Cereal Eats: Cheerios Showdown Part I, The Basic Cheerios

Recently, I've talked a lot about the varieties on classic cereals in this column. (The good, the bad, and the unnecessary.) But this matter of variety still haunts me, beckons me to explore further, pour deeper bowls of cereal.

These days, cereal giants like Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats and Cheerios have more variations than I can keep straight. This calls for an all-out investigation.

First up, Cheerios. Here is the official list of varieties:

  • Cheerios (1941)
  • Honey Nut Cheerios (1979)
  • Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (1988)
  • MultiGrain Cheerios (original 1992, relaunched 2009)
  • Frosted Cheerios (1995)
  • Yogurt Burst Cheerios (2005)
  • Fruity Cheerios (2006)
  • Oat Cluster Crunch Cheerios (2007)
  • Banana Nut Cheerios (2009)
  • Chocolate Cheerios (2010)
  • Cinnamon Burst Cheerios (2011)
  • Dulce de Leche Cheerios (2012)
  • MultiGrain Peanut Butter Cheerios
  • Discontinued: Cheerios and X's, Team Cheerios, Millenios, Berry Burst

We'll start small today, working our way from the basics all the way up to something called Yogurt Burst. Buckle your seatbelts. We're looking at what I like to call the "Big 3" of Cheerios: Original, Honey Nut and MultiGrain.

Original Cheerios

Is there any cereal more ubiquitous? As I've said before, Cheerios are sort of the quintessential cereal. There's a comforting, all-American quality to Cheerios that has stood the test of time. Cheerios was introduced by General Mills in 1941 as the first oat-based, cold cereal. Since then, flavor varieties have abounded, but the original version remains a favorite.

Cheerios are some of the first solid foods that babies eat, they are present at just about every breakfast buffet, and if you are a "mixer" like me, they make an awesome base for other cereals to join. I love the combo of Grape Nuts and Cheerios, with the little Nuts finding their way into the middle of the O's, using them as life preservers.

Even when O's get soft, they taste great in milk. I actually kind of prefer slightly soggy Cheerios. With the release of all sorts of crazy Cheerios flavors, I've started to appreciate the pure taste of the original even more.

Honey Nut Cheerios

This is variety done right. Simple and incredibly delicious. My thought was that Honey Nut Cheerios are underrated, unless we can just all agree right now that they're insanely awesome? If you grew up on sweeter cereals, you might find these a bit boring but, to me, they're exceptional.

The O's are glazed and lightly sweetened with a distinct flavor that I am guessing is the "nut" component. In milk, they shed their sugary coats and the honey essence enters the milk creating an intoxicating elixir. That, mixed with perfectly just-soggy O's, is a damn fine bowl of cereal.

I distinctly remember that commercial with the bee and that charming little song..."Nobody can say no to the honey nut o's in Honey Nut Cheerios" from the late 90s. It haunted me. I longed for the sweet honey nut taste.

I actually have to avoid these, especially now that I'm old enough to buy them myself. They are so light and go down so easily, I could easily kill a box within three sittings. Someone dare me. OK fine, I dare myself.

MultiGrain Cheerios

I can sum up this cereal with this phrase: MULTIGRAIN CHEERIOS ARE MY JAM. I love this cereal with a deep passion. Absolutely a top 5 cereal.

Growing up, we were occasionally allowed to have this in the house but only very rarely. My silly mom may have been momentarily fooled by the word "multi-grain" and thought this was a tasteless health-food variety.

I don't know if it's the colors—various appealing shades of brown, tan and corn-like yellow—or the slight glaze on the O's that gives them that extra crunch, but whichever magicians developed this cereal certainly did something right. The multiple grain flavors involved would be: wheat, oats, barley, and rice.

I'm not sure what the mechanics are behind this finding, but digging into a box of MultiGrain Cheerios feels lighter than a box of Honey Nut, which are all oat-based. I'm essentially a professional when it comes to digging-hands-in-cereal boxes so, I figured this would be useful information to others in my field.

Ben and I also did a scientific tasting whereby we separated out the three colors and tried to differentiate flavor. Our results were...inconclusive. Ben retracted his initial statement that every O is the same—there are definite textural differences and slight flavor differences, but nothing groundbreaking. I guess this won't be the Definitive Cheerios Expose I was hoping it would be.

Well, that's enough Cheerios for one day. Next week we'll look at the sugary novelty flavors: Fruity, Chocolate and Frosted.

Cheerios thoughts? Any die-hard original Cheerios fans out there? Can we talk about the awesomeness of Honey Nut and MultiGrain?