The Milk/Cereal Relationship (Part III: A Physical Analysis of Competing Mixatory Methods)

November 14, 2007

Milk-first is a (dubiously) valid method, but it certainly doesn’t represent an optimal mixing strategy. It falls short on several counts. First and foremost, it fails to produce a consistent mixture and texture for cereal. As the milk is poured first, there is no cereal matrix awaiting moisture, and when the cereal is added it is too crunchy to consume comfortably. One may argue that pressure may be applied along the spoon to the floating heap of cereal, but as any experienced cereal-eater knows, it is difficult to push all floating flakes under the milk, and they bob up too frequently to absorb enough milk. Further – and more insidiously – the cereal/milk composition is not of an optimum ratio. As the cereal is not properly mixed with the milk, it has a higher buoyancy point, and it is difficult for the spoon to reach the milk and thereby scoop up some of the delightful nectar. Here, we assume that the eater desires to have a spoonful of milk below the cereal balanced on his spoon.

Cereal-first represents a far more advanced and consistent strategy. As the cereal provides a filtration matrix for the milk, the milk must flow through the cereal as it trickles to the bottom of the bowl. In so doing, it weighs down the cereal – and gives it a decent ration of milk to cereal. Nooks and crannies of flakes catch and hold milk, as an English-Muffin catches and provides texture for butter or other potential condiments. The accumulated milk weighs down the cereal. As any junior physics student could tell you, buoyancy is created when an object displaces more water than its overall density in water; that is, when its total volume in the water contains less mass than the water itself. With the extra weight of suspended milk pressing down on the bottom of our hypothetical cereal boat, it sinks further, making it easier for the spoon to reach the milk and achieve the ideal 70/30 milk/cereal ratio. Furthermore, a natural cycle is initiated, as submerged cereal becomes waterlogged and sinks to the bottom, where it cannot support the floating mass any longer, and the mass itself sinks, providing a slow-burn automated mixing process.

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The Milk/Cereal Relationship (Part II: Fitness Criteria for Analysis of Cereal-Milk Combinatorics)

November 9, 2007
  1. Cereal/Milk mixture: the average individual would like his cereal and milk mixed in such a manner that enough milk is included in a spoonful that its cool undercurrent of creamy sumptuousness,will underscore the rough indifference of the cereal. Indeed, cereal alone is an analogue to a life of pure bliss – or hell – in that it provides no contrast to pleasure. Religious philosophers ponder whether a life of perfect bliss would become perfectly dull; in the same manner, how tasty could any cereal be, without the juxtaposition of its antithesis, milk? (Certainly, some inferior cereals will be of heterogeneous composition, and consequently less in need of milk, but we should safely disregard these, for now). However, too much milk is also detrimental, and thus I would humbly submit that the best mixture is roughly 70% cereal and 30% milk. This is bound in part by the physical structure of the spoon; it is difficult to scoop more than 30% pure milk with a bite of cereal unless a custom spoon is used. More than 30% milk and the cereal will grow soggy too quickly. There might also be leftover milk, which will force you to pour more cereal, and then more milk until finally, you’ve exhausted the whole box of cereal, or emptied the carton of milk.

  2. Cereal texture: This is of vital importance. The texture of cereal is of paramount importance in most cases. Suppose, for instance, that one were to eat Grapenuts without milk. (Incidentally, the federal government has recently imposed new regulations and infographics which will appear on Grapenuts boxes over the course of the next year. Their goal is to limit the number of jaw injuries and tongue abrasions). Similarly, shredded wheat without milk is almost apocalyptically dry. As our stereotypical cereal we will be studying cornflakes and its various derivatives (eg Raisin Bran, Special K, Bran Flakes). Generally, the discerning consumer of a flake-style cereal will desire a fully coated flake with enough zesty crunch, but with a high enough modulus of elasticity to be comfortably edible in large enough servings to be filling. We want our cereal chewy on the outside and crunchy on the inside, in a curious reversal of the standard candy maxim: crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. (As an aside, this reversal is entirely natural, as the mode of transmission of cereal is different than the mode of transition of candy: one is conveyed through the air directly to the mouth, while the other remains suspended or floating in a liquid.

  3. Timeliness: In some cases, events are certain to occur which will interrupt your dining. Perhaps the phone rings, and you have to answer it. Perhaps your child requires help on homework. Maybe you have to remove your sneakers from the oven. In any event, cereal is an unforgiving medium, and once soggy becomes denatured (never to return to an edible crunchy form). After a certain length of time, every cereal reaches a level where it is no longer considered edible. Timeliness must therefore be a criterion for selection of a combinatory method.

  4. Simplicity: This is another aspect of timeliness: the combinatory method must be simple enough that a proper mixture of cereal and milk is obtained in a timely manner. In today’s fast paced lifestyle, we don’t have time to sit down and eat a proper meal. For this reason, homogenate methods other than milk-first and cereal-first will be discarded. Dipping a cornflake in milk, waiting 15 seconds, and then consuming it may yield individually delicious results, but it could hardly be considered practical. Simplicity as a fitness criterion will henceforth be ignored, but I include it here as an explanatory note (and to silence those fringe fanatics who indulge in deviant mixing).


The Milk/Cereal Relationship (Part I: Introduction)

November 9, 2007

Our goal is to provide an honest and balanced overview of the pitfalls and hazards of cereal/milk integration; in colloquial terms, it represents a conundrum analogous to the chicken and the egg. But we must strive for a more humanist perspective. While the chicken and her egg are divorced from the human realm, milk and cereal are both products of human engineering – agriculture and processing, mechanization and industry, pasteurization and homogenization. Indeed, one ought to perceive that the cereal-milk dilemma is of profound existential importance: does our relationship with our scrumptious breakfast foods define who we are? We should seize this opportunity to define our own meaning in life: in seizing the moment, we should pour our milk after our cereal. We may not relieve the absurd, but perhaps we’ll make the world a bit of a better place, and that’s all we need to do.

This series of posts will start by providing an objective basis by which to judge the success of various methods of milk/cereal combination. We’ll use the criteria we establish to explore the phenomenon of cereal/milk mixing. Later, we’ll examine the history of milk and cereal. We’ll conclude by take a look at things from an aesthetic perspective.

In our next installment, we’ll determine what constitutes a successful homogenate of milk and cereal. We’ll attempt to establish qualitative and quantitative fitness criteria and variables to measure the arguments.