I honestly don’t eat all that much cereal. But I am the sole proprietor of this website, and I have found that writing definitive rankings of very dear and subjective items to be an easy way to formulate the words that appear when you click on this page. My SO, on the other hand, does eat a Seinfeldian amount of cereal, and will, I’m certain, find fault with these rankings. (She was not consulted in advance, despite her experience in the field.)
Although I’m not currently a major consumer of cereal, I did grow up during the golden age of crunchy wheat, rice and corn pellets: the mid-70s to mid 80s. 1979 was probably the biggest cereal year for my generation, with the debut of two game changers. As an idle youth, I can recall enjoying a fat bowl of Digem Smacks while watching Fantastic Four cartoons (the horrible ones with a fucking robot instead of The Human Torch, for fear that kids would set themselves ablaze). So the first half of the list is somewhat steeped in nostalgia, whereas the second half is more reflective of my adult sensibilities.
The Top Ten Cereals of All Time
First Hit Shelves in: 1965
Rationale: I remember Quisp as being a pretty tasty cereal with an alien motif that eventually was discontinued. Apparently it was reintroduced in the 1990s as “the first internet cereal.” Sweet marketing. Killer name though. Nostalgia rules.
Anything Else? Quaker now only sells Quisp online, so I guess the internet moniker is accurate.
9. Cap’n Crunch
First Hit Shelves in: 1963
Rationale: Like Quisp, Cap’n Crunch, the mascot, was created by the guys behind Rocky and Bullwinkle – apparently even in the 60s people were talking synergies, probably the offshoot of some “Quaker Oats buys Hanna Barbera” pitchbook. Quisp was apparently a softer “sister cereal” to the Cap’n – a nod to the fact that Cap’n Crunch is the Funyuns of the cereal world – this cereal will lay waste to the roof of your mouth. Some kids would take a piece of white bread and stick it to the roof of their mouth as a rudimentary crunch-guard. Lacerations or not, Cap’n Crunch remains an industry powerhouse to this day.
Anything Else? Quaker makes like 75 variants of CC – including one that included fucking pop rocks! I once invented a cereal that “swam” around the bowl in my mind! They actually sold that shit! And built a huge advertising campaign around it! I must’ve been underwater at the time, I don’t recall. They also once included a whistle as a toy that emitted a 2600 hertz tone, which somehow allowed the blower to fuck with the phone company by disconnecting a call at a call box and allowing them to somehow use the line for free. This was back in 1971, so presumably it doesn’t work for cell phones, so don’t bother.
8. Frosted Flakes
First Hit Shelves in: 1952
Rationale: They were Sugar Frosted Flakes back in my day, before everything became honeyfied. Not the most exciting cereal, and easily genericized, but has to be a top tenner if only for Tony and his enduring marketing presence. And animals wearing ties or ascots are friggin awesome.
Anything Else? Tony was apparently involved with Katy The Kangaroo for a brief period of time, but it didn’t last. And there have been surprisingly few variations on the classic flake theme – none involving pop rocks. (There’s a term for that: wasted potential.)
7. Sugar Smacks
First Hit Shelves in: 1953
Rationale: Dig’em is a bad-assed mascot and this shit has more sugar than any other cereal, “Honey” Smacks or not. They prepared the pallate nicely for a Velveeta grilled cheese to come. Could easily run around in circles for 8-9 straight hours after a large bowl – possibly an early Red Bull prototype?
Anything Else? Smacks have had about 43 different mascots, including one that was a half-horse, half-kangaroo that kissed everyone in sight. Maybe Tony the Tiger found out that Katy the Kangaroo was actually a post-op cartoonie?
6. Golden Grahams
First Hit Shelves in: 1979
Rationale: I’m not 100% certain on the 1979 bit as the GG wiki is shockingly sparse (especially in light of the ample Quisp love) but it was certainly at some point during my cereal-consuming wheelhouse. These things offered a few things that other cereals couldn’t match: 1) GG were a much simpler method of eating graham crackers and milk (which people used to actually do); 2) GG could be used to make S’Mores, which were the “it” dessert of the era; and 3) GG offered a different, and delightful, taste sensation compared to the other cereals on the market.
Anything Else? My mom, who passed a genetic predisposition to be able to eat a massive quantity of the same food without tiring of it on to me, was also a huge Golden Grahams fan when they came out. We were knocking back like 9 boxes per week. The problem with the affliction, though, is that once you hit the wall, you’ve hit the wall for good. 30 years later, I still can’t eat Golden Grahams. But I certainly respect their place in history.
5. Rice Krispies
First Hit Shelves in: 1928 (holy shit!)
Rationale: I didn’t realize that Rice Krispies were like the Yoda of cereal! This is probably too low on the list, but I have it a little crowded at the top. Extremely tasty cereal (downside, you have to add sugar), enduring mascots (are they related to the Keebler Elves though?) and spawned a dessert that is in the pantheon of deliciousness. These definitely should be higher, but I’m not moving all these pictures around. Sorry, RK, you got fucked over.
Anything Else? The fucking Rolling Stones (italics for emphasis, not because I think you italicize band names) recorded a song for a Rice Krispies commercial in 1963. Created a side industry of putting some marshmallow in the cereal and selling it as a “bar.” One of the first foods to incorporate an audio component into the eating experience.
4. Honey Bunches of Oats w/ Almonds
First Hit Shelves in: 1989
Rationale: My first “variant” selection – you gotta have the almonds, though. This is an “adult” cereal, which unfortunately doesn’t promise nudity or cursing, but that you will not earn disapproving looks at the checkout stand. It’s pretty fucking tasty though.
Anything Else? HBOOWA reminds me a bit of Clusters, a similar adult cereal that had some stuff stuck together and was not horrific. There are about 18 variations of the basic Honey Bunches of Oats, the most exotic of which is probably Honey Mustard Bunches of Oats.
3. Apple Jacks
First Hit Shelves in: 1965
Rationale: A is for apple, J is for jacks. Cinnamon, toasty apple jacks. That’s really all you need to know – the bowl of pink milk is just a bonus.
Anything Else? Invented in 1965 by an MIT professor (who’s not coincidentally credited with creating the “fake apple deliciousness” algorithm). Once came out with a non-carrot, carrot variant. That variant also hyped the lack of apple taste on the box, which is odd for a product called “apple ____.”
2. Honey Nut Cheerios
First Hit Shelves in: 1979
Rationale: 1979 was a huge year for cereal, with the introduction of Golden Grahams and Honey Nut Cheerios. Adding flavor to Cheerios? Madness! It got the cereal variant party started, for real. HCN is a rare straddle cereal – kids and adults can eat it with smug satisfaction.
Anything Else? Lots of fiber is good for the cholesterolz. The bee mascot is pretty annoying though. Parents use ziploc bags of HNC to calm wilding babies when out in society.
1. Fruity Pebbles
First Hit Shelves in: 1971
Rationale: One of the foods I can eat an inordinate amount of (in the group with ice cream sandwiches and reese’s peanut butter eggs). Provides a full days fruit requirement in only one bowl (or something like that)! Does not damage your mouth. Kind of like Rice Krispies, but they add the (ample) sugar for you. Fred and Barney – enduring pop culture superstars and champion cereal pushers.
Anything Else? Fruity Pebbles topping remains the only reason to go to Pinkberry. Also the longest-running cereal that started as a movie or tv tie-in. The commercials have always emphasized to kids the importance of larceny in a balanced breakfast.
Honorable Mention: Lucky Charms (for status only – marshmallows have no place in cereal), Special K (surprisingly good despite healthy rap), Frosted Mini Wheats (You’ll burn out on them quickly), Count Chocula / Frankenberry / Booberry (always room for comic horror at breakfasttime), Chex (should be recognized for broader contribution to snackdom)
Guarantee: If Butler wins tonight, the headline on every major newspaper and website will be “The Butler Did It!”