Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hilde Lee: The scoop on cornflakes

About last week’s column, I already have been asked: Didn’t I leave something out? What about corn flakes?

No, I didn’t leave out corn flakes in my review of corn uses, as I considered its story worthy of its own column. It is a tribute to American ingenuity and invention.

The story starts about brooms. At one time, household brooms were manufactured from the “broomcorn.” These brooms were strong, but very flexible — perfect for sweeping floors.

In the mid-1800s, Will Kellogg, a young teenager living in Connecticut, sold these brooms after school. His family had become members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, after the death of their young daughter as a result of medical incompetence.

Upon hearing about the medical theories of two Adventist leaders, Elder White and Sister Ellen White, in Battle Creek, Mich., the Kelloggs sold their broomcorn farm in Connecticut and moved to Battle Creek. They were very interested in the healing practices of the Adventists. To provide a living for themselves and their two boys, the Kelloggs reopened their broom factory.

One of the members of the Adventist group, Ellen White, adopted the pure-food ideas of Sylvester Graham of Massachusetts, inventor of the Graham cracker. During the holiday season in 1865, she became convinced that the Adventists, who frequently were troubled with dyspepsia, should be treated in a sanitarium of their own. She helped establish a health facility in Battle Creek. The Seventh-Day Adventists named John Harvey Kellogg as director of the facility, but first sent him to New York to receive medical training.

While studying medicine in New York, Kellogg breakfasted daily on seven graham crackers and an apple. Once a week, he added coconut to this diet and occasionally also potatoes and oatmeal. He became interested in developing healthy diets for the patients he eventually was to treat on his return to Battle Creek. While in New York, he put together a workable formula for a ready-to-eat cereal and prepared his first health food, which he called Granola.

In 1876, Dr. Kellogg, having returned to the Battle Creek Health Sanitarium, introduced the idea of cold cereals for breakfast.

John Harvey Kellogg claimed that the idea of flaking wheat by compressing it came to him in a dream. The rollers already in use for making Granola were set to work to experiment with boiled wheat. One evening, the wheat was left too long after boiling, but the brothers rolled it anyway. They found that each wheat berry turned into an elongated thin flake.

The two brothers baked the flakes, which turned crisp. Will Kellogg argued that the flakes, which looked rather odd, should not be ground into Granola, but left whole.

Wheat flakes began to be marketed to the public and were advertised as a breakfast health food. Three years after discovering the flaking technique, Will Kellogg began to experiment with corn instead of wheat. The first corn flakes were thick, flavorless and unpopular. It became known as “horse food.” However, gradually the process was improved until thin, crisp cornflakes were the result. The Kellogg “grain-tempering” process was patented in 1894.

John Kellogg’s theories of medical practice were ahead of his time. He conceived of many of our modern ideas about nutrition, physiology and fresh air. Under John Kellogg, the Battle Creek Sanitarium became one of the largest, richest and most well-respected hospitals in the United States. John Kellogg wrote extensively about his philosophy about food and exercise in the curing of disease.

Thirty years after Dr. Kellogg started marketing cornflakes, his brother, Will —W.K. Kellogg — founded the Kellogg Company. He had become frustrated with patent infringements of his brother’s cereals and the commercial success of rival health food producers. He formed the Kellogg Company to mass-produce and expand the market for his brother’s cereals. Today, Kellogg is a giant food company producing all types of ready-to-eat cereals and is still heavily promoting the original cornflakes.

As the late Paul Harvey would have said, “And, that’s the rest of the corn story.”


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