If you think Mini Cinnamon Churros is as Mexican as cereal gets, buckle your seatbelts, amigos. It's about to get real.
I received an email from Serious Eats reader Camila telling me that the Mexican versions of well-known cereals were far different than their American counterparts. She then offered to have the cereals sent from Mexico (her home country) and bring them in for an international taste test extravaganza. Maybe I was inspired by our Mexican Coke vs. Regular Coke tasting, but this sounded like my kind of party. (And here I thought my Spanish degree was just good for keeping me in student loan debt until I'm 50 and making my resume ineffective! Ha!)
Clearly the U.S. is the leader in the whole "cold cereals for breakfast culture," (I made that stat up on my own, but am fairly certain it's true) but Camila told me they are a fairly popular Mexican breakfast as well. Her favorite breakfast or even snack growing up was Froot Loops and Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes) with bananas. She confidently urged us to begin the tasting, claiming these Mexican versions are far superior.
Round 1: Froot Loops
At first glance, the boxes don't look too different. Toucan Sam is doing his thing, adventuring around. But one look inside the box and the difference is instantly apparent.
The American Froot Loops are an eerie neon color not found in nature while the Mexican Froot Loops are a duller, more "natural" looking shade. The texture is different too. The American Froot Loops have that hard, sugary, guaranteed cavity-creating coating while the Mexican Froot Loops are softer with less sugar coating. Also, they are missing the latest addition, the Blue loop.
As far as flavor goes, the Mexican Loops taste like your classic generic brand knockoff or "healthier" version, which I don't mind. But I have to give a point to the American side here. There's just something about that American Froot Loop flavor. Maybe because it was the first sweet cereal I can remember being really aware of—that forbidden taste of unknown froots, stolen in hot handfuls from hotel buffet lines.
Well, the Mexican version just didn't have it.
Round 2: Frosted Flakes (Zucaritas)
Tony the Tiger is one of the best-known cereal mascots, with his dopey, cheery voice and classic catchphrase, They're G-G-R-REAT! So I must admit, I was a bit intimidated when I met Tigre Toño, his aggressive Mexican counterpart. This is not the same cat, gang. Toño is boldly approaching you with some super tough eyebrows and a serious upper body, growling "Grriquisimas." No silly thumbs up for this guy, just a semi-menacing stare.
The flakes themselves are darker, sturdier, and have more of a curved shape, while the Zucaritas are lighter, yellower. The sturdy-factor continues into texture and taste. Frosted Flakes have that awesome, classic Corn Flake flavor with just the right amount of sugar to remind you of childhood (not MY childhood, but if you were lucky enough to have them at your disposal, then I'm referring to yours). The Zucaritas are SUPER sugary and kind of fall apart in milk. The sugar flavor is just that—sugar without any corn goodness backing them up. Camila begged to differ, that this was the whole point, sweet and sugary all the way through without the overbearing corn taste in the way. I see her point, but nonetheless...
Round 3: Corn Pops
This was the cereal that caused Camila to first realize her childhood favorites in Mexico were far different from (daresay inferior to) their American counterparts. She recalled a tale of tasting American Pops for the first time and being totally disappointed. The boxes aren't all that different, except that for the, uh, edgy looking font on the Mexican box, and that creepy spoon with a mouth.
In appearance the Mexican Pops look like something that actually once came from the earth whereas the American Pops are just so unnaturally bright and yellow. After one bite of both, I instantly saw where Camila was coming from.
The American Pops are light, airy, soggy, and soft and just taste like sugary nothing. The Mexican Pops, however, are crunchy, and actually taste like some sort of grains, with a sugary coating that doesn't overwhelm. A damn good cereal.
Most certainly, +1 MEXICO
Round 4: Cocoa Krispies (Choco Krispis)
First off, I guess I missed the memo about the monkey no longer being the mascot for Cocoa Krispies (a matter we will discuss in a later column) but Camila informed me Snap, Crackle, and Pop pale in comparison to the very popular Melvin, the face of Choco Krispis.
Melvin appears to be some sort of elephant wearing a space suit, but I decided to take Camila's word for it. The look is a bit different on these two. While the American Krispies are light and more in the pinkish-brown category, the Choco Krispis are smaller and narrower with a comforting dark chocolate color. Maybe it's been a long time since I've had Cocoa Krispies or I was just so infatuated with their forbidden cocoa pleasures as a child that I didn't realize that they actually taste weird and fake.
(OK, now before you all start talking about how all sugary cereals ARE artificial and fake tasting, remember that this is a cereal safe place, so the standards are a bit different.)
Even the coveted "chocolate milk" had a funky taste I was not loving. The Choco Krispis, however, are everything you want in a chocolaty cereal. Crispy and soggy in all the right places with great chocolate flavor and rich, delicious cereal milk. A sure favorite for the winner of our future cereal milk taste test...
And We Have a Tie! Bonus Round
Choco Zucaritas con Malvaviscos, AKA Chocolate Cornflakes with Marshmallows (No American comparison).
This strange cereal consists of unappealingly splattered "chocolate" flakes and strange, shapeless, marshmallows in white, yellow, brown and orange (contrary to the box cover's multicolored sport-shaped guys). I really wanted to like this cereal. But the flakes were ambiguous tasting and the marshmallows stayed rubbery and weird even in milk.
Uh. We'll forget this ever happened.
While we ended up at a tie, I have to tip my spoon in respect to these new Mexican friends. I thought they were going to just be more sugary but the differences were far more interesting. It's too bad most of the common horde will have to do with sub-par Corn Pops and Cocoa Krispies.
So, there you have it—the Mexican vs. American Cereal Showdown. Mil gracias, Camila for enlightening us! You are a true cereal ambassador.
Talk to me about cereals from other countries...any favorites out there?