How Did Cereal Become a Staple Breakfast Item?

For kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s,
it was sugary cereal commercials that dotted the television landscape, featuring lucky
leprechauns, wise-cracking droids and adorable Gremlins. A common theme among all of them was advocating
these products were a “magical part of a complete breakfast“, helping to ingrain
that idea into our collective mindset. Of course, anyone who has even a modicum of
knowledge about proper nutrition knows that regularly partaking in a massive dose of extremely
calorie dense, sugary cereal is not at all needed nor advisable in a “complete breakfast”. So how did we get here? What did people historical eat for breakfast
and who was the first to claim eating cereals like mini-ETs was a nutritious way to start
the day? To begin with, both large groups of people
eating breakfast and large groups choosing to skip it is nothing new. While The Iliad and The Odyssey make mention
of soldiers and manual laborers eating a meal very close to the start of the day, with items
on the menu being things like barley bread, olives, fig, and wine, many in the ancient
world did not eat breakfast at all. In fact, as far as a set meal goes, it wasn’t
uncommon to choose to only eat one large meal towards the end of the day. For instance, according to food historian
Caroline Yeldham, outside of the aforementioned individuals like campaigning soldiers and
those who spent their days doing intensive manual labor, many Ancient Romans did not
typically eat a morning meal, preferring the aforementioned one, very large meal a day
eaten at about three or four in the afternoon. That said, those Romans who did eat a morning
meal, with said meal called jetaculum, seem to have eaten things like bread, olives, raisins,
cheese, and nuts, washing it down with some wine-based beverage, somewhat similar to the
Ancient Greeks. As for the legionary on the go, they ate things
such as a porridge made from wheat and barley soaked in water. In all cases, this was essentially pre-prepared
or quick to make and eat food that provided what the body needed to sustain high energy
output throughout the morning. The trend toward abstaining from breakfast
at all saw a huge upsurge during the Middle Ages, with many opting for a two meal system-
one around noon and one in the evening. Eating a meal shortly after waking during
this period in the Western world seems to have been largely considered a form of gluttony,
as noted by 13th century priest Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. That’s not to say nobody ate breakfast,
however, even in this anti-breakfast era in the Western world. Those requiring a lot of calories to get through
the day generally ate things like rye bread and beer in the morning, though it appears
the more devout of these individuals tended to take their desire for a morning meal as
a sign of moral weakness, and their giving into it as something of a sinful act. Unsurprisingly given manual laborers tended
to be poor, beyond being considered somewhat gluttonous, eating breakfast in this era also
tended to be looked down upon by the affluent as something only poor people did. It was also during this time that the midday
meal, which, as mentioned, for many in the Western world was the first meal of the day,
was actually called “dinner,” from the Old French word “disnar” which meant breakfast. So, in other words, lunch was breakfast and
it was called dinner… It was during the 14th and 15th centuries
that adding a meal between last night’s feast and the midday one started coming into
fashion for all classes. In fact, the English word “breakfast”
dates back to the mid-15th century when it, unsurprisingly, literally meant to break the
fast between two meals. Within a few centuries, breakfast became normalized
and there are records of it being pushed as the “most important meal of the day” going
all the way back to the early 18th century, with those who could afford such items eating
things like eggs, tea, and coffee, along with more classic breakfast items like breads,
nuts, and fruits. In fact, by the mid-18th century, certain
of the English elite even started building designated breakfast rooms. This finally brings us to the 19th century
and the more direct genesis of the sugary breakfast cereal we have today. It was in this era that many Americans were
suffering from dyspepsia, or indigestion, seemingly caused by a high protein / high
fat diet largely composed of fatty meats and not nearly enough fiber. Symptoms included upper abdominal pain and
bloating. To combat this, and other real and perceived
ailments, alternate breakfast items began popping up, generally attempting to avoid
meats and animal fats altogether. On top of this, with the industrial revolution,
breakfast became less about socializing and more about quick consumption- the factory
workers needed their caloric intake but didn’t have enough time to prepare or eat a full
sit-down meal. Enter breakfast cereals. The first modern, designated breakfast cereal
(forms of porridge aside) was invented in 1863 by a vegetarian Christian abolitionist
doctor named James Caleb Jackson. Created for his sanatorium patients as a healthy
start to the day, it was comprised of crumbled, twice baked graham flour (which is essentially
a type of non-bleached, “all-natural” finely ground whole wheat flour) and bran
(hard outer layer of the grain), he called “granula”. The end product resembled a much harder version
of modern Grape-Nuts, but with significantly larger nuggets. Jackson’s granula was reportedly so hard
that it needed to be soaked in liquid for at least 20-30 minutes before it could be
comfortably bitten into it. In the 1870s, Dr. John Kellogg ran his own
sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan and was known for his very strange, sometimes sadistically
abusive methods, including electrically shocking children’s genitals, applying forms of acid
to them, removal of the clitoris in females, and circumcising males- all to attempt to
prevent masturbation and sexual urges. (Interestingly, the latter male circumcision
treatment as something commonly performed in America actually hails from this era; the
modern non-Jewish / non-Islamic practice of foreskin removal was not really a thing in
the Western world until it began to be seen as a way to prevent masturbation, see: Why
Do Men Get Circumcised?). In any event, Dr. Kellogg visited Jackson’s
retreat and was most impressed with his granula. So impressed, in fact, that he ripped off
the idea, creating his own version of it made of wheat, corn, and ground oats. He uninventively called it “granula”… As a result, Jackson sued and Kellogg was
forced to rename his cereal “granola.” A few years later, a failed Battle Creek suspender
salesman named Charles W. Post partially knocked off Kellogg’s product and started selling
an exceptionally similar “granola” product he called Grape-Nuts, claiming it could make
one’s “red blood redder.” As with Jackson, Kellogg and Post both pushed
this food item as an ideal, healthy food to start the day with, setting the trend that
has continued through today for this line of product. Between Kellogg and Post, at the turn of the
20th century, Battle Creek became a battle ground for two companies that would come to
define the world of breakfast cereal. For instance, legend has it that due to a
mishap making a batch of the original version of Graham crackers (originally created by
Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham as a way to curb sexual urges, and particularly
the urge to masturbate), John Kellogg and his brother Will invented a product they unimaginatively
dubbed “Corn Flakes”. Post was a little more flamboyant, naming
his version of the same thing “Elijah’s Manna”- meant as a striking allusion to
the biblical story about the food that saved the wandering, starving Israelites. With the famed prophet sitting on a rock and
hand feeding a raven on the front of the box, Elijah became the first cereal mascot. However, fairly quickly, religious groups
protested and Post changed the name to “Post Toasties.” Ultimately the Kellogg brothers split over
Will Kellogg’s decision to recommend adding sugar to Corn Flakes to help it sell better,
something Dr. John Kellogg found borderline blasphemous as such a thing, in his opinion,
encouraged sexual excitement. The two parted ways with Will founding the
Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which went on to become the now billion dollar Kellogg
corporation (which besides their tasty flakes was soon to also introduce another breakfast
staple- Rice Krispies). His brother John Kellogg stuck to his original
principles and continued to dedicate his life to ridding the world of such evils as masturbation… Now, given the ladies of the house at this
time tended to be the ones who decided what the family would eat, during the first few
decades of the 20th century, cereal advertising was primarily aimed at housewives. Kellogg’s told women to wink at their grocer
and see what they got (answer: a box of Corn Flakes). Quaker Oats likewise sponsored radio dramas
and mid-day radio shows aimed at housewives. Post told moms that bringing up kids on their
cereals would help them later in life. In the late 1930s, as breakfast cereal became
more established and commonly purchased anyway, cereal companies started thinking it might
be best to skip the middlewoman, instead marketing directly to children, who presumably would
pester their mothers for which cereal they wanted. For instance, in 1936, a “Dennis the Menace”-like
character named Skippy was used to specifically market Wheaties to children. (Originally a comic strip, Skippy and his
creator, Percy Crosby, have a particularly sad story). The problem here is that children tend to
not like straight bran or wheat… but they do love sugar. In 1939, the first pre-sugared cereal was
produced, called Ranger Joe Wheat Honnies. Ironically, the product was actually an effort
by the creator to minimize how much additional sugar kids commonly put on their cereal by
including a relatively small, regulated amount already. But instead of curbing the practice of over-sugaring
cereal, it eventually resulted in the opposite, starting with Post copying Ranger Joe Wheat
Honnies with their own version called Sugar Crisp in 1949; thanks to a major breakfast
cereal producer now making such a pre-sugared product, the rest of the industry followed
suit. By the 1960s, cereal companies were devoting
approximately 90% of their advertising budgets to directly appealing to individuals of the
youthful persuasion. This is why it is so common today to have
“prizes” in the cereal box, tie-ins with movies, video games, and TV shows, and products
called Sprinkles Spangle and Ice Cream Cone Cereal. On that note, this is also why adding more
and more sugar to breakfast cereal became a thing. As for widespread claims by the manufacturers
that these cereals are “part of a complete breakfast,” technically the cereal companies
are not lying here. Unsurprisingly given that the three primary
nutrient groups, known as macronutrients, that humans need to survive are carbohydrates,
proteins, and fats, according to the American Chemical Society, a healthy breakfast should
consist of mostly carbohydrates and proteins. Shocker, I know. And, indeed, cereal, even if it’s simply
a bowl of pure sugar, constitutes carbs. So these products can indeed technically be
considered an essential part of a complete breakfast, just perhaps not an advisable one
given the vast majority are essentially candy cleverly marketed to appear nutritious, often
complete with a giant label on the side showing all the vitamins added to the product… along
with tiny recommended serving sizes that nobody even comes close to following to mask the
absolute massive number of calories and sugar most real-world servings of the products contain. But to be fair, combined with certain other
breakfast items, in extreme moderation this staple of the breakfast world could potentially
be useful if one leads a very physically active life, instead of just rolling out of bed only
to very soon after sit at a desk all day and then come home and sit on the couch until
bed time. On that note, perhaps those sedentary, wealthy
aristocrats of old were on to something in choosing to skip the morning meal. And for those who led a heavily manual labored
life, it is perhaps no surprise that some form of grain-based morning meal seems to
have been the choice people made throughout most of recorded history- easy to quickly
eat and comprised of a mix of simple and complex carbs to provide both quick and relatively
longer lasting stores of energy, all while avoiding too much protein and fat which, while
otherwise essential for life and important for things like maintaining muscle mass, might
not sit well when eating mostly that in the morning and then jumping right into hard labor. Funny enough, while you might think products
like Grape-Nuts or Corn Flakes would offer a better alternative to more sugary breakfast
cereals, at least in terms of avoiding a blood sugar spike, it should be noted that Grape-Nuts
has a glycemic index of 71. (For the uninitiated, the GI is a scale showing
the effect of a given food item on one’s blood sugar levels, with 100 being pure glucose.) This is surprisingly higher than such sugary
cereals as Fruit Loops (about 69) and Frosted Flakes (about 55). For further shocking reference, Corn Flakes
has a mean GI of about 81, and Rice Krispies are at 82, while table sugar only has a GI
of 60. That said, good nutrition is a lot more complicated
than just looking at a single number and there is definitely a place for food items high
on the GI, particularly ones that offer other benefits like lots of fiber and micronutrients. It’s just surprising how high the vast majority
of breakfast cereals, even seemingly non-sugary ones like Grape-Nuts, are on that index. In 1941, CheeriOats were introduced as a “ready-to-eat”
oat cereal. The name emphasized the main ingredient to
differentiate itself from the numerous other brands out there whose products were generally
made of things like wheat. Unfortunately for CheeriOats, Quaker Oats
took offense to the name, claiming the “Oats” part infringed on their trademark. While it is highly unlikely Quaker Oats would
have won in court, to avoid the issue altogether, the name was changed to Cheerios in 1945.

100 thoughts on “How Did Cereal Become a Staple Breakfast Item?

  1. That the reason why their don includes Glycemic Index on nutritional fact. Not only cereal, everything. If people know about GI, 50-60% of people will guarantee to skip and avoid processing food completely. So the marketing strategy here is to make consumer as stupid as possible to gain more profit. People that know Glycemic Index is only people that do a diet, doctor, and researcher only, where everyone must know what isGlycemic Index about to fight Diabetes.

  2. TIL about the glycemic index. The history lesson was pretty interesting too. Watch the movie "The Road to Wellness" for an amusing history about Kellog's sanatorium.

  3. One of my Great-Grandmother's (we called her "Nanny") stories was of how bad she wanted some of the box of Grape Nuts her father had bought for her mother. She would push the kernels to a mound at one side of the bowl and dip each spoonful into the milk (this is how I eat them, as a result). Nanny would recount how she (age 9) pouted and asked her Pa why she couldn't have some. He replied that her mother needed them because she was sick. He must have believed they possessed some miraculous power against her sickness. But this was 1917 and that sickness was the Spanish Flu. It killed 'Ma' and four of Nanny's six siblings.

  4. Grape Nuts are "seemingly non-sugary"? Simon, don't you know that the term "Grape Nuts" comes from the presence of dextrose, also referred to as "grape sugar", which is formed in the baking process?

  5. I guess circumcision a religious ploy for priests to get handy with their victims before brainwashing them into becoming one of them. Every drone must attend during Sundays, then come to the camps and finally start preaching retarded bullshit while molesting all over the place themselves.

  6. Simon Whistler it could be sad but the first race happened as soon as the second car left the assembly line but when did the first recorded human automobile race happen

  7. As a Christian, I think it's super cool that Elijah was the mascot. I don't understand why they hated it so much then!

    I like C.W Post's response: "Perhaps no one should eat angel food cake, enjoy Adam's ale, live in St. Paul, nor work for Bethlehem Steel… one should have his Adam's apple removed and never again name a child for the good people of the bible."

  8. I found the part about dinner being derived from a word meaning breakfast rather funny, because my father-in-law has this weird pet peeve where he insists that the evening meal should be called supper (not dinner) and the noon meal should be called dinner (not lunch), because in his small town isolated part of Arkansas where he grew up that's what he had always called it.

  9. European based cultures are the only ones that have "Breakfast foods". Other areas of the world, they eat the same food at each meal.

  10. I'm curious what and how much people in the ancient times ate in a single meal to last the whole day.

  11. I'm just glad you didn't address General Mills. I really didn't need to hear about cereal-related war crimes…

  12. Loved this episode. I live in Battle Creek and work at Post Cereal. I make Grape Nuts and Granola. The Post and Kellogg factories are a half mile apart at most.

  13. The fuck are you talking about? I grew up in the 60s and 70s watching Quark, Super Sugar Crisps, Apple Jacks, Trix, and Frosted Flakes commercials non-stop.

  14. I worked with a guy who was born in Britain and lived there for like three years as a toddler, and he would always pronounce breakfast literally as "brake-fast" instead of "brek-fist" and then claim it was because that's how British people say it. I have literally never heard a single Brit pronounce it any differently than us Yanks. It was such a stupid thing to be so pretentious about, like "oh look at me, I'm special because I was born somewhere else, and I'm going to talk funny to remind you every chance I get." He was such a tool.

  15. I eat when hungry,and never gorge. I'm 45yo and look 25. The body is a filter for nutrition and poison. As for water,if you don't have a filter for it,you are the filter for that too.

  16. As much anti-masturbation as that guy was, he probably did it more than any man who has ever and will ever live. The guilty protest too much, as the old saying goes.

  17. One problem here… you seem to imply that people "need" to eat carbohydrates in order to live. That's categorically false. Although people need to get all kinds of things from the food they eat (e.g., essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, etc…), there is literally no such thing as an essential carb. You literally don't need carbs for ANYTHING. All carbs do when you eat them is get turned directly into sugar in the bloodstream, and if eaten in excess, get stored as fat. However, the human body doesn't require any dietary carbs or sugar at all, as it can make all the glucose (sugar) it needs to operate from the protein that we eat via gluconeogenesis.

  18. Corn and oats are GMO crops. Roundup ready. The carcinogen glyphosate is plentifuljy present in your favorite breakfast cereal.

  19. Kellogg might have been a quack, but he was probably onto something when he feared adding sugar to Corn Flakes would awaken sexual urges, if all the Tony the Tiger furry porn is anything to go by.

  20. How many videos about cereal end up talking about circumcision? Not many. Stay classy, 60 fps information guy, stay classy.

  21. 2:36 Aquinas is pronounced Ak-WINE-us. Or maybe A-queen-us if you're Italian.
    But *not*, as he says here, A-keen-us.

  22. So I just learned America is fat so as to stop masturbation. And cereal is sugary so as to prevent sugary cereal.

  23. Yes, I remember the commercials in the 60s. With sugar – for the extra needed energy!
    Somehow, I don’t think that would go over so well today. 😁🙄

  24. "…including shocking children's genitals…" then an ad….worst cliffhanger ever or just the most awkward? Leave a comment down below and let Simon know and remember to hit subscribe button!

  25. What's interesting is that kids in the 70's and 80's who first began eating these sugary cereals tend to be less obese than kids now who are supposedly raised on healthier meals.

  26. This takes me back… I haven't eaten cereal in years.
    I usually eat just a little bit of meat or some other kind of protein at the start of the day.

  27. The line between cereal and candy has actually gotten even more blurred. I recently saw cereal versions of Recess Pieces and Sour Patch Kids.

  28. "Part of a complete and balanced breakfast"….and they show a guy eating an orange, a glass of milk, two apples…

  29. Sooooo the solution I'm hearing is – put bacon bits in the cereal. Carbs + protein. I mean, ya'll heard that too right??

  30. I eat a cereal that doesn't have any sugar… and I don't mean any *added*, I mean NONE.
    Sainsbury's own-brand version of Weetabix.
    Sugared versions of cereal are not allowed in our house. My wife is a Dietitian..

  31. 3:25 diner was actually a different word for souper, which translates to, you guessed it, dinner…
    Breakfast has almost always been petit-dejeuner, and lunch is usually dejeuner

  32. So giving the children tablesugar in the morning makes it less likely for them to develop diabetes than having them eat corn flakes…
    I think the Kellogg's would have been still talking to each other if they could have seen the future… if you don't see it, you forget to play with it…

  33. Cereals are possibly the most unhealthy thing one could ever eat. I've been on a Keto diet (high in animal fat and protein) for months and have lost over a 120 pounds.
    Fats are the best source of long lasting energy.
    In fact if it weren't for animal fats our brains would have not developed.

  34. “Circumcision was brought to the US to discourage masturbation”

    Well I hate to break it to him…but it does not.

    Source: deez nuts

  35. Eggs as a breakfast item always made me curious. This is pretty standard in the US, along with Britain and I'm sure several other countries. However, in my travels I became surprised by how many regions don't regularly consume eggs as a main course for any meal really. Surely chickens were widespread across the world for a very long time and there can almost be no simpler food item to prepare. This is easier to understand with countries that were remote from one anoth "back in the day" but take Britain compared to Germany. A full english breakfast vs, as an example, a pale sausage suspended in a bowl of hot water and coupled with a prezel. If the description of that German breakfast option sounds like merely a false stereotype, or something they'd only feed tourists…you would be wrong. Even breakfast at Mcdonalds in Germany don't have options like an egg breakfast sandwich. It's always struck me as so bizarre. Especially over the last few decades I can't help but feel a greater degree of culinary cross pollination to the point of almost a homogenization should have taken place. I feel like I'm deepening the question beyond eggs at this point, but, why has it not?

  36. I'm more concerned with how Kellogg's has ruined their sugary cereal by switching to whole grain flour. Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks taste like paste now days. Fortunately, I found a knock-off brand, Hospitality, that makes Fruit Whirls and Apple Whirls that still use white flour.

  37. "Eating a meal shortly after walking during this period…" – you meant "waking". Seriously, either your editing is lacking or you just don't know how to pronounce words.

  38. He said eating after walking was considered gluttony. Lol. I know he meant waking, but it was funny nonetheless..😅😂🤣

  39. Well still ate mine because I don't wanna clean the pan after making myself eggs but restricted it to 30g / 0,066lbs did the trick for today but in the future I might just stick with an apple.

  40. Watched the entire video, absorbed all the information, and yet, I have still not understood how exactly cereal is supposed to keep one from masturbating, and how adding sugar to it will lead to, uh,… Sexual miscondact.

  41. Actually, carbs are really not needed in our diet. The only reason for carbs should be for fiber. The grains all break down to sugars. Let’s go back to egg and bacon for breakfast… or perhaps just a cup of coffee.

  42. Wow, way to confuse the issue at the end. Rather than taking away the obvious fact that high sugar anything is not a healthy choice of a staple food, we’re left with “ oh gee nutrition is complicated but doesn’t sugar taste good”. What is the point of deseminating information if you’re just gonna undercut it at the end? 10 points for effective propaganda, minus 20 for truth and integrity…

  43. Leave it to Christianity to turn medieval peasants' need for calories into a "sin." Who needs energy? Your abusive imaginary friend wants you to feel guilty about trying not to be malnourished.

  44. Love your videos. But – minor detail – Elijah’s Manna can’t have been about how the Israelites were fed in the desert; Elijah came much later, and was once fed by an angel while he was running away (and also looking for God). So I’m guessing it was a reference to what the angel fed him, that gave him strength to continue a long journey.

  45. Carbs/sugars maques you obese and insulin resistant/diabetic, brekfast its not necessari, the food for humams are animals including the organs and the fats. Iven the hervivores like cows get sick wen thei eat to much grains. Mr kellogs was traing ro create infertiliti by promoting carbs, same objective than hes mutilation experiments. Nowadays we see tje results of these eugenesia agenda having a epidemic of inferriliti in occident due to hig carbs/sugars diet.

  46. There are essential fats and proteins but no essential carbs. Your body can make all the glucose it needs with some amino acids, and some turn to ketones whether you're in ketosis or not. So I don't see how they're not lying, carbs aren't essential, especially not pure cereal sugar.

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