Can Technology Save Breakfast?

Cereal companies, maligned for overprocessing, are now using the same techniques to put some nature back in the bowl

Nestlé researchers prepare to discover whether consumers will like reformulated cereal. (Nestec S.A., Nestlé Research Center, Lausanne, Switzerland)
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At the General Mills company store, I bought a can of green beans and a frozen product the people I visited kept mentioning, Steamers, thick plastic bags of vegetables that go right into the microwave. I wanted to compare frozen to canned green beans. The canned were terrible: as waterlogged, briny, sour because overcooked, and otherwise flavorless as the ones I remembered from school lunches, and just as likely to make kids hate vegetables. But the frozen were bright, fresh-flavored and better than the fresh green beans I can get at any market for nine months of the year, and they had no added salt and no preservatives. I’d buy these for a weeknight,environmentally incorrect packaging and all.

The place I couldn’t restrain myself was in the test plant at Bell Institute, in front of a large aluminum tray of Wheaties. I never much liked Wheaties: They lack the light crispness of corn flakes, and, admirably high as they are in whole grains and low in the number of ingredients (whole wheat, sugar, salt), Wheaties are too reminiscent of cereal’s health-food origins. A very few hours before, a machine had made a test batch, starting with whole wheat berries in a pressure cooker, turning them into dough, extruding that dough into pellets, then running the pellets between steel rollers. Mendesh had thoughtfully set aside samples of the wet, sweetish dough and very good nuggets pre-flaking. But those flakes! Incredibly fresh, crisper than any Wheaties I’d certainly had, and tasting strongly of the whole wheat they had so recently begun as. “The minute you make it, it starts getting worse,” Mendesh said, beaming as he watched me go back to the bin again and again. He didn’t protest when I asked for a bag for the road—a bag that filled a good portion of my overnight luggage. Most of it was gone by the next morning.

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