The Untold Truth Of Cream Of Wheat

Cream of Wheat has been on American breakfast tables since the brand was founded in 1893 at a small flour mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Cream of Wheat is the brand name for farina, a type of milled wheat that's made from the germ and endosperm, or innermost components of the wheat grain (via My Recipes). Cream of Wheat is especially popular among parents of young children, because it is an easy "first food." When cooked on a stovetop with water or milk, farina is described as  "a creamy, mellow, sweet tasting porridge," according to Bob's Red Mill

Because it's bland, most people prepare Cream of Wheat with butter, white sugar, and a pinch of salt. You can also add fruit, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, or spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. There are also recipes for savory cream of wheat. Just a Pinch suggests using cheese or, as Indiaphile relates, you can create an Indian upma version with onions, peas, cumin, and other spices.  

Controversy surrounds the face of the brand

From 1900 to 2020, the Cream of Wheat box featured the character "Rastus," a black chef (via Food Dive), and this aspect of the brand has come under fire.

In the early party of the 20th century, Rastus was also featured in advertisements, which often depicted him as illiterate, using speech rife with racial stereotypes. Rastus wasn't just a character. Cream of Wheat company history says the chef was a real person, who was photographed by the brand around the year 1900 while working in a Chicago restaurant. The company says his image was the basis for all versions of Rastus throughout the century, but his name was never recorded. Mid Michigan Genealogical Society researcher Jesse Lasorda, however, says that Rastus was Chicago chef Frank White, who was born around 1867 in Barbados, emigrated to the United States in 1875 and became a naturalized citizen in 1890 (via Ferris State University).

In 2020, following the controversies surrounding other images of African Americans in product packaging, including "Aunt Jemima" and "Uncle Ben," Cream of Wheat's parent company, B&G Foods announced they will remove the image of the chef from its packaging. 

Its advertising art was created by renowned illustrators

Cream of Wheat was born during the Golden Age of Illustration. Lasting from the 1880s until shortly after World War I, this was a time in which many Americans came to appreciate the drawn or painted illustrations that commonly appeared in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and books, even hanging reproductions of these works on their walls. The best known illustrators of the day included R.A. Fox, Maxfield Parrish, Coles Philips, Hy Hintermeister, William Thompson, and Beatrice Tonneson (via The R. Atkinson Fox Society).

This representational and popular style of art was adopted for many of Cream of Wheat's advertisements. The company hired numerous well-known illustrators, including N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Henry Hutt, and Edward V. Brewer to create art, done in watercolors and oils, for the Cream of Wheat brand. According to B&G Foods, the ads appeared in magazines like National Geographic, The Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping and McCall's.

There are new varieties and health benefits

In addition to original Cream of Wheat, several other varieties of the stovetop classic have been developed and introduced over the years, including a quicker-cooking one-minute variety, Maple and Brown Sugar, and a whole grain variety. There are instant versions of the hot cereal as well, including Whole Grain, Banana Walnut, Bananas & Cream, Cinna-Apple Walnut, Cinnabon, Cocoa Nut, and Mixed Berry varieties.

Processing whole wheat removes many of its nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For this reason, many cereals, including Cream of Wheat, are enriched to replace these nutrients and add others not found in wheat, such as calcium (via Winchester Hospital). 

Cream of Wheat is enriched with calcium carbonate. One serving delivers 235 milligrams of calcium, and prepared with a cup of nonfat milk, creates a breakfast with 551 milligrams of calcium. This is about half of the recommended amount of daily calcium for women. Cream of Wheat is also enriched with ferric phosphate, a source of iron, supplying 11 milligrams of iron in one serving; with the B vitamins niacin, thiamine (vitamin B-1), and riboflavin (vitamin B-2); and with folic acid, an essential nutrient for pregnant women.

Though the basic recipe remains the same, Cream of Wheat has undergone changes in its 125-plus years, including new flavors and varieties, and today, a major step away from the controversial aspects of its history.