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Article posted: 3/4/2013 12:31 PM

Cereal flavors increasingly moving out of the box

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Breakfast cereal flavors are jumping out of the box. Milk, ice cream, baking mixes and more are getting infused with the flavor of the classic childhood treat. There's even a line of lip balms and a cereal-flavored vodka.

Snap, crackle, what?

The trend ties into a broader hankering for retro foods and flavors, heavy on the comfort factor, says Cathy Nash Holley, publisher and editor-in-chief of the trade magazine Flavor & The Menu.

Chefs have been using cereal for a while as crusts and coatings on savory items. What's new is that cereals are being used in a more whimsical sense, even calling out the brand name for an added sense of playfulness. So you have desserts like the Shaved Ice Sundae with a topping of Cap'n Crunch at Talde in New York City or the Rice Krispies that top a flourless chocolate cake at Morimoto NY.

Looking beyond restaurant menus, there are lip balms that come in the flavors of Trix (Silly rabbit, lip balm is for kids!?!), Cocoa Puffs and Count Chocula, among other flavors. Betty Crocker has cereal-flavored muffin mixes including Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

And Three Olives released a cereal-flavored vodka called Loopy with a strikingly Froot Loops-style motif on the bottle. A fruity delight in every... er... shot?

But it's possible that may have been a little too spirited an attempt at the trend. After first pitching a story on the product to the AP, company representatives suddenly went radio silent, and ultimately declined to comment on their own story. A query to Kellogg's, makers of Froot Loops, also netted a "no comment."

On the restaurant scene, Christina Tosi, founding chef of Momofuku Milk Bar, a bakery in New York, is a pioneer in cereal creations, an obsession that began in 2007 when she was developing a panna cotta for the opening menu of chef David Chang's Momofuku Ko restaurant.

There were two problems. One, the dessert menu was a blank, and two, the new freezer that was supposed to hold ice cream for that nonexistent dessert menu was on the fritz. Panna cotta seemed like a good idea, but it needed to be something a bit more interesting than the regular version of that dessert.

So Tosi, who had been experimenting with versions of steeped milk for some time, ran to the store and bought every powdered and dried thing they had and made several milk-infused flavors, including cereal milk. It was a hit and at Chang's suggestion she took things a little further, making cereal milk ice cream as well as a line of cereal milk.

Tosi's cereal milk is a little more sophisticated than the stuff you slurp up after indulging in a bowl of, let's say, Cocoa Pebbles, having more in common with steeped milk, a staple of traditional cuisine. But it taps into the same themes of comfort and nostalgia as that bowl of flakes enjoyed as a late-night snack.

Cereal milk is "relatable and fun," Tosi said in an email interview. "Making a connection with something you eat is what we believe really strikes a chord, sparks a memory and keeps you obsessed."

Today, Momofuku Milk Bar sells cereal milk ice creams, including a soft serve cereal milk ice cream. Also available is a cereal milk mix that contains toasted cornflakes, light brown sugar and salt for those who want to whip up a batch at home.

"There's no end to what can be done with cereal milk. We love finding new ways to tap into the memory sensor of people's minds and stomachs, and cereal is so broad in flavor, texture and possibility," Tosi says. "Currently, cereal milk soft serve is our favorite, combining the love of breakfast cereal with the guilty pleasure of ice cream, though late at night, a cereal milk White Russian also does the trick."

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