Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds: The True Champion of Breakfast Cereals?
"They created a cereal that stays crunchy in the bowl, is just sweet enough without being cloyingly so, and is the perfect, harmonious combination of flavors and textures."
I'm going to make a shocking confession: until my son mentioned Honey Bunches of Oats to me a month or so ago, I had never heard of it, much less tried even one of the ten varieties available. Now that I have eaten HBofO for at least a month, I am ready to go out on a limb here: Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds just might be the finest mass market breakfast cereal ever, better than Total, better than Wheaties, better than Rice Krispies, better than Cheerios, and yes, even better than Cap'n Crunch.
Am I wrong? Are there other cereals I've somehow missed in my post-college years? Am I culturally ignorant, breakfast cereal-wise? Have I led a breakfast cereal-challenged life up to now? Do tell. I want to know.
When I looked at the back of the box, I discovered why Honey Bunch of Oats had never been a part of my life.
Longtime Post Cereal employee Vernon J. Henzing and his daughter Kimberly didn't come up with the idea for HBofO (Vern wanted to create a product that combined granola, Toasties, Grape-Nuts Flakes and Sugar Sparkle Flakes (Post's answer to Frosted Flakes) until 1986, and it didn't hit supermarket shelves until 1989, when Will was two and I had been out of college for 16 years (so I no longer ate breakfast cereal on a regular basis).
Post makes a big deal on the back of the box about HBofO's history. Vernon and Kimberly developed the concept at home using the time-honored cereal development technique of trial and error. They hit upon the right combination of elements, textures, and flavors, but they were having trouble coming up with a name. "The concept is Honey Bunches of Oats with Flakes" chimed in Post employee and brand manager Eva Page. Not exactly the stuff of MacArthur Genius Awards (It's actually a pretty dull story), but it's a helluva cereal.
But an admittedly boring story alone does not a great breakfast cereal make.
No, the Herzings' genius is that they created a cereal that stays crunchy in the bowl, is just sweet enough without being cloyingly so, and is the perfect, harmonious combination of flavors and textures. Plus HBofO is heart-healthy. It has zero grams of trans fats, saturated fats, no cholesterol, and is a good source of whole grain (ten grams per serving). So it's a reasonably healthy cereal to consume on a regular basis.
I am only prepared to bestow the title of World's Greatest Breakfast Cereal on Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds—the almonds are the kicker. They are what move it into Breakfast Cereal Hall of Fame status.
The other nine varieties (original HBofO Honey Roast; Real Chocolate Bunches; Vanilla Bunches; Cinammon Bunches; Just Bunches Caramel; Just Bunches Honey Roasted; HBofO with Real Peaches; HBofO with Real Strawberries; and the new Pecan Bunches, which I can't find in my local supermarkets), have their charms, and no doubt are adherents and champions. My son Will is partial to the Real Chocolate Bunches. When he brought a box home for me to try, he insisted that the chocolate flavor was not the usual ridiculously sweet kind found in breakfast cereals. I agree, Will, but it still does not rise to the level of HBofO with Almonds.
At Serious Eats World HQ, Adam Kuban swears by Just Bunches. I've tried plain Just Bunches and Caramel Just Bunches, and must tell you, I miss the textural contrasts original HBofO offers. I am intrigued by the sound of Pecan Bunches, so I reserve the right to revise this post when I finally do get to taste them.
But for now I'm sticking by my original pronouncement. Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds is my personal championship breakfast cereal. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.