breakfast cereal

breakfast cereal

breakfast cereal, a food made from grain, commonly eaten in the morning. The oldest type of cereal, known as porridge or gruel, requires cooking in water or milk. The modern breakfast cereals, however, are entirely precooked and eaten in cold milk. The first precooked cereal was probably invented in 1863 by James Jackson. He broke up hardened loaves of unleavened whole grain bread into little pieces and served it for breakfast after soaking the brittle chunks overnight in milk. Jackson named this mixture granula. In 1877, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg created a similar cereal called granola, but not until his invention of corn flakes in 1902 did cereal become a commercial success. At first, most cereals were marketed as pure, whole-grain foods. Eventually, however, competition resulted in the addition of sugar and other food additives and in marketing campaigns directed at children, such as the inclusion of a premium or toy in the box. In the 1970s, as cereals came under attack for their lack of nutritive value, many manufacturers began adding nutrients. Unlike most other grain products, breakfast cereals have shown a steady increase in per capita consumption in the United States throughout the 20th cent. Apart from breads, cereal is the most common form in which Americans consume grain.

A breakfast cereal (often simply called cereal) is a packaged food product made from cereal intended to be consumed as part of a breakfast. It is usually eaten cold as a ready-to-eat meal and mixed with a liquid, such as milk or water, though occasionally yoghurt and fruit are also added. The exception to the rule are cereals such as oatmeal and porridge, which are eaten hot.

Breakfast cereals are marketed to all ages. For adults, companies such as Kellogg's, Quaker Oats, Post, Nestlé, and General Mills promote their products for the health benefits gained from eating oat-based and high-fiber cereals. Manufacturers often fortify breakfast cereals with various vitamins. Cereals with relatively high sugar content are also produced.

The breakfast cereal industry is highly profitable, with gross profit margins around 40-45%, 90% penetration in some markets, and steady and continued growth throughout its history.


Breakfast cereals have their beginnings in the vegetarian movement in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, which influenced members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States. The main Western breakfast at that time was a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and beef. The first breakfast cereal, Granula (named after granule) was invented in the United States in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson, operator of the Jackson Sanitorium in Dansville, New York and a staunch vegetarian. The cereal never became popular; it was far too inconvenient, as the heavy bran nuggets needed soaking overnight before they were tender enough to eat.

The next generation of breakfast cereals was considerably more convenient, and, combined with clever marketing, they finally managed to catch on. In 1877, John Harvey Kellogg, operator of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, invented a biscuit made of ground-up wheat, oat, and cornmeal for his patients suffering from bowel problems. The product was initially also named "Granula", but changed to "Granola" after a lawsuit. His most famous contribution, however, was an accident. After leaving a batch of boiled wheat soaking overnight and rolling it out, Kellogg had created wheat flakes. His brother Will Keith Kellogg later invented corn flakes from a similar method, bought out his brother's share in their business, and went on to found the Kellogg Company in 1906. With his shrewd marketing and advertising, Kellogg's sold their one millionth case after three years.


Charles William Post, a patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, also made significant contributions to breakfast cereals. After his 1893 visit, he started his own sanitarium, the La Vita Inn, and developed his own coffee substitute, Postum. In 1897, Post invented Grape-Nuts and, coupled with a nation-wide advertising campaign, became a leader in the cereal business.

The 20th century

In the 1930s, the first puffed cereal, Kix, went on the market. Beginning after World War II, the big breakfast cereal companies – now including General Mills, who entered the market in 1924 with Wheaties – increasingly started to target children. Sugar was added, and the once-healthy breakfasts began to look starkly different from their fiber-rich ancestors; Kellogg's Sugar Smacks, created in 1953, had 56% sugar by weight. Different mascots were introduced, first with the Rice Krispies elves and later pop icons like Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit.

Because of Kellogg, the city of Battle Creek, Michigan is nicknamed the "cereal city".


Muesli is a popular breakfast cereal based on uncooked rolled oats, fruit and nuts. It was developed around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. It is available in a packaged dry form such as Alpen, or it can be made fresh.

Hot cereals

Most hot cereals can be classified as porridges, in that they consist of cereal grains which are soaked and/or boiled to soften them and make them palatable.


Common hot cereals in Canada include oatmeal, Cream of Wheat and Red River cereal. These hot cereals are typically served with maple syrup or brown sugar and milk or cream. Yoghurt is a popular addition to Red River cereal. Due to commercial availability, instant oatmeal has become increasingly popular, in flavors such as peaches and cream, maple and brown sugar, and cinnamon raisin.


In China, a popular breakfast combination is fried bread and rice congee.


In Greece, cornmeal is poured into boiling milk to create a cereal of a thick consistency which is often served to young children.


In India, a popular breakfast combination is poha and milk. Poha is flattened rice flakes or wheat flakes and mixed with hot milk, sugar or jaggery and a minute quantity of cardamom, making a wholesome breakfast. This is very popular in West India. In North India, a similar breakfast is Dalia, made with whole wheat grits. It can be made both sweet(cooked in milk with sugar) or salty (cooked in water using vegetables). The South Indian staple breakfast is idli, sambar, and vada. Like all traditional South Indian meals, this breakfast is served on a banana leaf.


In Russia, a popular breakfast is kasha, a porridge of buckwheat (гречка), farina (манна), or other grains. Kasha is found throughout much of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Croatia, and Lithuania.

South Africa

Pap is a kind of porridge used in a variety of African meals eaten throughout the day. In other parts of Africa it is known as ugali, sadza, and banku.

Porridge brands unique to South Africa include Jungle Oats and Bokomo Maltabella (made from malted sorghum).

See also



  • Breakfast Cereals and How They Are Made, Elwood F. Caldwell, American Association of Cereal Chemists, 2000, ISBN 1891127152
  • Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal , Scott Bruce, Faber & Faber, 1995, ISBN 0571198511

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