, as per Seventh-Day Adventist practices, “excessive sexual intercourse” and masturbation.
Since the pious connotations of its beginnings, modern day dry, cold cereal has come on a long way. From oats and flaked wheat, the variety of different cereals available now is truly remarkable. Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat-based cereals were introduced by the Quaker Oats Company in the 1910s; the 1930s saw the introduction of an early form of Wheat Chex by the Ralston Purina Company, calling them Shredded Ralston; the 1940s saw the marketplace flooded with what is now the best-selling cereal in America, Cheerios, or CheeriOats as they were originally known; and a post-war 1950s ear so the baby boom’s focus switch firmly against Kellogg’s original ideas of bland food for pure living, as sugar became cereal’s main selling point with the advent of Frosted Flakes (now Frosties) and their cartoon spokesman Tony the Tiger.
Numerous cereals now line the shelves of supermarkets across the world, with countless varieties available, many adorned with bright and vibrant characters to appeal to children customers (and adults alike)! Cereal’s domination over breakfast time is undoubtable, and it has even been known invade lunch and dinner as well! In fact, in 2014 twin brothers Alan and Gary Keery opened the UK’s first ever Cereal-themed café in Shoreditch, London, offering a range of different cereal concoctions.
To celebrate National Cereal Day here at RSVP, last Friday we gave out flapjacks, to represent the early oat-based cereals of the past (if a much sweeter version of them) and chocolate-covered cornflake cakes for the sugary fun cereals that we all love to treat ourselves with today. Needless to say, they went down very well with the staff and kept people going throughout the day. Cereal. It’s not just for breakfast anymore!