Milking It: Cinnamon Chex

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Cinnamon Chex General Mills Rating: Three-and-a-quarter spoons out of four

Cereal description: The familiar Chex shape -- puffy, square grids, like graph paper made for chewing -- is present and accounted for, as are the base ingredients of rice and corn flour. Some of the pieces are a light brown color, while the others are darker and bear the mark of delectable cinnamon sprinkles in both the relatively new original recipe and the even-more-recent "gluten-free" rebranding. However, there are subtle variances between the two when cereal hits mouth.

Box description: This time around, I've got two boxes to share. The cover of the "new" box has, naturally enough, a large yellow "NEW!" banner across the top, as well as three checkmarked items -- "8 Grams of Sugar," "Good Source of Calcium and Iron" and "Provides 12 Essential Vitamins & Minerals" -- alongside a photo illustration of a spoon featuring seven pieces of the cereal, in various hues, bathing in a thick bath of advertising milk. In contrast, the other box features the phrase "NOW! GLUTEN FREE -- SAME GREAT TASTE!" on a stripe that takes the place of the checkmarked trio, plus the words "Simply Nutritious" above the Cinnamon Chex logo. The ingredients rosters aren't identical, either: For instance, the "NEW!" stuff lists sugar as the second ingredient (it's third on the "GLUTEN FREE" box) -- and "GLUTEN FREE" boasts rice flour, which doesn't appear among the "NEW!" elements. Another distinction: On the side panel opposite the nutrition information, the "NEW!" version sports a "Whole Grain" stamp that doesn't appear on the "GLUTEN FREE" stuff. The checkmarks on the back vary, too, with "GLUTEN FREE" adding, shockingly enough, "Gluten Free" and "8 Grams or more of Whole Grain" in place of mentions about those supposedly essential vitamins, minerals, calcium and iron -- and the promo text has been tweaked to push the gluten-free angle. But the bowl-of-cereal photos are the same, as is the phrase "Simply Delicious," which I prefer to "Simply Nutritious" for a very simple reason: nutrition doesn't usually taste as good.

Taste: Speaking of which.... During a recent vacation, I picked up a box of the "NEW!" Cinnamon Chex at a Grand Junction Walmart before heading to our family cabin on the Grand Mesa -- and the entire clan absolutely loved the stuff. The cinnamon taste was prominent but not overwhelming and the blend was wonderfully sweet, earning an easy three-and-a-half spoon rating. The box went so quickly that it was almost gone when we returned to Grand Junction for a few hours a couple of days later. For that reason, we returned to Walmart for more, only to discover that the "NEW!" boxes had been replaced by the "Gluten Free" version. And while that box promised the "SAME GREAT TASTE!," it wasn't quite as excellent. Don't get me wrong: The changes are subtle. Indeed, I thought I might be imagining them -- so I saved the last of the "NEW!" stuff, as well as its box, and sampled the two side by side this morning. And lo and behold, "Gluten Free," while still very good, isn't quite as sweet or cinnamon-y as its predecessor. I'd give it three spoons -- hence the overall three-and-a-quarter spoon ranking, which splits the difference between the two.

Conclusion: If some "NEW!" boxes of Cinnamon Chex still linger on store shelves, snap them up fast. Apparently, gluten adds that special something.

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