I first noticed Kellogg’s new “Icee” breakfast cereal because I thought it looked preposterous.
My husband and I and our best friends from college have an ongoing joke where we text each other the most outrageous boxes of cereal we come across at the grocery store. This one fit the bill.
It isn’t even the first frozen-drink-themed cereal we’ve come across in this quest. Wendy’s Frosty Cereal had been among our texted wonders. But something about the Icee one captured my curiosity.
The Wendy’s cereal simply suggested on the back of the box that I stick it in the freezer to make it cold. The Icee cereal, meanwhile, claims to actually cool one’s mouth as they eat. I had to try it. I bought a box.
I opened the bag and was hit hard with the smell of blue raspberry and cherry flavoring. It smelled exactly like an Icee tastes: sweet, nothing like real fruit, and pretty good.
The flavor didn’t live up to the smell. It tasted like any old fruit-flavored cereal. As for the cooling, it made my mouth feel tingly and weird. Maybe numb? I wasn’t cold. I kind of felt like I had a cold and had eaten a numbing menthol cough drop to combat it.
My family tasted the cereal with me. My husband didn’t notice any “cooling” sensation whatsoever. My seven-year-old claimed to “instantly feel freezing all over,” but I’m pretty sure that was some mind-over-matter, marketing jargon stuff. (Lesson learned: Next time I won’t mention the effect the weird food we’re testing is intended to have.) My two-year-old said her mouth felt fine, though I’m not entirely sure she understood what I was asking. Of the four of us, the youngest member of the family enjoyed the flavor the most. She has asked me for several bowls since our taste test, calling them “the colorful balls.”
One TikTok user compared the sensation to a “lighter version of a toothpaste tingle,” while a Reddit user said, “It made the side of my lips cold like after I was done with the bowl. Feels like I put Vicks Vapor rub or icy hot on my lips without the smell.” The cereal is decidedly not medicinal, but I understand the comparison. It’s where my mind went too, with my “numbing cough drop” analogy.
By creating a so-called cooling sensation with whatever magic it’s using to do so, Kellogg’s is aiming to make our mouths feel cold, the way they feel after that first sip of an Icee. But what’s really going on with this cereal? Our mouths aren’t actually getting cold. It’s just a trick, and it’s one we experience with other foods, too.
Though the flavor of the cereal is not minty, it’s true that the chemical found in mint, menthol, plays a big role in changing our perceptions of certain foods. In fact, some people even perceive a glass of water to be colder when it tastes minty, because the menthol in it “cools” their mouths.
“In reality, the water temperature remains unchanged,” writes Your Indoor Herbs and Garden. “The chemical in mint called menthol activates a receptor in the mouth called Transient Receptor Potential Cation Channel Subfamily M Member 8 (TRPM8) fooling the brain into thinking the water temperature has decreased.” This is referred to as a thermal illusion.
Though menthol might be tricking your brain into sensing cold when it isn’t there, some foods create other physical sensations in the body. As The Takeout has explored in detail, the Sichuan pepper creates a numbing or a vibrating sensation, while the “buzz button” flower creates numbing and tingling sensations when eaten.
The latter is used in a popular Star Wars–themed cocktail at Walt Disney World called the Fuzzy Tauntaun, which can be found at Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge. Reportedly, Disney World changed its recipe in 2022 to include a foam with a less dramatic numbing effect than had been used before.
In the case of Icee cereal, it’s unclear what Kellogg’s has added to the cereal to create the cooling (or, as I experienced it, slightly numbing) sensation in its cereal. The company is staying tight-lipped about what might be causing it, but have noted that it is a “a flavor that is added to the cereal coating.” This tracks for me; I found that the longer the cereal steeped in the milk, the less weird it felt to chew.
Buzz buttons, sichuan peppers, and menthol are not among the ingredients listed, and I remain stumped. As one reviewer put it, “I suspect they get the cold sensation with menthol or something but the cold ingredients aren’t listed on the box or online so, who knows!”