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The Story of Breakfast Cereal

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Breakfast cereal is a wildly popular food, with millions of people—especially kids—eating it every day. Almost everyone likes a crunchy bowl of cereal with cold milk. Believe it or not, there was actually a time when almost no one enjoyed eating cereal. It was very different than it is today: heavy, hard to chew, and really like eating grains unprocessed like the way they are in the field. Yuck!

In the late 1800s, most Americans ate a typical morning meal of bread, eggs, potatoes and meat. Since the food you eat, combined with other factors like genes, exercise, and lifestyle, contributes to your health and how you feel overall, some people decided that they did not feel so good, and they thought a reason why was the big breakfasts they were eating. Problems like constipation (the inability to poop regularly) prompted people to make healthy changes. A new fad developed among middle class and wealthy Americans: a health craze.

At the time, the coolest place for the richest people to go was a place in Michigan called The Battle Creek Sanitarium. This was a health resort where people concentrated on becoming healthy by doing new and innovative health fads like taking very cold baths and doing breathing exercises. The head of the resort was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. (Do you recognize his famous last name?) Among the treatments for the body and the exercise regimens, he thought that providing nutritious diets for the guests was important, too. One of his goals was to help his guests adopt better breakfast habits. He served a healthier version of what we might call granola, and it was not a very appetizing breakfast. The cereal was heavy and grainy. Imagine eating oatmeal raw—this was what the cereal was like.

One day in 1894, John Harvey Kellogg’s younger brother Will Keith Kellogg was interrupted when cooking a pot of wheat. When he arrived back in the kitchen later, the wheat was dried out and stale. Not wanting to waste food, Will and John tried to turn the dried paste-like wheat into dough by forcing it through rollers. Instead of creating sheets of dough, the concoction turned to flakes. They decided to toast them and they became easy to chew. They had accidentally invented wheat flakes, the first breakfast cereal!

The guests loved the cereal! The light flakes were a delicious alternative to the hard to chew grains that they had been eating. After the patients went home, they contacted the Sanitarium and wanted to buy the cereal by mail. Suddenly, the brothers had a booming cereal business on their hands! They continued to experiment and create different types of cereals and succeeded at creating corn flakes in 1896. In 1906, Will purchased the cereal company from his brother and created the Kellogg Company. A whole new craze grew out of the health craze, America’s love for breakfast cereal.


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