Breakfast Cereal

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

breakfast cereal is an American food whose dramatic evolution in form and function has rendered it nearly unrecognizable as the same product that took hold of the American imagination in the early 1900s.

The origins of breakfast cereal can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century when religious leaders such as Sylvester Graham (1794–1851), father of the graham cracker, began advocating for dietary reforms. Advances in farming and milling technology allowed for the industrialization of food production, which in turn provoked a reaction against processed foods such as white bread and mass-produced meat. What began as a fringe belief gained currency as some Americans grew increasingly tired of their predominantly meat-and-simple-starch diets. Breakfast, before the advent of breakfast cereal, consisted of griddlecakes, beefsteak, potatoes, buckwheat breads, eggs, sausages, and porridges—a diet many considered to cause nationwide dyspepsia.