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The Green Life: Serious Cereal

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September 17, 2009

Serious Cereal

Cereal, that most beloved of breakfast (and lunch, and dinner, and late-night snack) foods, has gone green. For those shoppers facing the ever-growing array of eco-conscious cereal brands lining supermarket shelves, Sierra Club staffers valiantly agreed to blind-taste more than 25 varieties in our effort to help you sift the savory wheat from the inedible chaff.

The winners, below, were drenched in compliments. The losers, which shall remain unnamed, suffered the verbal equivalent of getting dumped in the compost bin: "like eating socks," "dis-freaking-gusting," "tastes like sunscreen," "looks like sawdust," "cloying," and "Styrofoam."

 To qualify for the tasting, a cereal had to be certifiably planet-friendly, whether organic, made with solar power, or produced by a company that donates to environmental causes. We limited the choices to cold cereals and let our 14 tasters opt for low-fat cow's milk or soy milk. They rated each cereal on a 1-to-10 scale, and we averaged their scores to determine our winners. SMSO09_EN_cereal1

1. Early Bird Granola, Aloha Recipe | Score: 7.8 | $8 for 12 oz.

This "not too sweet" granola with a "bright and lovely" appearance reminded one person of Christmas, another of Cracker Jacks. Most agreed that it has a "good balance between crunch and fruit" and that it "holds up well to milk." Though it was "too buttery" for one and "too chewy" for another (and, we'd imagine, too expensive for many), it's a "wholesome," "fresh-tasting" delight flecked with coconut, macadamia, and tangy dried fruit.

Early Bird owner Nekisia Davis says she buys organic ingredients whenever possible, recycles and composts all waste, and uses rice-paper packages that biodegrade faster than plastic.

2. Cascadian Farm Organic, Kids Cinnamon Crunch | Score: 6.8 | $3.99 for 13.25 oz.SMSO09_EN_cereal2

"Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Or at least a good imitation," mused one taster. Another described it as tasting "like childhood," though a few complained of too much sugar. Tasters also gave high marks to Cascadian Farm's Dark Chocolate Almond Granola, which was called "lightly sweet" with a "good, nutty flavor."

Cascadian Farm, now a General Mills brand, has been organic for more than 35 years and doesn't use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or GMOs to grow its ingredients.

3. Mom's Best Naturals, Honey Grahams | Score: 6.4 | About $3 for 17.5 oz.

SMSO09_EN_cereal3 "If you poured milk into a box of graham crackers, you'd taste this cereal" was the enthusiastic conclusion about this one. "Great for the young," one opined, while another swooned, "Love these tiny, delicious morsels." "A little one-dimensional," said a naysayer. People were also fans of the brand's Honey Nut Toasty O's, said to be the "simple yet satisfying" "cousins to Cheerios."

Mom's Best's boxes are made of 100 percent recycled paperboard. Its facilities are wind-powered, and the family-owned company recycles almost all its waste.

4. [tie] Bola Granola, Crunchy Almonds | Score: 6 | About $7 for 16 oz.  SMSO09_EN_cereal4

Tasters were "pleasantly surprised" by this "earthy," "salty" cereal that "looks like birdseed" but has a "good range of ingredients"--almonds, oats, nuts, and seeds--and a "wholesome sweetness." One rater said that it "tastes like a forest," while another noted that it's "more like trail mix than cereal. A winner."

Owner Michele Miller handcrafts her granolas with all-organic grains in Massachusetts's Berkshires and distributes them locally using what she calls "a veggie-powered truck."

4. [tie] Nature's Path, Organic Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch | Score: 6 | About $5 for 12.35 oz.SMSO09_EN_cereal5

This one "tastes like Raisin Bran but more wholesome." The flakes "don't soften up in milk" and are "not too sweet," resulting in a "nicely balanced cereal" with "raisins, nuts, and granola." A few thought it was "nothing special" but "improved with milk."

Nature's Path buys farmland and converts it to be organic, has reduced the amount of paper in its packages, has installed a green roof on its headquarters, and was named by Maclean's magazine this year as one of Canada's greenest employers. The company also donates to conservation nonprofits.

--Avital Binshtock

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