Convenience food is a large category of stuff that’s only ever okay. Cup Noodles are fine, frozen burritos cover the basics, but you’re almost always sacrificing flavor in the name of efficiency. So we weren’t expecting much from Kellogg’s new Instabowls, aka cups of dry cereal to which you only need to add water. Because the cereal comes packaged with dry milk powder—which Kellogg’s press release refers to more snappily as “instantized milk”—once you add the water and give everything a 10-second stir, you’re supposed to end up with a convincing bowl of cereal and milk. The Takeout tested a free sample to see how well the concept fared in practice.
Like I said, we weren’t terribly excited, and not just because we’re still hurting from Tropicana’s “just add orange juice” gimmick. I use dry milk in cooking and baking sometimes, and I sometimes rehydrate it to see how well it reconstitutes. The end result is never particularly good: it’s always bland and watery, a mere echo of its fresh-from-a-cow counterpart. It does taste like milk, but not the high-quality kind you’d want to drink for the flavor. Takeout managing editor Marnie Shure says the reconstituted milk fares better when held in the fridge overnight, so I may have been missing that key detail—and obviously, Kellogg’s product misses it, too. So would it taste any good?
There are four varieties: Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Raisin Bran Crunch, and Frosted Flakes. I’m going to confess that I don’t eat cereal regularly (I’m more of an eggs or bagel person), so having sweet cereal was going to be a real throwback to my childhood.
I peeled back the lid to my bowl, and underneath those cheerful rings of cereal was a bed of powdered milk. There was a handy line stamped onto the package to show you how much water to pour in, and so we filled our respective bowls to the proper level with cold water from the office fridge dispenser, stirring until the milk was dissolved.
The end result was a perfectly average looking bowl of cereal, which was already promising. I took a spoonful of Apple Jacks and was stunned at how thoroughly normal it all tasted. The liquid wasn’t watery and wan; the label indicated that the dry milk had approximately the same amount of fat as 2% milk, which accounted for its subtle richness.
My fellow taste testers, associate editor Brianna Wellen and managing editor Marnie Shure, both similarly marveled at the accuracy. Shure did note that the milk tasted sweeter than rehydrated milk powder usually does, leading her to believe that the powder is mixed with added sugars. My personal experience with reconstituted milk is that it is usually a touch sweeter than the fresh stuff for some reason, a fact that could have been at play here.
Other than that, each spoonful was perfectly milky and satisfying, just like a normal bowl, complete with a finishing sip of the milk at the bottom infused with Apple Jacks flavor. Wellen said that it’s important to add ice-cold water to the cup, otherwise it warms up to room temp pretty quickly; I can attest to the fact that even cold tap water wasn’t quite cold enough. My bowl ended up being slightly less refreshing than one prepared with milk pulled straight from the refrigerator.
I’ve got to say, Instabowls are a pretty damn convenient product. The packages are super lightweight and would be perfect for road trips, hotel stays, short camping excursions (the packages are a little bulky for a backpack full of other necessities), and even for a desk stash at an office. Wellen said it’d be a great product for people who live alone and don’t drink much milk on a regular basis, but want a bowl of cereal now and then, since it’s shelf stable and pre-portioned. Shure mentioned it could be a good option to take to the airport when you’ve got an early morning flight, since it doesn’t use up your precious “liquids and gels” allotment and doesn’t cost $14 like an airport bagel.
A single serving, which contains 1.2 ounces of dry product, has a suggested retail price of $1.98. That’s a teensy bit steep, though you’re paying for the convenience. Instabowls are currently available at Walmart, and you should expect to see a wider nationwide rollout at other stores soon. Whether you have occasion to buy these things is up to you, but we’re happy knowing that just-add-water cereal is a concept that can work.