Breakfast Cereals

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

breakfast cereals were among the earliest convenience foods. Their history is enmeshed with that of the American vegetarian, health food, and water-cure movement, and also that of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which enjoined a meatless diet.

In the early days of the 19th century the Rev. Sylvester Graham, a man of strong views on diet despite his lack of medical qualifications, had advocated the use of wholemeal flour. Graham bread, crackers, and flour were already in common use in 1858 when Dr James C. Jackson took over an unsuccessful water-cure resort in Dansville, New York, and renamed it ‘Our Home Hygienic Institute’. Patients were subjected to a rigorous routine of baths and less pleasant treatments, and fed a very restricted diet including various grain products. Experiments by Graham himself to improve the palatibility of his chosen fare came up in 1863 with something he called Granula (Latin for ‘little grain’): Graham flour and water dried to a brittle mass in an oven, broken, baked again, then ground to small pieces. It resembled Grape Nuts, with a pleasantly toasted flavour. This was then marketed by Jackson, together with a grain-based ‘health’ coffee, Somo. The principal charm of Granula, which enjoyed a modest success, was its profitability.