Testing the O's

‘Powered by Cheerios,” Bernice said, gazing at her three-year-old as he toddled by toting a baggie of toasted oats.

“Don’t knock the O,” chided my man Patrick. “They were my main fuel during college. I ate the cheap generic brand, but Eve says they’re gross.”

“I can prove it,” I said.

The next week we gathered to test some O’s.

“Very airy, turns to mush,” grimaced Frank, testing an Essential Everyday Toasted Oats ($3.49 for 14 ounces at Albertsons).

“More whole-grain oat flavor in these Cheerios,” noticed Bernice, trying Cheerios ($3.69 for 8.9 ounces at Albertsons).

“And more crunch,” added Patrick.

The Multi Grain Cheerios did not fare as well ($4.59 for 9 ounces at Albertsons).

“Super sweet,” noticed Bernice.

“The previous two cereals only had one gram of sugar; this one has six grams,” noted Pat. “And, oddly enough, this Multi Grain Cheerios has only 20 grams of whole grains compared to the plain Cheerios, which has 23 grams.”

Next up: Trader Joe’s O’s ($1.99 for 15 ounces). “Our kids prefer Joe’s O’s to Cheerios,” admitted Bernice.

“Perhaps it’s because they are twice as salty,” said Pat, comparing the two labels. “It’s more like eating chips.”

No one at the table enjoyed the Trader Joe’s Organic High Fiber O’s ($2.79 for 16 ounces).

“A sour, healthy taste, like alfalfa tablets,” remarked Frank, “with nine grams of fiber.”

“And nine grams of sugar!” added Bernice.

We moved on. “This one has an identity crisis,” said Bernice, tasting Trader Joe’s Multigrain O’s Cereal ($2.99 for 12.8 ounces). “I’m a Rice Crispy. No, I’m a Corn Chex.”

“Well, it has corn, barley, oats, wheat, and rice in it — the great American melting pot.”

“I don’t like the lingering sweet taste, and there’s only 14 grams of whole grains, but it’s better than its high-fiber cousin,” said Patrick.

A crowd favorite was the Cascadian Farm Organic Purely O’s ($4.99 for 9 ounces at Sprouts).

“More substantial in flavor than Cheerios,” noticed Bernice, “and a strong barley flavor.”

“I’m getting rice,” countered Frank.

“I look for products that state ‘No high fructose corn syrup,’ like this one,” explained Bernice, looking at the marking on the box of Ralphs Toasted Oats ($2.49 for 14 ounces).

“Decent crunch but low on flavor,” she added, “and it dissolves down to one little ball of paste.”

Safeway Kitchens Toasted Oats ($2.99 for 14 ounces at Vons) avoided the paste problem but was meager on flavor.

Target’s Market Pantry Toasted Oats ($2.59 for 14 ounces) rated above the Vons, Albertsons, and Ralphs as the best of the store brands.

“Have a little heart,” I joked, handing Bernice the box of Quaker Whole Hearts oat cereal ($3.79 for 12.3 ounces at Albertsons). “The first taste is sweet — brown-sugar-caramel sweet,” she said.

“Except, I like brown sugar and I don’t like this,” countered Patrick. “Eve, you missed that it says ‘lightly sweetened.’ It has six grams of sugar.”

The crunchiest cereal of the night was the gluten-free Nature’s Path Organic Whole O’s ($4.99 for 11.5 ounces at Whole Foods).

“An explosive crunch with a bit of sweet at the end,” said Frank.

“They refer to the cereal as ‘hug-shaped morsels,’” noticed Patrick.

“Fire your packaging designer,” I exclaimed, looking at the box of Benefit Nutrition Simply Fiber Crunchy O’s Cereal, with a whopping 14 grams of fiber and no sugar ($4.49 for 8.5 ounces at Whole Foods).

“Looks like livestock feed,” agreed Frank, examining one of the pellet-shaped bits.

“The smell reminds me of rice cakes, but the taste makes me actually wish they were rice cakes,” laughed Patrick.

The next box — bag, actually — was the winner of the night. Nature’s Path Organic Heritage O’s Ancient Grains made with kamut khorasan wheat, spelt, and quinoa ($5.99 for a 32-ounce bag at Whole Foods).

“Responsible Eco Pac,” noted Bernice. “It says it saves 437 tons of paperboard a year.”

“Complex grain taste, an invigorating breakfast,” noted Frank.

“Reminds me of Grape-Nuts,” continued Bernice, “except better. I’m not sure you could talk a kid into eating this, but I love it.”

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