UPDATE: Product discontinued in 2016.
Review Summary: Not being made with organic ingredients is a huge bummer. That said, this cereal not only was a huge hit taste-wise, but the company has other green perks as well.
Product: Three Sisters Cereal. We reviewed three of these cereals, including Sweet Wheat, Marshmallow Oaties and Cinnamon Sweets.
Three Sisters sells various types of cereal – besides the ones we reviewed they also currently offer…
- Instant Oatmeal in Cinnamon & Apples, Brown Sugar & Maple, Dark Chocolate and Plain Grain (Organic)
- Graham Crackerz
- Honey Oaties
- Honey Puffs
Cost: A search around the web tells me that Whole Foods charges about $3-$3.50 per bag o’ cereal. I’ve also seen some buy two, get one free deals at the Whole Foods website and there are coupons and deals offered at the Three Sisters Facebook page.
Ingredients vary by flavor of course. I’m posting the ingredients for the Marshmallow Oaties so I can compare them with Lucky Charms. That way you’ll get a better idea of what’s NOT in Three Sisters cereal.
What’s in Three Sisters Marshmallow Oaties: Whole grain oat flour, marshmallows (evaporated milled sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, blueberry, pumpkin and carrot concentrates for color, natural flavor), evaporated milled sugar, corn syrup, wheat starch, salt, calcium carbonate, trisodium phosphate, citric acid.
What’s in Lucky Charms: Oats (Whole Grain Oats, Flour), Marshmallows (Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Gelatin, Calcium Carbonate, Yellows 5&6, Blue 1, Red 40, Artificial Flavor), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Artificial Color, Trisodium Phosphate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), A B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Artificial Flavor, Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), A B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols)
Below is a nutrition comparison – after the comparison I’ll explain what I think.
Fat, calorie and sodium wise these two cereals are much the same. Both probably have a little more sugar than necessary. Both contain trisodium phosphate – which is a chemical that’s essentially unnecessary; especially since many cereals don’t have it. Most studies thus far show trisodium phosphate to be a safe additive, but why add something if you don’t have to?
Vitamin wise, Lucky Charms is WAY ahead of Three Sisters. Although, before you get all excited you should note that some studies show that overly fortified cereals can be a problem. Here’s why…
- You may be getting too many vitamins from cereal vs. a well-rounded diet.Too many vitamins may sound awesome, but in fact, you only need a specific amount of vitamins, and some, for example zinc, when taken in excess can be harmful. Basically, you want to avoid eating four bowls of cereal a day that offer 100% of a vitamin.
- Factory and industrial processing used to get those extra vitamins in the cereal can destroys the natural nutrients found in food and some studies show that this can make food more difficult to digest. This is all debatable though.
- Vitamins used in many fortified foods (not all) can be synthetic, not naturally occurring which has the potential, like all fake stuff you eat, to be harmful.
On a purely nutritional level, it’s questionable, depending on where your fortified vitamin ethics sit, if you’d choose Three Sister or General Mills Lucky Charms. However, there’s one major reason and some other excellent ethical reasons, why you’d want to avoid General Mills altogether.
Food dye – found in Lucky Charms has been shown to cause multiple health problems, are 100% fake chemicals and your kids should never eat them.
According to the Responsible Shopper General Mills has many other issues, such as…
- Refusing in the past to be transparent about their use of GMOs, at one point General Mills even gave $88,900 to defeat a measure in Oregon that would have required all GMO foods to be labeled as such.
- Destruction of rainforest areas in Southeast Asia can be strongly linked to the company.
- Although General Mills claims to be eco-friendly, a 2006 CERES report that assessed climate change gave General Mills just 22 out of 100 points on a scale of social responsibility toward climate change.
If I had to choose one reason why you should avoid Lucky Charms though, it’d be the food coloring. Three Sisters doesn’t use fake dyes.
Green, ethical & healthy benefits:
- All of Three Sisters cereals are 100% made using renewable wind energy via Windsource.
- No food dyes.
- Three Sisters recently raised over $70,000 for Haiti relief.
- Most Three Sisters cereal products are Kosher certified.
- Three Sisters hot cereal is a good source of Omega-3 and is naturally trans-fat and cholesterol free.
- No high fructose corn syrup – the cereals do contain corn syrup, but it’s not quite as processed as HFCS.
- The company notes that they, “Work continuously to reduce waste and water use, and recycle everything we can.“
- Totally adorable packaging, which you may or may not care about, but I’m an aesthetics sort of girl. This packaging is hyper pretty.
According to Three Sisters, “Each year, there are about 2.5 billion cereal boxes sold in the United States. If even half of those boxes were bags, we’d save 90,000 tons of paperboard. The energy saved could power over 11,000 homes for a year. It would eliminate 170 million gallons of waste water and avoid 1,800 garbage trucks of solid waste.” Three Sisters cereal is bag-only. NO boxes and that eliminates a ton of waste. There’s a downside to their packaging, (see cons below) but overall it’s less wasteful than bagged then boxed cereal. Why double package stuff?
Their oatmeal packaging is more eco-friendly than most. The hot cereal pouch doubles as an easy-to-use measuring cup which is useful and space saving plus generates up to 35% less waste than many other packaged oatmeal products.
The taste testers:
Here’s a rundown of my taste testers so you know where we’re coming from. Usually I don’t explain this much about my taste-testers, but with this cereal it’s necessary – you’ll find out why below in the what we think section.
Dave, my cereal addicted boyfriend. He eats cereal for breakfast, lunch and seriously before he moved in with me, for dinner a lot of the time. He LOVES cereal. He doesn’t just eat one kind – he loves all kinds of cereal. He loves kids cereal, name brand cereal, store brand cereal, organic and non-organic cereal and everything in between. However, for someone who loves almost every cereal ever, he’s got some major criteria, like it can’t be too sweet or too hard or not get soft enough in milk OR too soft in milk. Yeah, he’s a little obsessive – which makes him the perfect taste tester.
Dave’s daughters. I’ve only seen Dave’s daughters ask for sugary cereal. Plus, they almost always add sugar to cereal, even already sugary cereal.
Cedar. My son likes cereal a bit, but would rather eat it as a snack (no milk) and he doesn’t like overly sweet anything – usually if he gets too sweet a cereal he’ll toss it.
Me. I almost never eat cereal but when I do I only eat stuff like organic wheat flake or O’s. I do not like sugary kid cereal.
What we think of the taste:
Dave – When I asked Dave what he thought, he actually said something extremely inappropriate for a family minded blog. The first words out of his mouth were “F-ing awesome,” (sorry everyone) AND this is not a guy who cusses – he adored this cereal. He noted…
- “These are the best versions of these cereals I’ve ever had and the best overall cereals I’ve ever eaten taste-wise. Way better than any name or store brand.
- It’s nice to have a somewhat healthy cereal that’s fun, not like eating tree branches.
- All of the cereals were perfectly crunchy, but still got appropriately soft, but not too soggy in milk.
- No weird fake flavors – true grain flavor and no weird candy-sugar-like coating that hurt my gums, like most kid sugary cereals.
- The Sweet Wheat cereal tasted subtle – sweet but not too sweet.
- The Marshmallow Oaties didn’t have fake nuclear reactive colors. If a cereal blinds you that can’t be good. The taste was not overly sweet, but just right. Also the marshmallows were the perfect size.
- Although I’d buy all the cereals again, Cinnamon Sweets was my favorite of the group. Like cinnamon toast crunch but not too sweet. I would pay top dollar for this. “
So um, Dave liked Three Sisters I’d say.
Dave daughters – did NOT add sugar to this cereal. They ate it plain with milk – bowls of it; said they liked it and the fact that they didn’t need tablespoons of sugar to like it was amazing.
Cedar – LOVED all of them. He ate bowl after bowl for snacks and cleared those bowls 100%. He even ate a bowl with milk and said it was, “Perfectly crunchy enough.” He says the Marshmallow Oaties were the best.
Me – Of course I tried it, even though I’m dead set against eating most cereal. I’ll have to agree with the rest of the house that this was the best tasting cereal ever. I’m not one of those mamas who steal their kids food off their plates, but every time I got Cedar a bowl, I actually did take a handful and munch it. VERY rare for me. I loved that the cereal was perfectly grainy and sweet but in no way too sweet. I even liked the Cinnamon cereal and I HATE Cinnamon Toast Crunch type stuff.
Were there any negatives?
- Not organic. I get that organic costs more. However, this is a biggie. There are so many organic cereals on the market now, that it’s sucky when a cool company isn’t organic.
- Only available at Whole Foods and there’s no online purchasing options available. I don’t like that this cereal is not very accessible for all families. For example, we don’t live close to a Whole Foods. We live closer to another natural market – so we go there. Although my family LOVED this cereal, I can’t see us buying it because we just hardly ever get to Whole Foods.
- The gelatin Three Sisters uses is derived from pork. Gelatin is found in the marshmallows in Marshmallow Oaties cereal and the icing in the Sweet Wheat cereal. It’d be nice if they used a vegetarian gelatin.
- The bags used by Three Sisters are made of low density poly material which did keep the cereal super fresh and crunchy but unfortunately, this poly material is not recyclable. Keep in mind that you cannot recycle other cereal bags either though, so this is somewhat better in that there’s no cardboard waste. NOTE: After I wrote this I found out that TerraCycle takes their bags. Which is cool.
4 out of 5 little trees. IF we were just going by taste this cereal would have scored six out of five trees. However, we can’t just go by taste.
I’m taking away 1 point due to their non-organic status, as I normally do. Keep in mind that this cereal, although not organic, also mostly contains good stuff, and so it’s not the worst by any means. I’m just a huge organic advocate.
I would normally take off another half point because this cereal is not widely available in stores and not available online at all, but really, taste-wise this would have gotten 6 trees, so I’m allowing some give in the scoring system this time around. However, although I didn’t score them down, I went back and fourth about it and I would really like to see this cereal available to more people.
- If you want to support organics, this is not the cereal for you.
- If you are vegetarian or vegan avoid Marshmallow Oaties and Sweet Wheat.
- If you want a more recyclable-friendly product, purchase bulk organic cereal in your own reusable containers or bags.
- If you want the best tasting cereal ever from a fairly eco-friendly company, AND have a Whole Foods near you then go for it.
Overall, there are some improvements that could be made but their cons don’t really outweigh the perks in my opinion. I’d recommend this to people who are okay going with non-organics sometimes and who want an awesome tasting cereal, but don’t want a lot of junk like fake colors and vitamin additives.
- Buy Three Sisters Cereal at Whole Foods
- Visit the Three Sisters Website
- Follow Three Sisters on Twitter
- Join them on Facebook