Cheerios, where do they come from?
I am sure, like me you’ve often wondered where food comes from. Well today I thought I would investigate the origin of Cheerios.
The Cheerio, or to give it its full name cheeriondus fabricatus is native to the Savannah regions of Africa, particularly Kenya and Uganda. It’s a small undistinguished mammal notable only for its bright fur and peculiar anatomy. Most famous for the now worldwide snack, the cheerio survives entirely by osmosis. The long fur traps water and debris which breaks down and passes through the porous skin. Some of the pores are plainly visible when the animal has no fur and is dried, but more of that later.
So why a breakfast cereal? Since colonial times African tribes have traded the Cheerio with the Imperial occupiers, initially they were thought to be jewellery as they were usually sold looped around brightly coloured threads, but soon it was communicated that they were for food.
Realising the food was lean, healthy and really rather tasty in a bowl with Wildebeest milk, the colonial overlords set about trying to harvest the creatures. The hunting of the tribesmen was always to kill a single Cheerio with a bow, or blowdart in a few tribes. This was seen as inefficient by the Empire builders. They decided that some sort of large scale net would be much more successful. However they soon discovered that the Cheerio, when distressed starts to rapidly die. In captivity it will live only five minutes. All the fur will fall off and the body produces high levels of a bitter toxin through a rapid enzyme based decay. Whilst this isn’t dangerous to humans it does ruin the breakfast. This photo was taken from a Zoo who tried unsuccessfully to breed Cheerios:
This animal had been in a captive state for a mere two minutes and it’s obvious by the colour that this is not an appetising morsel. You can however see clearly the various and varying pores on the dermis.
So the traditional hunting methods remain, generations of men using skills passed onto them from their fathers and grandfathers stalk the plains, tracking the Cheerio and hunting with a bow, the design of which hasn’t altered in millenia. A good hunter will hit the Cheerio in the heart, right in the centre of the creature. This instant death stops the enzymes from breaking down the body of the Cheerio. Whilst the fur will naturally fall out over time, handling the dead creature will speed this up.
Once the hunter returns with the Cheerios in a pouch, they are rubbed on a large scale by the elder women of the village to remove what fur hasn’t fallen off, then they are left out to bake in the sun, the drying process preserving them perfectly for their transport around the world and to your breakfast table.
I for one was fascinated to learn of how such a breakfast dish got to my shop, and it’s certainly a more exotic tale than the humble cornflake, made simply by squashing a grain of cereal.