History of Favorite American Food Corn Flakes Part 1

About the history of the favorite American food corn flakes, information about the nutritional value of cereal and more.


Corn Flakes

Today, even corn flakes are controversial. With annual per capita consumption in the U.S. at about 8 lb., both manufacturers and consumer advocates have got into the fracas.

Joan Gussow, for example, a leader of a study done at Columbia University, says that ready-to-eat cereals like corn flakes are "over-sweetened, overpriced, and overpromoted." Robert B. Choate, a "citizen lobbyist" and chairman of the Council on Children, Media and Merchandising, claims that 40 to 50 cereals studied by his group were found to be nutritionally inadequate, because they provide "empty calories and little else." Most recently, consumer groups have complained of cereals' high sugar content.

In The Natural Breakfast Book (Rodale Press, 1973), Carol Stoner describes how corn is "over-processed":

"The kernels of corn, fairly rich in protein, phosphorus, three B vitamins and vitamin A, are plunged into a lye bath, then cooked in live steam. This puts quite a strain on the nutritional value of the finished product. Then the corn kernels are mixed with a flavoring syrup heavy with refined sugar. They are dried and rolled under 75 tons of pressure by rollers hot with friction, toasted in an oven, and, finally, shucked into a brightly colored box with an impressive list of nutrients printed on the outside. What is left of the vitamin A that was in the original kernels is minuscule. The known B vitamins have been stamped out so thoroughly by cooking and heating that the manufacturers feel constrained to add synthetic imitations. Any protein that might have survived this mechanical mauling is so transformed that it is probably useless."

Cereal manufacturers, organized as the Cereal Institute, describe the processing quite differently:

"The prepared grain or flourlike ingredients are mixed with flavorings and other ingredients according to a precise formula or recipe. Those vitamins which are not affected by heat and minerals are usually added during this process. The giant stainless steel cookers often hold more than a ton of grain and 100 gallons of flavorings. The cookers are continuously rotated to insure complete blending of all ingredients and uniform, thorough cooking. . . Flakes are formed by forcing the cooked grain between large heavy rollers that exert as much as 40 tons of pressure to convert each grit or kernel into a single thin flake. . . . Toasting or puffing is needed to make the cereals crisp and crunchy and to develop their flavor and color. . . .During toasting, cereal is tumbled through heated air in ovens that may be twice as tall as a man and over 20 ft. long. The cereal is exposed, usually for less than a minute, to temperatures between 400 deg. and 600 deg. Fahrenheit, depending on the cereal being made. This reduces the moisture content and makes them crisp and tender. Now they have their familiar golden-brown color and good flavor.

"Fortifying cereals with additional vitamins is one of the final manufacturing steps. Key vitamins may be sprayed onto the cereals as they are tumbled along an enclosed conveyor system or cascaded inside a turning drum. The vitamin spray mixture, which contains those vitamins that may become less effective if exposed to heat, is continuously metered to be sure the proper amounts of vitamins are added. The finished produce is inspected visually and then sent to the packaging area."

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