Weetabix, British breakfasts, and plasticated creativity

Okay, settle down at the back, because this will be on the test: New Zealand impounded 300 boxes of the British cereal Weetabix because it sounded too much like the New Zealand cereal Weet-Bix.

Everyone involved is roaring and snorting and threatening and complaining, and I’m not going to quote any of them because they’re all saying predictable stuff. Except for the article I linked to in the last paragraph, which says—in the least inflammatory possible way—that the cereal’s being held hostage.

Free the Weetabix 300!

The reason I mention this—remember, I’m supposed to be writing about Britain, not New Zealand—is that it reminds me that Weetabix is central to British culture. And that I haven’t mentioned it till now.

What are—or possibly is—Weetabix? It—or possibly they—are made of whole wheat, malted barley extract, sugar, salt, and vitaminny things (or at least things that sound like vitamins, but what do I know?), which are then flattened into—oh, something that kind of looks like an oblong kitchen scrubby—a brown one.

Or that’s what they—let’s go with they, okay?—look like to me anyway.

Irrelevant photo: a poppy

Wild Thing and I tried them once. It wasn’t part of an effort to understand Britain better. We were at our local store (which is also our local post office) and some German tourists had just left after trying to ship an entire carton of the stuff home to themselves. When they found out how much it was going to cost, they took their package off the scales and tossed it in the back of the car instead.

By the time we arrived, the women working there were still going helpless with giggles and saying something along the lines of, “A carton of Weetabix,” as if it was the punchline of some long, delicious joke that was too British for us to ever understand. So we thought we should try them. Maybe we thought they’d taste good, or be good for us. Or maybe we just wanted to understand the joke. It was a long time ago and I’m not sure I understood our motives at the time, never mind in hindsight. What I can report is that on contact with milk Weetabix immediately turn mooshy and inedible. We not only didn’t finish our box, we didn’t finish our bowls. I have no idea what we did with the rest. I don’t like to waste food, but you have to make an exception to some rules.

If they’re so nasty, why do people like them? Well, this is a country that loves mushy peas. And porridge, which is only one step away from wallpaper paste. So people here—people, just to be clear about this, who aren’t us, and to be even clearer, some people here, not all people here—just love them.

A quick browse online led me to The Student Room (“The largest student community in the world”; sorry kids—I’ll be out of here in a minute, and anyway, it’s not a locker room; is everyone decent?), which asked the burning question, “What kind of Weetabix do you eat and how?”

It’s interesting (I’m trying not to say “bizarre”) enough that they asked the question, but even more so that people cared enough to answer it. Which reassures me that young people will still rise to an intellectual challenge if you present them with one.

The answers (before I got bored and left, snapping a towel or two on my way out) include: with lots of sugar; with yogurt and jelly; with warm milk and sugar; with cold milk and sugar; microwaved with milk, sugar, and chocolate; with a spoon; with banana; with banana-flavored milk. With more sugar, and a little more sugar after that. The company website promotes the stuff as low in sugar and it’s good to see the impact that’s had on the nation’s health.

The company also promotes it as a kind of all-purpose crunchy base—something you’d spread with soft cheese and Peter Piper’s picked peppers, or with jam, and then, since you have to do something with it, eat. Or laminate and display on your coffee table. They also have recipes. You can bake muffins and loaves and cakes with the stuff, or crumble it up and bread chicken with it. So basically, you can use it for anything. You’re short of wallpaper paste? Weetabix. Your bike tires need patching? Weetabix. Need a base for your kids’ art projects? Weetabix, Weetabix, Weetabix.

The underlying message seems to be that if you buy it, you can be creative. Open a box and spark up your deadly dull life. Just think—you can choose hot milk or cold; banana or anchovies; pickles or iron filings.

Now let’s be clear. I come from the country that brought the world American cheese, Cheez Whiz, and Cool Whip.

I should explain those for readers who’ve kept their innocence: The first two are cheese that’s been processed into unrecognizability. American cheese looks like suspiciously smooth sliced cheese but it has the texture and taste of nice, soft plastic. When I was a kid, I thought it was great. Cheez Whiz squirts out of a can. Do not give it to kids who are having a party. Cool Whip contains (or so Wikipedia said when I checked) water, hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, skimmed milk, light cream, less than 2% sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, and beta carotene.

No, I don’t know what most of that is either.

It also squirts out of a can and produces something that looks like whipped cream and tastes like something that looks like whipped cream. In Canada, they use nitrous oxide as a propellant, That’s laughing gas. This is something else you don’t want to give to kids who are having a party. Especially if they’re old enough to know about the propellant.

If you grew up on real cheese and whipped cream—the kind that recognizably come from dairy products—you’ll be scandalized by all three of them. So I have no right to be snotty about what people in other countries eat. That won’t stop me, but I do want to acknowledge the injustice of it.

The United States also (as far as I can figure out) gave the world the paint-by-the-numbers kit, so the U.S. is no stranger to canned creativity. I was about to say that buying creativity in a cereal box takes us a step beyond that, but then I remembered a series of advertising campaigns implying that creativity consisted of putting something new and exciting on a Ritz cracker. Or maybe it was a Triscuit.

I tell you, I grew up in an exciting world.

So what Weetabix is doing is no worse than that, except that it tastes like moosh and Ritz crackers and Triscuits at least taste like crackers.

Okay, I never tried a dry Weetabix. I’d expect it to taste a lot like hay, but I’m not buying a box just so I can give you a description. I’m going to step aside and trust that someone will step in and tell me—probably that they taste great. If that’s what you hear, take it with a grain of salt, folks. These things are highly subjective.

121 thoughts on “Weetabix, British breakfasts, and plasticated creativity

  1. Still have a smile on my face, we grew up having weetbix, cornflakes and of course porridge with cream on a winter’s morning [nothing wrong with porridge]. A weetbix as a kid had lashings of creamy butter with jam as an after school treat :-) I won’t mention how unhealthy the American diet is for the average person. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t argue about the American diet. If you average us out and then pretend we’re all like that, we only eat things that come from a factory, which can’t be good.

      Cream could almost convince me that porridge is good. If there was enough of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • With so many people living in countries that are not where they normally reside the food and eating patterns have changed. Like here in Turkey!!
        To be honest, we adapt our diet to suit where we are staying, and try to maintain a healthy diet as much as possible :-) Here in Dalyan the vegetables and fruit are fresh so we are having vegetarian most of the time!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree about adapting to what’s available, but having lived in the U.K. eleven years now, I find that cravings for familiar foods do sneak in. Often for things we didn’t think mattered that much when they were available. It’s an odd thing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • No, I don’t think it’s odd at all. We miss our fresh fish and our local sushi woman :-) Though having said that we will be coming up to our 3rd year moving around the world and our favourite foods are all over the place! Love food fullstop!

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine eating Weetabix without sugar so I’m not surprised you didn’t like them. By the way, when you use hot milk on them they smell amazing. I think I’ve smelt the same sort of smell coming from a brewery. I haven’t had Weetabix in decades. I think I might have to add them to the shopping list. Along with mushy peas. And porridge. :D

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So there is your Christmas present sorted, a big box of Weetabix with which to experiment and some packing cartons for me to quickly move house before you can catch me and express just how awful an experience it really was.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My mouse mat is made of cork. I know cork is a tree bark but I didn’t see tree bark in your ingredients of Weetabix, which is what I imagined it was made from, like cork but with more air in it.
    I would test this theory by taking a bite out of my mouse mat but I suspect your description of how it tasted is enough really. What it does in the face of milk makes me suspect that shoving a Weetabix in the neck of a wine bottle is unlikely to work well either.
    Perhaps I’ve got this similarity a bit wrong.


    • The difference, as I understand it, between Weetabix and cork is that cork floats and Weetabix dissolves. I’m sure someone, sooner or later, will write in to recommend Weetabix and wine, but so far no one has and it’s not on the list of recommendations on the various sites I checked. Not even the student one, probably because wine’s too expensive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see. So possibly New Zealand is objecting because theirs are properly made out of cork and used to make rafts with for the tourist white water rafting and our British Weetabix can’t even handle milk, let alone white water.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve actually never heard of Weetabix, and it is so interesting to note how similar it is to Weetbix. For Weetbix which seems awfully similar, I find it plain and don’t mind it plain with a bit of milk. As you mentioned, some people do have the creative habit of jazzing up plain cereals into something more sinful or rather appetising. Cornflakes and Cocoa Pops were the cereals I grew up eating, and also Fruit Loops. I always preferred eating them plain because I didn’t want the milk to make them soggy – love crunchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Taste and texture preferences are pretty much set by what we ate when we were young. Since many of us in the UK were given Weetabix, Shreddies,Shredded Wheat or similar wheat-based breakfast cereals as children, then if we liked them we continue to do so as adults. So it doesn’t surprise me that, as someone raised (and fed) in the US, you find Weetabix disgusting, wheres I still like them. Same sort of thing goes for Marmite of course, and kimchi if you’re Korean.

    The most pronounced taste & texture preferences seem to be associated with chocolate. Every country where chocolate is eaten in any quantity has it’s own national preference. Hence the British love their smooth textured Cadburys Dairy milk, compete with its addition of vegetable fat; the French love their dark, bitter chocolate, and think it’s a sacrilege to put vegetable fat in any chocolate; and the Americans love their slightly gritty Hersheys with its cheesey taste that everyone else thinks is like vomit. Well the world would be a boring place if everyone liked the same sort of food, wouldn’t it?

    Me, I hate sushi and just can’t understand why anyone would want to eat raw fish, but on the other hand, I love smoked fish. In fact, I’ve got a nice smelly, oily Craster kipper for tea this very evening!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Some of those tastes have to be inborn. When a friend and her 6-month-old daughter lived with us (and I mention them because I don’t have kids of my own), I was struck by how pronounced the baby’s tastes were. The only solid foods she had any use for (other than to wear or throw, of course) were sweet potato and animal crackers. Still, in another country it wouldn’t have been animal crackers, it would’ve been something else, and whatever they were she’d love them to this day.

      And for what it’s worth, which I suspect is very little, I abandoned Hersey’s chocolate the minute I discovered the dark stuff–what we called bittersweet.

      Enjoy your tea.


  7. It’s good to have a list of things that, if I make it back to England for a visit, I need to avoid. I’m trying to think if these are better or worse than Shredded Wheat.

    I’m guessing the real problem with Weetabix is a lack of polysorbate 60.

    Mushy anything is gross. Except Frosted Flakes. It’s the sugar. Add enough sugar to mush and it’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Okay, I never tried a dry Weetabix.”

    Allow me? I grew up with the Shredded Wheat (oblong pillow-shape) and Muffets – (hockey puck-shaped.) Same stuff, different brand. Pour the hot water, add brown sugar and eat the moosh.

    In later years, once I overcame the trauma of the moosh, and once Spoon-sized Shredded Wheat came onto the market, I’d eat those dry, little crunchy bits for snack. A cup or so at a time.

    Crunch, crunch, crunch. Trust me, that was the only appeal.

    But then I developed the most peculiar reaction – hiccups. Violent hiccups that led to a most distressing phlegm formation and foaming at the mouth. (TMI? Sorry about that.) I gave up dry cereal for good at that point. I am not sensitive/allergic to wheat or any of the other ingredients. So I can only surmise that something in the packaging process is to blame.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. So I was thinking these things must be on the same genre as American Shredded Wheat, until I saw the picture of them. Whoever mentioned cork earlier on in the comments…spot on I would say. They look more like compressed fire starters we used to use in Girl Scouts when camping with the troop. Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The name Weetabix always sounded to me like something I needed to kill in the garden. We tried them when we were in England many years ago and I found them as appealing as tomatoes being served for breakfast. As you alluded to, what we were brought up with will likely be our tastes for life.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hello Ellen,
    Weetabix: that reminds me of my very first stay in England, in 1961. From then on, I have never really liked Weetabix nor ever eaten it. At my very first breakfast with Weetabix I hadn’t realized that the milk I put on was sour! Yech, what a taste. But since I was too shy to let my landlady know, I heroically continued eating that stuff! But never again, not even with unspoiled milk.
    Have a grea weekend,


  12. Oh gosh. Again we fulfill a British stereotype I didn’t even know was a peculiarly British thing. I personally detest Weetabix but my husband and kids love it so they were overjoyed when we moved to the US and I found I could buy Weetabix at Trader Joe’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve never understood the British love of Weetabix (perhaps I’m not really British). I loathe it and mushy peas (and marmite) but love porridge as long as there’s enough cream and sugar, of course. I would have to be genuinely starving to contemplate eating the first three. I’d rather eat the bugs on I’m a Celebrity.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I lived in England and I hate Weetabix. I would rather eat the box it comes in. I think it is a cross between old tree bark and a dried out wasp nest. Here in the USA I have seen it on some store shelves. I do not know if it was imported from Britain, or made and imported from Poland, where the Terry’s Chocolate Oranges are made and shipped to us. Yes, that is correct–Terry’s Chocolate Oranges Made in Poland! They taste better than Weetabix.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Ellen, it’s been decades since I’ve had either Weetabix or American shredded wheat because they’re not organic, but I seem to recall they were similar. With both, I just poured a bit of cold milk over them – none of that hot water or sugar nonsense – and ate them quickly before they had a chance to get too soggy. Plastic cheese and plastic whipped cream are definitely not on at my house!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have had them, but it’s been years. I remember thinking they were not tasty. There’s some weird mineral, savory quality my American palate doesn’t like in a cereal. Must take heaps of sugar to hide that.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Shredded Wheat | No Facilities

  18. I loathe weetabix. Horrible thing/s (see, I’m a Brit and still don’t know if it’s an it or a them). It always looked promising until – as you discovered – it hit the milk. Then it just died in the bowl and I don’t like eating dead-in-the-bowl things.
    All that aside, there was one Weetabix I did like. It was a sheep called Weetabix. (We had a chat over a fence. There was a lot of bleating. I won’t say from whom.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was about to say it’s a great name for a sheep, then I tried to imagine myself calling, “Weetabix,” and decided that maybe it wasn’t a great name. Then I wondered if you actually call sheep and decided I had them mixed up with dogs and cats. At the end of all that, I disqualified myself from having an opinion on the subject.

      I did just about as well with the question of whether the name Weetabix is singular or plural–and you’ll notice how cleverly I dodged having to take a side by the way I set up that sentence. Thanks for introducing my regular dose of confusion to my day right at the start. (It’s 8 a.m. as I type this.)

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Ellen! We love Weetbix as we call it in Australia. I love it the traditional way with milk and maybe honey but I also like it dry with butter and jam. I suppose the problem with NZ is similar to when France declared we couldn’t call it champagne. we have to call it sparkling wine. Thanks for linking up with us at #BloggersPitStop. have a great week.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Oddly enough I found Marmite at our health food store. It wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it though. My family tended to overcook everything. Meat was turned into shoe leather… that could be what tipped me toward being a vegetarian. So it’s not always what you grow up with. I stay far away from anything resembling my family’s cooking.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Shredded wheat was the texture of dry strands of straw pillow shaped 4 inches by 3 ( the size is from a distant memory) I believed the advert that it would make you strong as indeed would Weet -a -bix. They were stepping stones (not literally … well if varnished ) first solid WBix with warm breast or formula, (left to absorb) then the infant progressed to shredded W with chilled milk and sliced strawberries. You see sugar was the enemy … children had to get used to getting all their vitamins at breakfast. This was because, any goodness would be boiled furiously out of school dinners before being served. Follow me on this. The two afore mentioned breakfast cereals were so packed with vitamins and no or very little sugar to disguise the taste … that they were just stuff you got used to. I liked both with ice cold full milk and only enough to dampen, oh and raspberries. But once tastebuds came into play or free will, I chose dippy eggs with soldiers. Nothing quite like a good soldier for breakfast *sniff* The truth is if you wanted strong kids, minus rickets, you gave them fortified cereals. Since when were children allowed to like what they were given? Certainly not when I was one. And P.s. Marmite should be dabed sparingly on hot buttered toast, never ever spread. It should be hard to see as there is so little, but taste like savoury nectar. Less is the key a pea size blob scraped on would be adequate. Have a spiffingly wonderful week! Bye for now from The eastern county of Suffolk in good ole blighty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderfully detailed directions, proving that I’m older than (a) you and (b) mud. When I was a kid, sugar wasn’t the enemy, it was everywhere and it was our friend. I didn’t eat Shredded Wheat, but I remember my brother adding masses of milk (which, to my mother’s annoyance, he didn’t drink) to it, and then a roughly equal amount of sugar. So much for unsweetened cereals.


  22. You have probably blocked this recipe from your memory: Ritz Mock Apple Pie which uses Ritz crackers for both the apples and the crunchy part of the topping. It is then topped with Cool Whip. I never tried it, but have always been appalled by the idea that someone thought that crackers were an improvement over apples in an apple pie.

    Liked by 1 person

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