I ordered 14 boxes of Cheerios online because I couldn’t bring myself to buy them at my local grocery store. I imagined my fellow shoppers giving me a wide berth as I guided my shopping cart down the aisles, the basket overflowing with more than a dozen varieties of Cheerios, looking as if I was preparing for the zombie apocalypse.
I had purchased almost every flavor in the Cheerios universe for two reasons: 1) As part of a scientific experiment to rank the flavors from worst to first; and 2) To break the world record for the number of times the word “Cheerios” appears in a single story.
When the cereal arrived, I arranged the boxes on my dining room table. It was a dazzling display. They were not the Cheerios I grew up on. Sure, a few of them were familiar. There was the bright yellow box of the original Cheerios, which proudly proclaimed that it was “Made With 100% Whole Grain Oats.” And there was the cheerful anthropomorphic Buzz the Bee dabbing his honey wand onto the bowl of “Os” on the front of the Honey Nut Cheerios box.
But the other 12 flavors? Chocolate Peanut Butter? Maple? Blueberry? They definitely weren’t the Cheerios of my youth. Back in the 1980s Cheerios were a healthy alternative to the sugary cereals that advertised incessantly on the Saturday morning cartoons. I knew Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula, and Cookie Jarvis as well as I knew Scooby Doo or the Super Friends. Regular Cheerios had no mascot because they didn’t need one—they were supposed to be good for you.
While most of the Cheerios boxes on my table still sported a red heart that claimed the cereal “can help lower cholesterol,” others (I’m looking at you, Chocolate Cheerios, and you too, Frosted Cheerios) have as many grams of sugar per serving as Fruity Pebbles. Or Reese’s Puffs, which is named after a candy bar.
It’s possible all flavors of Cheerios will, in fact, help lower my cholesterol, which would be a good thing considering I was about to try 14 of them. The lower cholesterol might help me power through a diabetic coma.
But then, this experiment was for the sake of all humanity, so my body be damned.
To keep it completely scientific, I developed a rigorous methodology. I covered all 14 boxes in brown paper so I couldn’t see what flavor I was tasting and also to eliminate any perceived bias based on the name of the cereal or artwork on the box. My 13-year-old daughter then numbered each box and poured a small amount of each cereal into a plastic cup, making sure to keep track of which cup corresponded with which numbered box. This was no small feat because my daughter hates Cheerios. The smell of the original flavor makes her gag. But she helped out anyway because she’s a team player. And, you know, the sake of all humanity.
All her fine work was pretty much useless because any idiot, including me, can instantly tell the difference between Blueberry Cheerios and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios. But whatever. That’s how we did it. Scientifically.
No major peer-reviewed research paper is worth its salt without a few footnotes, so I will make two. (1) I could not locate two varieties of Cheerios online or within a 25-mile radius of my house: Banana Nut Cheerios and Peach Cheerios. I’m confident they would have placed 16th and 15th respectively. (2) I didn’t buy the Honey Nut Cheerios for this experiment because we had them in the house already. My son, 11, eats them every day, sometimes multiple times a day. At this point, he’s probably 60% water and 40% Honey Nut Cheerios. Science!
Now, the rankings:
14. Pumpkin Spice
You know how serious wine tasters swish the wine around in their mouths and then spit it out before moving on to the next wine? I did the same thing here. I took one spoonful and expectorated it into the sink. My daughter described Pumpkin Spice Cheerios as “like a Pumpkin Donut at Dunkin’ Donuts.” She hates Dunkin’s pumpkin donuts.
13. Multi Grain
Like sawdust. But, to be fair, it’s made with five (5) whole grains. So it has that going for it.
12. Chocolate Peanut Butter
It looked good on paper. Who doesn’t like chocolate and peanut butter? But something is off here. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios don’t taste like chocolate or peanut butter, and the cereal itself has an odd, chalky consistency. It’s a vapid ghost of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. With milk.
11. Apple Cinnamon
Remember when I said any idiot can tell all the Cheerios flavors without seeing the boxes? This was the one exception. Apple Cinnamon Cheerios were so bland, I couldn’t initially determine what flavor they were. Once I found out it was Apple Cinnamon, I detected the essence of Apple Jacks. My advice: Just stick with the original.
10. Oat Crunch Cinnamon
Somehow, this one packs in 14 grams of sugar per serving (more than Cookie Crisp cereal, by the way, which is little chocolate chip cookies in a bowl) while still managing to lack flavor. Plus, its jagged little pieces of oats shredded the roof of my mouth, not unlike the sharp edges of original flavor Cap’n Crunch, which probably should carry a warning label.
9. Very Berry
The box shows strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, but the cereal delivers none of those flavors. There are little speckles of red and purple on the Os, which are either the “real fruit” advertised on the box or perhaps the “other natural flavors.” My guess is the latter. The end result: something vaguely berry-esque. But it’s a flavor.
Pretty tasty! These are just the right amount of sweet, while not over-the-top with sugary goodness. Unlike some of the previous Cheerios on this list, it actually pairs pretty well with milk, which is sort of the point.
7. Honey Nut Medley Crunch
This one is a bit weird. It’s a mix of Os, flakes, and clusters but it all works. Super crunchy, a balanced sweetness, and if you close your eyes and don’t look at the nutritional information, you might think it was healthy.
Like Boo Berry without the marshmallows. Dear lord, do I love Boo Berry. The Cheerios version tastes like blueberries, which is something of an accomplishment since some of the other Cheerios flavors taste nothing like their namesakes.
5. Honey Nut Cheerios
Introduced in 1979, Honey Nut Cheerios for many years outsold the signature Cheerios flavor. It’s just solid. There’s a hint of honey with a little bit of nuttiness. There’s a reason my son eats them so religiously.
These taste pretty much like how I’d imagine John Belushi’s Little Chocolate Donuts to taste. Chocolate-forward in every way, Chocolate Cheerios are everything the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios are not. They’re excellent with milk or straight out of the box. But if you add milk, you get a bonus: the leftover milk becomes chocolate milk. It’s been proven through rigorous testing in my home lab.
The original. The classic. The best-selling cereal in America. I wasn’t around when Cheerios were first introduced in 1941 as Cheeri Oats, but I imagine it’s pretty much the same today as it was then. Nothing flashy, just oat-y.
I didn’t expect to like them. I did! Maple Cheerios taste like a short stack of pancakes covered in maple syrup. And who doesn’t like pancakes?
These are a less flashy, smaller, thinner, but just-as-tasty version of Fruit Loops, with muted colors and one-third less sugar. Perhaps it’s the pear puree concentrate. Whatever the formula, I’m all in. Best of all, they hold up well in milk and were a hit with both my kids. A knockout winner of an O.