Serious Eats

Cereal Eats: The Cereal That Broke My Heart

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Hi folks! This week, I'm turning over my mic, bowl and spoon to Managing Editor Jamie Feldmar. Get out your tissues: this is a sad tale rife with nostalgia, longing and star-crossed cereal love. Take it away, Jamie! —Leandra

Although I would not claim to be on remotely the same level as Leandra with my cereal obsession, there is one cereal that captured my heart as a young lass and never let go: General Mills Honey Nut Clusters. Known by many as "the squirrel cereal" (check out this particularly memorable 1993 commercial starring a Rob Schneider lookalike and a robotic squirrel), HNC (or simply "Clusters") contained, well, pretty much exactly what their name implies: crispy wheat and rice flakes with honey-flavored nut clusters. It teetered that line between healthy and tasty, with a pleasant sweetness but no blatant sugar bombs like dehydrated marshmallows or neon-colored "fruit" loops, and therefore my mother allowed it in our regular cereal rotation.

Sadly, I haven't been able to find HNC since moving to New York almost a decade ago. Some trusty internet research reveals that while Clusters haven't technically been discontinued, their distribution has shrunk widely, and I'm not the only person missing those sweet sweet Clusters. So when Leandra managed to pull some strings with GM to get a few boxes delivered to the office, I was over the moon.

I tore in to my first bowl with a fervor, and was initially so overcome with excitement that it took me a minute to realize something was off. I couldn't put my finger on it. Were the clusters smaller? Sweeter? I felt like something was missing—I used to mix Clusters with Raisin Bran as a kid, so my initial hypothesis was simply that I missed the raisins. But that wasn't it. A second round of research revealed what I couldn't figure out myself:

There are no nuts in Honey Nut Clusters anymore.

Apparently, GM changed the recipe in 2007 to use "natural almond flavoring" in lieu of actual nuts, though they left the cereal's name—with the word "nut" right up top!—unchanged. The reasons for the switch are unclear--possibly to counteract rising commodity market prices, possibly due to the increase in nut allergies, maybe both.

Whatever the reason, I'm bummed. No disrespect to those with allergies, but if a cereal has the word "nut" in the title, I expect it to contain, you know, nuts. I like nuts. The nuts in Honey Nut Clusters really helped give the bowl some heft, make it feel slightly more substantial—like a meal, not a snack. After a triumphant but all-too-brief return to my life, I'm afraid I just can't look at Clusters the same way again.

What about you? Are there any cereals that have broken your heart? Lay it bare in the comments!

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About the author: Jamie Feldmar is a noodle aficionado, barbecue lover, and the managing editor of Serious Eats. You can follow her on Twitter at @jfeldmar.

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