Taste-Test

Which Generic Cereals Actually Taste Better?

cereal, fake cereal, taste test
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

I was raised in a brand-name household. I'm not gloating, that's just the way it was. Occasionally, though, when my dad would was on grocery duty, he'd cruise through the aisle and pick up any ole sugar-blasted cereal that slightly resembled what was stocked in our pantry. As a 9-year-old snob of the highest order, I would reject these knock-offs, and shame my father for his lack of confectionary discretion.

But was I right to? Aside from saving $3, is there any real difference between them?

I stacked seven brand-name cereals up against their generic (ShopRite-brand) counterparts and had six of my most willing and generic co-workers blind taste-test them. Turns out my dad was on to something.

honey nut cheerios, cereal
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Honey Nut Cheerios

Could they see the difference?
Definitely.

Which ones tasted better?
This generic take on HNCs was almost universally described as "watered down," and some people were actually into it. But others weren't.

Tasters' notes:
"OK, so aside from the dust, one thing I've noticed about the fake cereal is that they lack this sheen. The real cereal is always shiny, like it's wrapped in plastic. Like it's an old Jewish grandma's couch."

"The fake ones -- and I know these are the fake ones -- are just cut weirdly... like they have hard edges that Cheerios don't have. And they have this weird dust all over them."

"The generic is like perfect balance between regular Cheerios and Honey Nut... like a Honey Nut lite... almost."

"The generic one is gross... ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, ew."

frosted mini-wheats, cereal bowls
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Frosted Mini-Wheats

Could they see the difference?
Out of all the brands we tested, the fake lil' wheats were probably the most visually different from their brand-name analogues. 

Which one tasted better? 
All of our contestants (except one, who inexplicably never encountered a Mini-Wheat before) called the phony out on first glance. No one preferred the knock-off.

Tasters' notes:
"OK -- these off-brand ones look like Frosted Mini-Wheats' less attractive little cousin."

"Adding milk is a big tell here -- when you add milk to regular Mini-Wheats they kind of break apart and add this layer of... wheatiness... on the surface of your milk. There's none of that with the generics."

"I was raised on Mini-Wheats... if I was raised on these instead, I'd probably be a horrible person."

"The fake ones taste like cardboard and woodchips had an out-of-wedlock baby."

Frosted Flakes, cereal
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Frosted Flakes

Could they see the difference?
At first glance, four out of six of our testers thought the generic flakes were the real stuff, as they were larger, and didn't have "that weird white stuff on it." 

Which one tasted better?
But when it came down to taste, the generic just hit our testers' palates as a bland alternative to the original.

Tasters' notes:
"Oh, I'm a cereal girl at heart... and I know these aren't Frosted Flakes. They are harder, and crunchier. And not as sweet." 

"Adding milk really brought out the difference here, dry they kind of tasted similar, once I added milk, the real stuff got a lot more flavorful, while the generic pretty much stayed the same."

"Hm, this has more of a nice crunch, and it's not overwhelmingly sweet. I actually think I prefer the generic more."

"These [the generic kind] suck."

Reese's Puffs, cereal bowls
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Reese's Puffs

Could they see the difference?
At first glance, all but one of our testers were stumped.

Which one tasted better?
The generic was reported across the board as having a "nasty, nasty aftertaste."

Tasters' notes:
"OK -- I can tell which one is the generic. In my experience the generic brands are a little dusty... I guess that's the best word for it. They just have this dust-type stuff all over them."

"They both taste pretty similar, actually... except one of them -- and I can't tell if it's the fake or real one -- has this really weird aftertaste, that I really hate."

"Yeah, I can't deal with this aftertaste, before that, they were pretty much the same."

"No, no, no -- this aftertaste is gross."

Lucky Charms, marshmallows, cereal
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Lucky Charms 

Could they see the difference?
The knock-off smorgasbord of Irish iconography was surprisingly detailed, and left our panel picking out and examining individual pieces, while reciting the classic marshmallow jingle from the commercials. 

Which one tasted better? 
The group consensus was that these are pretty much interchangeable.

Tasters' notes:
"OK -- I'm seeing red balloons, hearts, pots of gold... what else is there?"

"They did a really good job copying this... I think the only tell is the fact that the cereal part only has one shape..."

" I do prefer the taste of the original, but this is probably my favorite cereal, so I think I'm just used to it. Honestly, the generic would be a good substitute though."

"The marshmallows are strikingly similar, actually, the only difference is in the cereal part of the off-brand kind, which tastes a little more bland... and a little dusty."

special K, strawberries, cereals
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Special K

Could they see the difference?
The weird-looking dried fruit gave the generic brand away.

Which one tasted better? 
Most of the panel agreed that though the pseudo-Special K was a respectable copy, it just didn't live up to the expectations of the original, by any measure.

Tasters' notes:
"Some of these flakes look deformed, and some are pink? I've never seen that in Special K."

"What the fuck? This one looks, smells, and tastes like potpourri."

"I kind of think Special K is gross anyway... but the generic is more gross, I guess."

"It is less sweet, and I actually prefer that. So I would choose the generic here."

cocoa puffs, chocolate cereal
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Cocoa Puffs

Could they tell the difference?
Not only did our tasters have a hard time determining which was real and which was fake, some went literally (OK... figuratively) cuckoo trying to determine which they preferred. 

Which one tastes better?
It was a draw!

Tasters' notes:
"Wow, this is a tough one... I think we need to look for the 'Jewish grandma couch covering' sheen, like I was talking about before. I think this one has it!"

"The milk in this one turned that delicious, chocolatey brown color... while the other one just stayed the same. So, drawing on my previous knowledge of Cocoa Puffs, I know that this has to be the real one. Damn, I feel like Doogie Howser." [Editor's Note: I think he meant Sherlock Holmes.]

"Wow, I don't even know which I prefer. The real one has a little bit of a stronger chocolate taste... but I kind of like the consistency of the generic better. They remind me of Kix."

"The 'Jewish grandma's couch' sheen definitely adds a level of class and taste here. I like it. I'm sticking with the original."

cereal, taste tests, breakfast
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

Conclusion

More often than not, you can tell if you are eating the generic stuff or the real deal. However, the difference is negligible, and unless you have both kinds in front of you, you might not even know. If you like your cereal a little less sugary, and little more bland, you might actually prefer generic.

And the best way to tell if your cereal is a knock-off is to look for that ubiquitous "Jewish grandma's couch plastic" sheen, obviously.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He knew which ones were fake immediately, because he's not a big dummy. Follow him: @wilfulton.

Our Newsletter
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.