Day 30, Part 2: Roll Your Own Cereal

October 30, 2011 1:10 pm
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Annelies Zijderveld works for Attune Foods, makers of Uncle Sam and Erewhon organic cereals. They believe what matters most is what’s inside, and they use simple ingredients for foods that are simply made. I asked Annelies if their cereals would pass the Kitchen Test, and she decided to prove it by making them herself in her own kitchen. You can also read the Attune Blog, and connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

I met Andrew at the BlogHer Food conference last year in San Francisco at a blogger dinner one night. The next day, a group of us walked back from eating lunch in a nearby park and through our conversation, we found synchronicity between the way he approaches healthy eating and the foods we make.

Did you know the name cereal comes from the name for the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvest, Ceres? It’s interesting to consider that the history of cereal is found in digestive health and was suggested as a dietary option from healthcare providers. Over time, cereals started to move away from being made in the traditional batch cooked method using the whole grains, and instead towards using flours that are extruded. As a result, nutrient loss became a problem. During World War II, nutrient loss became more of an issue in the American diet, and as a result cereal companies began to fortify cereals such as with the essential B-vitamins and iron, which were being lost from processing. This process remains overwhelmingly prevalent today amongst conventional cereals.

Through this common practice, Uncle Sam became fortified with essential B-vitamins, and remained so through last year.  We are always looking to simplify our products, and we asked the question as to why the cereal was fortified. We decided to test the raw grains for their actual B-vitamin content, and compared it to the unfortified finished toasted whole wheat berry flake.  What we found was that there was no material change in the levels of B-vitamins. As a result, we removed the fortification process from our cereal manufacturing.

How Cereal is Made

Cereal is made one of three ways: Batch Cooking (flaked or “bumped”), Batch Cooking (Cold Form Extruded), and Extruded.

Batch cooked cereal using the bumped and flaked process is made from the whole kernel of rice, corn, or wheat — not from flour or meal.  The grains are first cooked in a large tank that is basically a pressure cooker the size of a small kitchen. The kernels are then rolled into flakes or “bumped” (which means to “crack” the grain of rice, corn, or wheat). The cracked grains are then toasted or coated. A good example of a cereal made using this process would be Uncle Sam and all our Erewhon cereals except for Strawberry Crisp.

Batch cooked cereal that is cold form extruded is another way of making cereal. The cold form process starts by cooking whole grains in a batch cooker. The cooked grains are then introduced into a cold form extruder, which uses minimal heat to turn ingredients into a pellet. The pellets are then rolled into flakes and toasted or coated. An example of this includes our Strawberry Crisp cereal.

The last way to make cereal is using the extrusion process. Today, most conventional cereals are made with this method. This process starts with flour or meal that has been turned into dough. The extruder reaches high temperatures and pressures, which both form and cook the dough. Shapes and larger flakes can be produced by pushing (extruding) the dough through a cookie-cutter-type machine. Afterwards, various shapes or flakes can be “puffed.” The pressure inside the extruder is very high, and once the shapes or flakes leave the extruder and are introduced to regular atmospheric pressure, they puff up from the pressure change. Some examples of this would be O-shaped cereals, star-shaped cereals and in general, flake cereals.

(Want even more details on the different ways breakfast cereals are made? Check out this article.)

At Attune Foods, we focus on batch cooked because it preserves the integrity of the whole grains. Our Uncle Sam cereal uses hard red winter wheat berries from South Dakota. Here’s a simple look into how it’s made, with photos from my home kitchen showing the batch cooking-flaking process (steamed – rolled – toasted) in action.

Step 1: Steaming

The first step of cooking the wheat berries is to steam them. This involves boiling water and adding the wheat berries, barley malt, and sea salt to a huge pressure cooker until they’re cooked. (Since my kitchen doesn’t have a pressure cooker, I steamed them for over an hour until they softened.)

Step 2: Rolling

This step turns the wheat berry kernels into flakes by rolling them flat. Using much bigger rollers than what you’d find in your home kitchen, it’s the same concept of rolling the wheat berries flat. (In my at-home demonstration, I used a heavy bottle instead of a roller to flatten the wheat berries and illustrate the point).

Step 3: Toasting

The cereal is introduced to hot air that circulates around it to dry the kernels and toast them to their crispy best. This reduces moisture to ensure it stays crunchy in the box, while improving taste. (I hand placed each wheat berry on the small pan so there would be no overlap, as they were still rather sticky and wet. Then I watched the toaster oven carefully to toast and dry them without burning.)

And voilà! Uncle Sam cereal flakes made in my home kitchen: Hard red winter wheat berry flakes that are steamed, rolled and toasted and now ready for a bowl and a splash of milk.

So next time you’re in the cereal aisle, we hope this information helps you make an informed choice and perhaps even turns selecting the right cereal for you into a decision that includes the ingredients used as well as the process by which they are made. Happy breakfasting!

12 Comments on "Day 30, Part 2: Roll Your Own Cereal"
  1. .
    October 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    [...] can imagine my delight the other morning when I cooked a ridiculous amount of wheat berries for a work project and found my new favorite oatmeal alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing whole wheat berry [...]

  2. Comment left on:
    October 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm
    Carol says:

    I learn something new every day! Thanks guys :o) I don’t eat a lot of cereal but that is very cool.

  3. Comment left on:
    October 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm
    Susan Young says:

    This I have GOT to try! So interesting!

  4. .
    October 31, 2011 at 2:02 am

    [...] out the full article here to see how I made Uncle Sam in my home kitchen and learn about the different ways cereal is made.  [...]

  5. Comment left on:
    November 13, 2011 at 9:34 am
    tafino says:

    So impress, I’ve never thought about how to make cereals at home!
    Good job!

  6. .
    July 7, 2012 at 9:21 am

    [...] can imagine my delight the other morning when I cooked a ridiculous amount of wheat berries for a work project and found my new favorite oatmeal alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing whole wheat berry [...]

  7. .
    August 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    [...] can imagine my delight the other morning when I cooked a ridiculous amount of wheat berries for a work project and found my new favorite oatmeal alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing whole wheat berry [...]

  8. .
    October 2, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    [...] barley malt. The wheat flakes are so simply processed, you “could” make them yourself. Hop over here and read how. I was shocked and [...]

  9. .
    October 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    [...] 0 Comment Recipes by anneliesz Share/Bookmark Something interesting about making simple foods is that keen passion for upcycling and extending creativity into simplicity. Why keep cereal constrained to a cereal bowl when it can provide a crunchy coating for fish sticks? Yes, fish sticks. We teamed up with Eating Rules’ “October Unprocessed”, a month-long challenge to eat unprocessed foods.  Last year, we showed you how to make Uncle Sam Original cereal from scratch. [...]

  10. .
    February 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

    [...] can imagine my delight the other morning when I cooked a ridiculous amount of wheat berries for a work project and found my new favorite oatmeal alternative. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing whole wheat berry [...]

  11. .
    March 25, 2013 at 9:19 am

    [...] made Uncle Sam Original from scratch before. Several times. It’s not easy, but it can be done. I can appreciate the boxes of Uncle Sam so [...]

  12. .
    October 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    […] the interesting and educational info that you have learned on your unprocessed journey -like how cereal is made and all about additives and preservatives and other confusing ingredients while discovering […]

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