The Great Gross-Off: Three-Way Breakfast Cereal Battle Royale!

Written by Consumerism, Junk Food

The Great Gross-Off is probably my oldest Web series, and also my most infrequent, so I won’t blame any of you for not remembering that when I started it — way, way back in 2005, during the Internet Cro-Magnon Era — each installment was supposed to pit junk food against junk food in a battle for who could fill me with the least amount of regret.

Problem is, I’m an impatient guy, and also (unfortunately), new novelty cereals don’t come out every week, and also also, there are things I’m simply unwilling to eat. (One of many reasons why this series will always be a pale shadow of the one that inspired it: The Sneeze’s wonderful, wonderful Steve, Don’t Eat It!) The end result is that it’s been over a year since I braved the sugary depths of the breakfast aisle. Which is awful. But I’m here to make it up to you with not one, not two, but three new LIMITED EDITION “food”stuffs for your consumption.

Remember: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’m just saying.

Anyway, let’s take a look at our contenders in order of consumption. In this corner, weighing in at a slim 110 calories per serving, we have the latest addition to Post’s never-ending family of Pebbles products: PEBBLES BOULDERS!

They look like dog food, don't they?

As you might recall, our most recent Gross-Off entry was inspired by the last Pebbles product: Cupcake Pebbles, a cereal so powerfully sweet that Post didn’t even bother pretending it made sense to eat it for breakfast. They’ve altered course for Pebbles Boulders, billing it as a “Wholesome, Sweetened Cereal” and bragging on the box that a serving contains “less sugar and more whole grain than Honey Nut Cheerios.”

That’s a pretty powerful claim, even when you stop to consider that the breakfast aisle is loaded with cereals that everyone thinks are healthy but really aren’t all that great for you. (Crunch [ahem] some of the surprising numbers dug up by the Harvard School of Public Health, and then fast for a few days.) Honey Nut Cheerios have nine grams of sugar per serving; Pebbles Boulders have eight with a little cross next to the number, which either denotes some sort of disclaimer I can’t find or signifies that Christ died for them. Either way, these are a little less sweet than a cereal everyone feeds their toddlers, which is kind of surprising for a product line that made its name on Fruity Pebbles, a.k.a. Soggy Rainbow Sugar Pulp.

There are two problems with this. One, the number of parents who care about their children’s diet and are willing to inspect a box of Pebbles for this kind of information has got to be infinitesimal. Most adults see “Pebbles,” think “diabetic coma,” and move on to something more responsible, so I kind of think Post is fighting a losing (and silly) battle here.

Two, Pebbles Boulders are gross. The flavor is described on the box as “Stone Age Caramel Apple,” and that’s in the ballpark, I guess, since it smells sort of like a case of candy apples that’s been sitting in the back of a carny’s truck since Clinton’s second term. (If there’s one thing Post knows how to do when it comes to Pebbles, it’s coat them in suggestive odors.)

But when you get around to putting the damn things in your mouth, you realize the smell is a ruse to disguise the fact that Pebbles Boulders don’t taste like caramel (which is just as well, because caramel for breakfast would be disgusting), nor do they taste like apple — and it isn’t like they achieve apple flavor failure in a good way, a la Apple Jacks. They end up just tasting off, like…I don’t know, like maybe an Alzheimer’s patient’s dim recollection of apples. Crossed with Splenda.

I ate a handful while I typed that sentence, just to refresh the ol’ sense memory, and now I’m angry.

So, final verdict: Post isn’t fooling anyone with this “Wholesome, Sweetened” crap, Pebbles Boulders are a stain on the noble legacy of the proudly sugary Pebbles line, and cereal companies should stick with what they do best. Also, I just dumped a nearly full box of this shit off my deck. Maybe black bears are stupid enough to eat it. Grade: D

This brings us to our second contender, also weighing in at 110 calories, and boasting a surprisingly low nine grams of sugar per serving (as well as 10 percent of your RDA of Vitamin D, which is good for something, I guess). Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to COCOA PUFFS BROWNIE CRUNCH!

Oh my God, it's a bowl of chocolate chip brownies!

See what I mean about cereal companies sticking with what they know best? General Mills knew they weren’t going to get anywhere by pretending Cocoa Puffs are some kind of health food, so when it was time to debut a new flavor, they did the only sensible thing: they added chocolate chips and pretended the whole box came out of a fucking brownie pan.

HELL YES, GENERAL MILLS.

It’s brilliant, and I have to say, Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch taste pretty much exactly like dried-up chocolate chip brownie bits — only not nearly as gross as that description makes them sound. They’re actually pretty awesome, in a “This is my breakfast and don’t you dare judge me” kind of way — and I say that as a man whose three-year-old son took a look at the box and uttered simply, “My dad is gross.”

Whatever, kid. You still don’t know how to wipe your butt right, and the other night, when I went into your room to find out why you were calling out in your sleep, I found you lying on top of your covers at the foot of your bed. I’m a man who knows a thing or two about unhealthy cereals, and I’m here to tell you that there isn’t a single thing wrong with Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch. You learn to wipe and sleep, and then we can have a serious talk about what makes a good bad breakfast.

What it comes down to is this: For a junk food cereal to be truly successful, it needs to be both sweet and simple, and Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch has both of those qualities in spades. Does it taste like chocolate? Yes, it does. Can you describe it in a single sentence? Yes, you can: They’re chocolate chip brownies in a bowl. BOOM. Shit for breakfast at its elegant finest. Grade: B+

Which brings us to our third and final contestant, also weighing in at a trim 110 calories, but boasting a muscular 11 grams of sugar per serving. It’s a name you know and trust, folks — the king of mouth-shredding, sinfully delicious cereal. Yes, it’s Cap’n Crunch and his new CHOCOLATEY CRUNCH!

Unlike a lot of breakfast cereal franchises, the Cap’n Crunch line has remained fairly consistent over the years. This is, I think, for two reasons: One, the core Cap’n lineup (original, peanut butter, and Crunch Berries) is pretty unbeatable, and two, most of the twists Quaker has tried putting on the formula have been awful. Christmas Crunch is just Crunch Berries with different food coloring, Oops! All Berries should be renamed Oops! Rainbow Diarrhea, and Cap’n Crunch’s Choco-Donuts are as foul as they are inexplicable. (What kind of sailor brings donuts on a long sea voyage?)

So I approached Cap’n Crunch’s Chocolatey Crunch with trepidation, to say the least. But I have to hand it to the mad breakfast scientists at Quaker, because they got it right this time — instead of trying to add some weird wrinkle to the Cap’n’s fleet, they simply took the old school Crunch, made it chocolate, and put it in a box. Did I say Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch is elegant? Cap’n Crunch’s Chocolatey Crunch is sugary poetry in a bowl.

To their credit, Quaker doesn’t try and pretend this stuff is good for you — instead of bragging about Vitamin D or sugar content, they simply let you know that you’ll be ingesting a small amount of sodium and saturated fat in each serving. This is probably required by law, because really, who cares what’s in the box or whether it’s healthy? It’s Cap’n Crunch, dammit!

Here’s how cheerfully Quaker embraces Chocolatey Crunch’s non-goodness: on the back of the box, they recommend you use it as a “GREAT topping” for vanilla pudding, ice cream, a mocha latte, or — if you’re a figure-conscious wuss — yogurt. All of which sound pretty great, honestly, but the true test of a cereal is how it tastes in milk, and this stuff is damn tasty. Remember my sass-mouthed son, who cast aspersions on Cocoa Puffs Brownie Crunch? He can’t eat a goddamn cup of applesauce without making me break out the mop, but I let him try a bowl of Chocolatey Crunch (after his regular breakfast, judgmental toddler food hippies), and he didn’t waste a single crumb of its real cocoa-ey goodness.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Grade: A