I haven’t shared a morning with Hostess Powdered Donettes — the barely-a-donut of donuts — in decades. During the early ’90s, I’d engage my gastrointestinal system in the Herculean task of converting Donettes into some semblance of useful nutrients while I settled in for the crown jewel of the Saturday morning cartoon schedule: X-Men: The Animated Series. Now I avoid eye contact with the jilted sugar spheres in the grocery store. But they are a part of me, so you’ll forgive a wayward weakness when I spotted them. You there, in the cereal aisle. Don’t I know you from somewhere? Smaller, boxed up, an intriguing “NEW!” underscoring a fresh start, a new beginning. Post Hostess Donettes cereal. I smiled coyly and brought it home.
Natamycin (to retain freshness) joins ingredients like nonfat dry milk, defatted soy flour, and carboxymethylcellulose to give Donettes their signature je ne sais quoi. Natamycin is used as an antifungal preservative and is produced via the fermentation process of a dirt bacteria. Clinically, it’s prescribed as pimaricin eyedrops to treat ocular fungal infections. “Please, sir, may I have some more?” Introducing the newest protege of Professor X: Natamycin Girl! Incognito, except for my tell-tale powdered-sugar-covered fingertips.
Each bite of an actual Donette donut is a gauntlet. An innocent inhalation of breath as your mouth opens to house the donut causes the powdered sugar to weaponize into the back of your throat. While you cough your airways clear of powder, the secondary assault commences as the donut mixes with your saliva to create a potent caulk caking your oral cavity. It’s inadvisable to attempt consumption of the Donette without a beverage standing by to help the donut lump army crawl down your throat.
When I grew up, I put away childish breakfast things. I cultivated a taste for the stalwart oat and calmed an overworked, exhausted pancreas with fiber-rich whole grains. And, apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Hostess, beleaguered by toppling sales and labor disputes, filed for bankruptcy in 2012. Investors quickly swooped in and resuscitated the dying brands, restocking shelves with Donettes, Twinkies, and Wonder Bread before you could say partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening. And the Donettes marketing, a bit of a chip on its shoulder, got indignant: Who says you can’t have a treat for breakfast?
Post Consumer Brands introduced Hostess Donettes Cereal to an unwilling public in January 2019. Also appearing in the can’t-leave-well-enough-alone category is Hostess Honey Bun cereal. Roxanne Bernstein, Chief Marketing Officer of Post Consumer Brands explained the technical details of making a thing into another, smaller version of the thing: “With our new Post Hostess Donettes and Post Hostess Honey Bun Cereals, we have been able to provide the sweet flavor of these classic treats in tiny cereal form, for a truly unforgettable cereal.” Thanks, Roxanne. In January 2018, Post unleashed Sour Patch Kids flavored cereal. Apparently, the company’s resolves each New Year anew to undermine the health and longevity of the American people.
I’m a firm believer in judging the quality of a donut brand by its most basic offering: plain. Any purveyor of cake circles can wow an undiscerning crowd with flashy glazes, luscious fillings, and elaborate toppings. You win me over with your classic cake, or you’ve lost me forever. I honor this donut tradition by first sampling Donettes Cereal plain: dry.
The bouquet that wafts out of the box is cloyingly sweet, like a dollar-store vanilla candle. It smells false — imposter corn-resembling foodstuff. The dime-sized be-holed cereal is powder-coated with sugar that flakes off onto your fingers like grainy dander. The mouthfeel of the lacquered veneer is oddly smooth. Though crunchy, the cereal has a stale-quality fresh out of the box. The top-note of the cereal is corn, with powdered-sugar undertones, likely due to the triple threat of dextrose (a simple sugar made of corn), cornflour, and corn syrup ingredients.
I added 2% organic milk to the Donettes Cereal for the wet test. Softened in liquid, the sugar coating quickly began dissolving in the milk, leaving behind the corn husk. The cereal became simply a texture — chemical matter in a bowl. If the smell of candy corn was a cereal, that’s what we’re dealing with here.
The picture on the back of the cereal box presents the suggestion of a balanced breakfast, which includes half a glass of orange juice, a bowl of strawberries… and Donette donuts. A hat on a hat. Wash down your Donettes Cereal with a Donette donut. Then enjoy a swig of OJ to truly regret every decision you’ve ever made to lead you to this point.
Nostalgia is an insidious supervillain, convincing otherwise level-headed folks to buy things like this “unforgettable cereal” to time travel and visit our former selves. But Natamycin Girl hung up her cape long ago and washed her hands. And prefers a sensible breakfast.